The media has had a field day portraying Pope Francis one way or the other, but my favorite American Catholic theologian, George Weigel, brings some clarification to the issue in this article from First Things.
About a year ago, I suggested to one of the top editors of a major American newspaper that his journal’s coverage of things papal left something to be desired, as it seemed based on the assumption that Pope Francis was some kind of radical wild-man, eager to toss into the garbage bin of history all those aspects of Catholic faith and practice that mainstream western culture finds distasteful. My friend replied, in so many words, look, you know how these media narratives are: They’re like bamboo. Once they get started, there’s no stopping them. They just keep growing.
Alas, he was right. And while there’s been a lot of talk about the “Francis Effect,” it’s worth pondering, on the Holy Father’s seventy-eighth birthday, the Francis Filtration.
The Francis Filtration began in earnest during the impromptu press conference in the papal plane while the pope was en route home from World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro. That was the presser that produced the single-most quoted line of the pontificate: “Who am I to judge?” But as Cardinal Francis George pointed out in a pre-retirement interview with John Allen, that sound-bite “has been very misused . . . because he was talking about someone who has already asked for mercy and been given absolution. . . . That’s entirely different than talking [about] someone who demands acceptance rather than asking for forgiveness.” (For the record, the entire quote, which is almost never cited, was “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”)
But as my journalist-friend suggested, the “bamboo” shoot of “Who am I to judge?” has continued to grow, until it’s now a virtual bamboo curtain. And what’s being filtered out? All the things the pope says that don’t fit the now-established “narrative” of “humane, progressive pope vs. meanie reactionary bishops and hidebound Catholic traditionalists.”
Things like what?
Well, things like the pope’s passionate defense of marriage as the stable union of a man and a woman, which he underscored in an address to the Schoenstatt movement right after Synod 2014, and in his keynote address to a November interreligious conference at the Vatican on the crisis of marriage in the twenty-first century.
Retrieved December 17, 2014 from http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/12/francis-filtered