Conservative Catholics, Does Pope Francis Make You Grumpy?

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.

Winters asks:

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.


Photo: Archbishop Chaput, An Irrepressible Grump?

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.”


Photo: Not a Grump

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.


Categories:Church News Pope Francis

  • Jenn

    I’m a conservative, practicing Catholic and I am extremely happy with the wonderful work that Pope Francis is doing in and for the Church!

  • SAA5of5

    I LOVE Pope Francis. I LOVE Archbishop Chaput. Any attempts to show discord between these two gifts to the Church are rooted in fear, to be sure. Let’s all be informed and help set the record straight. Funny, isn’t it, that Pope Francis will be hosted by Chaput and Philadelphia for World Meeting of Families in 2015.

  • Kathy

    ..”Also why many of us left.” My next question is..Where did you go? Another pops into mind..Why did you leave an ailing body when to be with Jesus is also a promise to minister to the sick? Jesus knows there are traitors among us and said that the greatest commandment was to love one another as I love you. If one follows and believes that, one does not leave when the going gets rough, one trusts in the Lord that in the end He will prevail. How horribly alone and desolate I would be not to experience Him again and again with the closeness in Mass. Have I been angry with my Church? Of course! It’s like disagreeing with a family member. Do I reconcile by accommodating what I believe is wrong? No. Would I tell my parent if one of my brothers or sisters was in danger? You bet! Maybe that’s why we have various parishes, kind of like those safe zones where we can retrieve and revive strength like more knowledge and spirit so that our ammunition becomes more in the way of a model and our words remind others of the truth. It is not an easy road, nor was it promised to be easy. Part of the description of the “faithful” means that in the most tumultuous times when so many around us speak and live contrary to God’s law, we struggle to remain and safe guard our Church, the Body of Christ. I have attended Catholic Schools up until completing High School back in the 60’s. Without going into a historical account here, I also experienced a dark period of confusion, anger, lack of respect and consequently choices which ultimately brought me home. I sometimes look at Vatican II as one of the greatest challenges in the modern Church, and maybe because there were so many of us (Baby Boomers), it would naturally follow more errors. I guess I finally grew up. I guess I admitted to virtues such as humility and faith that somehow God had me placed in His family here on earth and maybe I just needed to learn more about my religious family. (I say “guess” because I can only attribute returning to the Father because of the infinite wisdom of God who knew my soul completely). So, I did..and I am still learning and still struggling with many to carry out healing, loving, caring and yes, sometimes through the Holy Spirit defending the spirit of the Church, the Body of Christ in words, actions and most importantly by the practice of how we live this out. We will fail miserably, like so many do, but God gave us a family and a place in that family. As part of that laity, we are part of His body. In the end, the Church as the Body of Christ will prevail. We can only do our best to work through all the trials for the glory of God and seek out his mercy and love daily to keep us strong and united.

  • annieelf2012

    I am far down the conservative road and I love Pope Francis. He is an inspiration. If he is making some people grumpy, they are missing the point and not hearing the call. ‘Nuff said.

  • Robert Williams

    Our Lord is the judge of our heart, our thoughts and soul. I, for one, think that general comments as these, are just that. Not to be taken seriously, just a writer trying to make a living. Read the WORD, pray for all, and Love our Holy Mother Church.

  • Mike

    As long as this Pope veers away from socialistic tendencies that have plague the S. American and N. American Catholic community, I’ll be happy.

    • Bill Schuler

      I agreee with this. God helps those that help themselves. There is a difference betwen the poor that are too selfish to better themselves and their family and would rather take handouts (more common in the USA) and the poor that just do not have the ability, talent or means to not be poor. I want to help those that cannot help themselves. I do not wish to support those who have the ability and choose not to help themselves.



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