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

101 thoughts on “Conservative Catholics, Does Pope Francis Make You Grumpy?

  1. Anton says:

    Jesus broke all the religious protocols of his day. The high priest should have been the person to reveal His Messiahship to, but He didn’t. Er, wasn’t it to a woman? Rule broken! Wasn’t it to a Samaritan Dog (Jews regarded them as human mongrels)? Wasn’t it to a divorcee? Wasn’t it to a woman with an sexually permissive past? Wasn’t it to a woman living a man outside of wedlock? Let’s see – oh yes, that’s right – the woman by the well was all those things. And what does Jesus do? He reveals to her the fact that He is the Messiah. The Jews had been waiting for this announcement for millennia, it is revealed to a human at the bottom of the social strata of human society.
    I think this might be the point that Francis is trying to get across. Remember, Jesus wasn’t sent to the cross by sinners (he accepted their place), but by the religious – both the ultra conservative Pharisees, and the liberal god denying Sadducees. Maybe that’s why – if I might be so bold as to counterpoint Jesus and Francis – the Pope cops shellackings from both extremes.

    1. GREG SMITH says:

      Also I believe the only time He changed his mind was at Cana when a woman, His Mother, told him to solve the wine shortage problem.

  2. Crusader says:

    As a life-long Catholic and product of Catholic education, I am dismayed to see Pope Francis embarking upon the path toward appeasement with those forces that would destroy the church. When I was young, the Church taught us about Hell and the consequences of unrepetant sin. Now, in the name of popularity, it only talks about love, love, love. Consequences are no longer discussed.

    In order for a faith to endure, it must have a certain level of orthodoxy and a certain adherence to norms. Unfortunately, the new Pope seems to regard these as pettifogging details, of no real consequence.

    If this is the road he wants to lay out for the Church, it will lead to anarchy and division, not healing as he argues. Dropping unpopular portions of Catholic orthodoxy and teachings wll certainly please a few who care little for the faith anyway, but anger those who have given their devotion (and dollars) to it for a lifetime.

  3. enness says:

    What in the…? No. I was okay with Benedict. I’m okay with Francis. It’s been FUN watching the media go into paroxysms over every little thing he says and does.

  4. Renee says:

    “you will always have the Poor with you, but you will not always have ME.”
    Matthew 26:11

    How about this:
    You will always have the Youth with you…but you will not always have Me.

    Christ is with us in the Eucharist. The mass at World Youth Day was so very much focused in entertaining the youth, that the Eucharistic Supper hit me as lacking reverence. “You will not always have Me.”

    1. David Webb says:

      I didn’t give much attention to WYD, honestly. I expected it would be something of a more casual publicity event than a reverent appeal or invitation to world youth to seek the Gospel.

      Pope Francis made NO effort to defend the laity and oppose aberrosexual so-called “marriage” in his native Argentina, so he’s effectively recused himself as a leader to any movement.

      Francis may be the Pontiff, but he’s yet to clean house and demonstrate to the world that the Holy See will no submit to the corrupting fashions of the time or sink with its detractors; especially those priests who defy the Holy See and abused their communities.

      “Friendly” is nice, but nobody respects a friend like they respect their father!

  5. Penny Ann Quintana says:

    I am not sure about any of this, the entire World Youth Day made me nervous as a Catholic. I understand having to keep kids interested, but I think some of the interpretation the music was not really catholic. I appreciate Pope Francis intentions with the public, but I want a Pope that acts like a pope it is an office I want him to lead be pope. I want the Pope to be Pope it is hard to explain. I guess there is certain protocol with being POPE and Benedict XVI was bringing that back. As a catholic we need to stress the reverence and the importance of the Eucharist and the Holy Mass, that seemed to be loss in World Youth Day. The Music was no traditional Catholic Hymns and not the contemporary music played the entire theme did not show we were Catholic those who did not know better could of thought they were at an Evangelical Service. It just seemed not so much Catholic, I also do not understand why priests were singing and dancing or swaying their arms and Bishops were also participating. World Youth Day or with kids I think the dignity and reverence of the the priests, bishops and reverence of the Holy Mass should remain Catholic. I myself long for the beautiful Catholic Hymns. I am a Catholic, I want others to identify me as a Catholic by understanding my teachings, reverence and belief that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. The Pope needs to clearly state what he means and explain the doctrine behind it. Even I as a Catholic took some of his comments to mean or seems to mean is going to relax or change some Catholic teachings. That may not be true but he is not clearly stating or clarifying the teachings. The church strongly support life from conception to death, traditional marriage, they cannot support the Gay lifestyle or same sex marriage that has to be clearly stated. He cannot change the teachings of the Church or Christ. He needs to clearly state that and that does include embracing the traditionalists and not making it sound like he is over turning Pope Benedict XVI’s writing that gay men can be priests. It is all so confusing it is very hard to understand this pope or what he is doing. I am simply stating this is from a devoted Catholic who will honor and respect Pope Francis.

  6. Adam Rasmussen says:

    MSW may have overreached in trying to identify Chaput with the “conservatives” he (Chaput) mentions. Still, I’m not entirely sure Chaput isn’t including himself a little bit, when he remarks about how the pope needs to try to cater to conservatives as well. Moreover, I can’t help but wonder if Chaput would ever be willing to say that a more conservative pope would need to cater to liberals! Too often I get the sense from some conservative outlets that liberals and even moderates are not welcome and should become Protestants. Which is not only stupid but uncharitable.

    1. Mike says:

      Chaput did not say “cater to” conservatives, he said “care for.”

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