I hadn’t realized that Pope Francis was a Marxist until two weeks ago. This was when he issued his lyrical, compelling Gospel of Joy and was immediately described as a fellow travelling socialist by left as well as right; the former with delight, the latter with horror.
The truth, of course, is that all the Holy Father did was to bring Pope Leo’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum into the 21st century and condemn state socialism as well as “unfettered capitalism.” But the mingling of ignorance, malice, and absurd wishful thinking from media circles epitomized the way the man and his opinions have been misinterpreted since he was elected pontiff.
It was particularly noticeable, and exasperating, in the larger, left-leaning newspapers and media outlets throughout the English-speaking world. The BBC in Britain, the New York Times in the United States, and a host of others suddenly became interested in the Pope. It was trendy to be Catholic-friendly, at least for a few moments and in a certain way. The often hysterical but nevertheless relatively influential Bronwen Clune proved all this in The Guardian, the liberal conscience in Britain.
“I never thought I’d see the day when non-Catholic people (never mind socialists and atheists) would voice their approval of a Pope. But that is just what happened when Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation delivered last week, talked about unfettered capitalism as a new tyranny, attacked the idolatry of money, called on rich people to share their wealth, and laid out a vision for a decentralised church. Overnight, he became the left’s new pin-up.”
But just in case liberal Catholics out there think all is red and right about the world, the new comrade was quick to put matters right.
“There was a glimmer of hope in my ex-Catholic soul. Not so much that it changes anything for me now, or even realistically for many Catholics in the near future (it will take more than one man to break down 1,300 years of institutionalisation) but there is something appealing in realising that my faith, even though long lost, was not entirely rotten.”
Well, that’s nice of her.
The condescending and suburban nature of the piece aside, it demonstrates rather well the colossal ignorance amongst so many journalists concerning what the Church says and is. Pope Benedict was just as critical of unbridled capitalism and consumerism as his successor, and said so for a longer period of time. And consider for a moment Clune’s statement that she assumed Catholicism to be “entirely rotten”. A sweeping generalization so clumsy that no teacher, let alone an editor, should have let it pass. Good Lord, even mass murderers are not entirely rotten!
It’s this sort of nonsense that led Random House to ask me to write The Future of Catholicism (Signal Books), published earlier this month. My previous two books, particularly Why Catholics Are Right, had sold surprisingly well and even enormous secular publishing houses know a good thing when they see it.
As soon as Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope the same questions were asked again and again, to the point were answering them became almost banal. Would he change Catholic teaching on abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, and female ordination? The inquiries were never theological, always social and moral, and usually came from people who have no concern for the Church in the first place.
What the Pope has been trying to explain for some time, if only we would listen, is that the Church remains the Church, and Church teachings remain Church teachings. But, he has emphasized, if people are not paying attention we must adapt the manner in which we speak to them and how we communicate that unchanging truth. To a degree he is succeeding in his efforts, but I sincerely wonder if it’s any more than a passing triumph, sending a quick thrill through the numb minds of Guardian columnists and their ilk.
The point about mainstream media depictions of Pope Francis – and by mainstream we invariably mean liberal – is that they report him almost exclusively through his economic statements, which is absurdly tendentious. The man speaks of sin, hell, the need for confession, more than I remember either Popes John Paul or Benedict doing, and none of this would please the very people who think the Holy Father a raving Leninist.
The problem is that however hard we try to adapt the volume and the tone so as to appeal to listeners, and even to liberal journalists, some are deaf to any tune we might sing. The future Church is part of a continuum, a seamless garment of guidance, God’s megaphone to – in the adapted words of C.S. Lewis – awake a sleeping world.
If anybody is looking for a book about the future of Catholicism that describes the church of nice, moving and morphing so as not to offend, please look elsewhere. It’s far too late, and serious, for that.
Michael Coren is a broadcaster and writer living in Toronto, Canada. His website is www.michaelcoren.com, where he can be booked for speeches and his books purchased.