In today’s hyper-aggressive media culture where nearly every story or person is presented as a binary option without nuance, some Catholics find themselves disagreeing with reports of what Pope Francis has said in certain instances. What should a Catholic do if they find themselves disagreeing with the Pope?
Watch Brian Holdsworth’s video commentary on his thoughts of dealing with finding himself disagreeing with the Pope…
I became a Catholic right around the time Pope Benedict XVI was elected and one of the most frustrating experiences for me as a new Catholic was the media’s consistent portrayal of him in ways that were fairly inaccurate.
For Benedict, they saw him as a conservative and so whatever they reported about him was an attempt to reinforce that interpretation. And Catholics like me, I think, rightly complained about this constant portrayal or Benedict and the Church for how inaccurate it usually was.
Unsurprisingly, the same thing happened when Francis was elected but on the opposite end of the spectrum. He was cast as a liberal and if you are a casual observer of news coverage, you’d have no reason to think that he was anything but a champion of the left.
At first, the same Catholics that laboured to correct deceptive coverage of Benedict would often jump at the opportunity to correct the inaccuracies about Francis and produce the appropriate context that the media neglected to balance out their one-sided portrayal.
But after a while, it seemed like those voices grew silent while a new trend of subtle criticism and even hostility towards Pope Francis began to emerge in certain corners of Catholic Media.
So, where this became a more relevant concern for me was in my own surprising experience of finding myself disagreeing with the Pope. The more headlines I read, the more I couldn’t help but be influenced by that constant one sided portrayal.
Take for example his recent comments that equated wasting food with stealing food right off of the table of impoverished people.
To compare the accidental mismanagement of food resources that can occur from trying to keep a family of children fed to maliciously stealing from people who are already destitute seemed like it was unbelievably sophistic and hurtful to those of us that are trying our best.
So, in an attempt to gain some perspective, I’ve started to do my best to go back and read actual statements that he’s made in their proper context as well as to listen to the common complaints that are being made against him by his critics to see if they truly measure up.
One of the more common complaints about Pope Francis, among his critics, is that he lacks clarity when he speaks. The claim is that if he spoke with more definitive precision, there would be less confusion and diversity in interpretation which can lead to the spreading of misinformation.
It seems like they want every statement from the Pope to be entirely without the possibility of differing interpretation. As I thought about it, I realized that if we held Jesus to that same standard, we would have likely found ourselves on the wrong side of that story.
We modern Catholics benefit from generations of theological clarification of everything that Jesus said so we’re used to a lack of ambiguity, but the people that heard Jesus preach did not have that same benefit and Jesus said all kinds of things that were ambiguous and open to interpretation.
Jesus’ own disciples even questioned him about his use of parables as a teaching mechanism and he replied by quoting Isaiah saying that the hearts of the people are calloused and they do not hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes. I think Jesus is pointing out that we have to encounter the mysteries of God with our hearts as much as our minds.
Jesus used metaphorical and poetic language often and he even used hyperbole to exaggerate or emphasize his point. He said things like, “among those born of women, none is greater than John the Baptist.” Taken literally, we’d have to assume that John was greater than Jesus.
If using exact language to avoid confusion is what we expect from our religious leaders, then I think we’re in the wrong religion because the guy who started it all didn’t seem to agree with that notion.
In my experience of finding myself disagreeing with Pope Francis, I’ve decided to respond in a few ways. The first is to not jump to conclusions about headlines framed by secular media. The second thing is to give him the benefit of the doubt. Too many people are jumping to the worst possible interpretation of the things he says. Lastly, I’m learning to accept that there is room for disagreement and diversity under the umbrella of orthodoxy.
At the end of the day, even if I disagree with Pope Francis about a few things, I’m certain that I agree with him on the majority of things. That should be a good enough reason for me to consider myself on his side.