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

  • Dave Carey

    Homosexuals practice sodomy. This is a serious sin which is condemed biblically and will never be acceptable to God.

    • Gracie Traxle

      First, not all homosexuals practice sodomy… Second, you should probably stop saying things will “never be acceptable to God.” God is the only one who can say what is or is not acceptable to God. Jesus taught acceptance, understanding, and compassion. If we could all stop judging each other and start accepting that we are all different, and we are ALL sinners, this world would be a much, MUCH better place. Yes, Dave… even you are a sinner. What makes your sins any more “acceptable” to God?

  • Chuck Radzyla

    Y’all have the “hate the sinner” part down real good. How about working on the “love the sinner” part? There’s a lot more to it than just telling they are sinners.

    • Crusader

      This is not about hating gays or aetheists, but the questionable logic of embracing people who reject the values of the Church while demanding admission on their terms. “Loving the sinner” is a noble concept and one that we can all stand to benefit from – if we accept that our actions are sinful. Just like the old Marxist-Leninst saying about “we will destroy democracy with the tools that it gave us,” we must be on guard that Catholic concepts of forgiveness and tolerance are not abused by the enemies of the Church to tear it down. Catholicism was never intended to be a suicide pact. Put another way, Christ needed one Judas among his disciples in order to achieve his destiny on the Cross, but would he have accepted 12 Judases?

  • Crusader

    Liberal Catholics, many of whom are tolerant of abortion and gay marriage, maintain this fiction (delusion) that by “loving the sinner” that the sinner will return to the Church and abandon the error of their ways. The problem is, these sinners do not see their ways as sinful, so they have no intent to change. They want the Church to change. Unless you really believe that “something for nothing” is a good exchange, I would suggest that if the Church is going to openly accept gays, it should expect something in return – like a public statement from these gays that their lifestyle is sinful. Without that, we might as well accept al-Qaeda members in (after all, they could change, right?).

    As for abortion, their can be no compromise now or even with those who choose to participate in the murder of the unborn. Thanks to Roe v Wade, they can hide behind that slip of paper and claim that they are supporting women’s rights, not sinning.

    If Pope Francis thinks the Church is a “House of cards” that will collapse if it continues to oppose these forces, maybe he should just run up the white flag now.

  • Crusader

    “Hate the sin but love the sinner” has become a buzz-phrase that is vapid and unapplicable in reality.

    Gays and people who believe in abortion do not even believe that they are sinning and simply want the Church to abandon its condemnation of their practices. Then once condemnation is gone, they want endorsement of their lifestyle choices. What they will reduce this silly phrase to, in time, is: “What we are doing is not a sin and you will praise us …or else.”

    The Church has faced secular challenges in this regard before and prevailed (although with losses). Henry VIII wanted to introduce the concept of disposable wives and the Church said no, so he decided to make his own Church. Goodbye. Hasta la vista. This should be the approach today – if the sinners won’t admit their sin, let them form their own Church or adopt Scientology or whatever, but don’t force the faithful to stoop to turning a blind eye to Sin.

    Being Catholic means willing to risk being unpopular. The last Pope was certainly not going to win any popularity contests, but at least he did not say things just to please some media buffoons.

  • Jose Thomas

    There cannot be a division between conservatives and liberals in the Catholic Church. Church is always conservative when it comes to the essence of faith, but it is liberal in making people practise it. Hate the sin and love the sinner is its norm. Unless it takes moral stand on live issues, Church cannot have any relevance, and hence it has to be conservative in condemning sin and liberal in loving the sinner so that he turn away from sin.

  • gary bates

    Its a shame the late ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE was not elected pope. What a living martyrdom he had to endure, but what courage he showed in the face of those who would attempt to destroy the church from within.



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