In a recent interview with John Allen (which is worth reading in full), Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia remarked that those on the “right wing” of the Church “generally have not been really happy” about the election of Pope Francis. The Archbishop said a lot of other things, but this remark garnered the most attention.
Over at his blog, Michael Sean Winters pounced—“the most important thing Chaput said about Pope Francis,” he called it—and cites it as evidence that Pope Francis makes conservative Catholics “grumpy.” Winters finds this conservative proclivity to grumpiness revealing because, presumably, it confirms his preexisting stereotype of conservatives as dour, joyless, scolds. The joyful Francis, by contrast, and the wildly enthusiastic response he has received, is thus, a decisive repudiation of grumpy conservatives and a validation of, well, of Winters’ criticisms of grumpy conservatives.
Why, then, would conservative Catholics be so upset? If what they wanted all along [i.e, New Evangelization] is coming to fruition, why the long faces? The answer is simple, and Archbishop Chaput’s guarded, even grudging, comments about Pope Francis point us to the reason: Pope Francis, within a matter of months, has destroyed the prevailing narratives about secularization and Catholic identity among Catholic conservatives, and he has done so without even trying.
Just which “narratives of secularization and Catholic identity” Winters is talking about he doesn’t really say. Nor does he indicate which Catholic conservatives were spinning such yarns. In fact, Winters doesn’t cite a single instance of a Catholic, conservative or otherwise, saying anything disparaging about the Pope. (Odd, since such things can be found.) Winters does, however, suggest, or at least imply, that, thanks to his (supposed) admission of disaffection, Archbishop Chaput will suffice as a fair proxy for the whole, unhappy lot.
Winters conveniently, if not fairly, treats “right wing” and “conservative” as interchangeable terms, and since we all know (wink, wink) that Chaput is an archconservative, the following equivalence can be made: “right-wing unhappy about Francis”= “conservatives unhappy about Francis”= “Chaput unhappy about Francis.” Never mind the fact that, in the interview, Chaput speaks of the Church’s “right wing” in the third person, not the first.
See for yourself. here’s the relevant question and Chaput’s answer, in full:
Q. Do you think there will be a moment of reckoning when the honeymoon wears off?
A. We’ll see what happens. The pope may have a way of managing all of that will be extraordinary, I don’t know. I would think that by virtue of his office, he’ll be required to make decisions that won’t be pleasing to everybody.
This is already true of the right wing of the church. They generally have not been really happy about his election, from what I’ve been able to read and to understand. He’ll have to care for them, too, so it will be interesting to see how all this works out in the long run.
Does that sound like Archbishop Chaput is giving voice to his own grievances toward Francis? Or do Chaput’s actual words make it pretty clear that the concerns of the “right wing” are not, in fact, his own, though as a pastor he is aware of such concerns? To read Archbishop Chaput’s interview as manifestly “grudging” and “grumpy” towards the popularity of Pope Francis strikes me as myopic, careless, or worse.
(Winters even applauds a fellow blogger for comparing Archbishop Chaput to the Prodigal Son’s jealous older brother: “His likening of Chaput’s comments to the older brother of the Prodigal seems especially spot-on. I wish I had thought of it!”)
As unwarranted as Winters’ reading of Archbishop Chaput’s comment about a disaffected “right-wing” might seem, when compared to some of the other things Chaput said about Pope Francis—in the very same interview—Winters’ take sounds especially contrived. Chaput, for example, says this: “My sense is that practicing Catholics love [Francis] and have a deep respect for him.” And this: “Thanks be to God that the Lord has given us a pope with such universal appeal to so many people.” And then there’s this “right-wing” talking point: “I thought [Pope Francis’s visit to Lampedusa] was wonderful. It was very touching moment. I hope it leads to concrete results, because you just never know if they really do. I think it was something that touched the heart of anybody who paid attention, especially those of who are in favor of reasonable immigration laws.”
At one point, Archbishop Chaput states, “I think part of [the enthusiasm for Francis] is genuine appreciation for the pope’s extraordinary friendliness and transparency.” Yet somehow, Winters manages to interpret these words to signify the exact opposite of their plain meaning. “[W]hat excites many of us Catholics today about Pope Francis, and something that I suspect escapes Archbishop Chaput and some of his fellow conservative prelates, is that it is easier for the flock of Christ to discern that their pastors are friends of Jesus when those pastors are actually friendly.”
All of this smacks of a willingness to find discord where none exists. Winters’ reluctance to admit of, let alone celebrate, common cause on important matters (spreading the Gospel) with those with whom he disagrees on less important matters (politics) strikes me as rather…unhelpful.
Winters, to his credit, sees both continuity and complementarity between Francis and his predecessors. He also sees that Francis has a magnetic appeal that Pope Benedict never had and that even Pope John Paul II lacked, at least in his later years of illness and declining health. He takes encouragement from the powerful and unambiguous Christian witness of Pope Francis. He sees each of these facts as cause for celebration. Yet for some reason, and despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, Winters can’t seem to bring himself to admit that “conservative” Catholics (or at least those Winters considers conservative) overwhelmingly see in Pope Francis, and celebrate in Pope Francis, the very same things that Winters himself admires.
It’s almost enough to wonder if Mr. Winters himself isn’t being, if not grumpy, at least a tiny bit grudging.