I agree with practically a fraction of Ross Douthat’s opinions, but his review of his top-3 misreads of 2013 was an interesting voyeuristic experience of another person’s confession. On Pope Francis, his number two:
I made two claims: first, that a new “Catholic moment” in American life could “only be made by Americans themselves,” and second, that the new pope’s “evocative name” and “humble posture” wouldn’t be sufficient to repair the church’s image absent concrete steps to extend accountability for the sex-abuse scandal to the upper reaches of the hierarchy.
I admit I was a little surprised, too. I thought the Argentina of the 80’s might catch up with the new pope. A few friends on the Left were pounding away at Fr Bergoglio’s record with Jesuits in trouble. That seems to have cleared up.
Given the subsequent media fascination with Francis, my attempt to minimize the papacy’s importance in American religious life may have been somewhat premature. More important, I was entirely wrong about the Vatican’s image being inextricably tied to the legacy of the sex-abuse crisis. To date, the new pope has done much less than the underappreciated Benedict on that front, but nobody in the Western press seems to care: even as American bishops continue to mishandle abuse cases, Francis’s blend of charisma, asceticism and inclusivity have been sufficient to reverse a decade of bad press for Catholicism.
I have a sense that Pope Francis remains in a honeymoon period. Our bishops are all JP2 and B16 men. I think Pope Benedict is less underappreciated and more viewed as timid. Maybe more timid than Pope Pius XII seemed in reference to European Jews.
That latter assessment may be unfair. But I get a sense that Catholics expect a certain heroism in their church leadership. We read about saints who make jokes while roasting over a fire, who are fed to lions for dinner, and who endure privations, depression, and great difficulties. It’s probably why women religious fare much better than bishops. Bishops seem to make light about going to jail, but when the judge comes calling, it seems like probation is a better deal.
In a way, I’m grateful to have been wrong, since the message and mission of the church deserve as much attention as the continuing blindness of some bishops. But that blindness still needs to be addressed, and it’s troubling, and telling, that the media would give a more liberal-seeming pope a pass on an issue they hammered his predecessor on at every opportunity. And if I’d been just a little more cynical about these things, I probably would have seen it coming.
I think Mr Douthat has just sealed another great media year for Pope Francis. Does he and his conservative confreres fuming about the misunderstood Pope Benedict think they all operate in a soundproof booth? I am quite sure that the secular liberal media are quite aware that a good slice of the Catholic Right remains in a tizzy over the past ten months. Barring some catastrophic piece of evidence, I predict the “love affair” with Pope Francis will continue unabated. I think I’m a lot more cynical than Ross Douthat. I think many of my ideological confreres would prefer prison or lions than to admit the Right is right on the media giving the Holy Father a generous pass. And the sisters, too. Let’s not forget them. I never hear jokes about rulers on knuckles or polyester coming from the Left, the Press, or anyone but the embittered front porch crowd.