The Pope’s Unusual Fans

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Pope Francis’ recent controversial remarks on the Church and abortion, contraception, and gay marriage are being greeted by the Church’s detractors like a gift from the heavens. For secular progressives, the pope’s comments are cause for wondrous elation. They have dawned a new era in “tolerance” and “change” from Rome and for the planet.

In truth, the Holy Father’s statement was utterly butchered and completely misrepresented, especially by the predictably awful but extremely influential New York Times.

But that, in itself, is a problem. Liberals and liberal Catholics and secular progressives are running hog-wild with many of Francis’ remarks, exaggerating and exploiting them for their completely contrary ideological, political, and cultural purposes.

A friend of mine named Bo, who attends a parish in Western Pennsylvania, shared the reaction to Francis’ comments by his very liberal priest. On contraception, Bo and his fellow parishioners were told that the issue is “dead and just remains to be buried.”  The priest’s discourses on gay marriage and abortion were even more offensive. “In a nutshell,” said Bo, “we were told that we didn’t need to worry about either gay marriage or abortion.”

That’s just one reaction. Here’s another:

I was mortified when I did my regular perusal of People’s World—the flagship publication of Communist Party USA—and found not one but two pieces exalting the Bishop of Rome. One was tellingly titled, “Welcome Pope Francis, campaigner against corporate greed!” The other was likewise tellingly titled, “Pope Francis: a breath of fresh air.” Said the writer: “We Communists … have much to learn” from Pope Francis.

It’s no exaggeration to say that communists, like secular progressives, are excited about this new pope, and not because they’re suddenly thinking about becoming Catholic. No, they believe he’s more like them. They like him because they think he agrees with them.

Thus, I say here, with all due respect and deference, that Pope Francis needs to be extremely careful about what he’s saying and how he’s saying it, because every imprecise statement is ripe for severe misinterpretation, exploitation, and abuse.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • anonymous

    Almost sounds like what happened with Jesus. It is good that the the Pope’s unusual fans are exited about him. Let’s pray they will continue to listen and the Holy Spirit will help guide to truth. They are our brothers and sisters. They are children of God. We must have faith and trust in God’s plan.

    One can’t control it.

    Dr. Paul, I do not have the intellect nor the education you have. Could you please consider writing to the New York Times, and let your voice be heard. I believe there are a lot of people behind you, at least most of us here reading Catholic Exchange.

    Thank you and may God bless you for your zeal ~

  • “Possibly too you have come on another pretext…. I accept this bait for the hook, and welcome you, though you came with an evil purpose, yet as one to be saved by a good hope. Perhaps you knew not whither you were coming, nor in what kind of net you are to be taken. You have come within the Church’s nets: be taken alive and flee not, for Jesus is angling for you, not in order to kill, but by killing to make alive: for you must die and rise again. For you have heard the Apostle say, Dead unto sin, but living unto righteousness. Die to your sins, and live to righteousness, live from this very day!”

    St. Cyril of Jerusalem said that. Honestly, sometimes we really shouldn’t worry. Most of these individuals saying this know deep down Francis isn’t changing squat when it comes to doctrine. We know that as well.

    Sometimes it is wise to take everything for an opportunity to evangelize, rather than an opportunity to protect the truth from the Holy Father.

  • Dan

    I applaud the Holy Father’s clever approach to using interviews as a channel instead of just encyclicals which none of these folks would read. The world loves soundbites and so his style is, indeed, applauded by those who rarely if ever follow the Church.

    That being said, I believe he also has a deep responsibility to be understood. Cleverness without clarity is just problematic-as every senior exec in business, education, healthcare, etc. know. If he is to be a truly long term impact on the world he needs to wed his winsome style with some directness about the reality of what is being discussed and not let it slip to somewhere deep in his interview/discussions.

    Having trained senior exec’s in this skill, it might sound something like: “while the Church holds to her traditional teachings, we are striving to express the love and compassion of Jesus towards all people…such as homosexuals, etc.” These one sentence balanced statements leave no question in the reader or listeners mind that 1) no doctrinal change is happening and 2) our approach is one of loving all in the hope of a softer approach to the truths of that love.

    Otherwise, out here in the trenches, we will be constantly “correcting” misunderstandings and running the risk of those folks claiming a bit of “bait and switch” being foisted on them.

  • anonymous

    Hi Dan, If i am understanding you correctly. It is my belief the Pope is not making effort to be clever. He is saying what he is saying. Those that have ears ought to hear. Those that hear the truth will hear HIS voice.

    We want questions. It may be be considered evangelizing v. ‘correcting.’ We want lots of talk about the faith. God is in charge and HE will prevail. The Pope is leading the battle, time for us to fall in line. If one doesn’t know – then find out.

    The battle is with principalities and powers.

  • Dan

    Thanks for your comments. I think perhaps I was unclear (I’m more like the Pope than I realized lol ). What I think is “clever” is that he is using a different medium to “preach”-and I think that is fantastic. Media is a much more immediate way for him to communicate the faith.

    I am not sure what you mean by “those that hear the truth hear His voice” but clarity of content is critical in preaching the Gospel. Nothing necessarily “pious” about that. Lack of clarity is the problem of the speaker (just as I did above for you). It leads to misunderstandings which is exactly what the Church doesn’t need.

    I have high regard for our Pontiff. I think he is much like soon to be

    Pope St. John xxiii in that he is viewed as a commoner in the Papacy who people can relate to. That is certainly a great move of the Spirit.

    I also agree we want questions, but as a near full time Catholic evangelist, I have encountered many who, after an explanation about the Pope NOT changing any doctrine, they feel, as I mentioned, they have been “tricked” into something. Some of that is inevitable, but much of it is not.

    Finally, I know God will prevail. And I know of no one (including me) that is not following the Pope. Falling in line is about doctrine and truth not style. I know he is the Vicar of Christ, love him for it, but that does not mean we can’t improve on the process of evangelization. The battle is with principalities and powers and it is our job as faithful Catholics to carry the Gospel to all in love.

    Hope this clarifies some of my comments. Thanks for yours.

  • Jeanette

    Thanks, Dr. Kengor, for saying what needs to be said. Pope Francis’ remarks were misleading and irresponsible, which is why I don’t go to the ridiculous lengths that others have to put a positive spin on this. I do hope that we as Catholics are not so gullible to think that secular progressives love the Church and the Pope now. What they love is perceived moral weakness of a political opponent (how they view the Catholic Church) in a serious culture war. They are ever-so-thrilled with Pope Francis’ remarks because they see this as something to exploit to advance their own agenda, which includes gay “marriage” and abortion. It’s that simple.

  • James

    Pope Francis is being misrepresented one way, his predecessors were misrepresented in another. There is nothing new under the sun.

    The devil isn’t going to play fair. How many people have misrepresented JESUS in the past 2000 years? No Pope is going to do any better.

  • my pride says: anonymous

    honestly, I’m unclear with my own self after re-reading. I’m simply (and obviously) not qualified for clarity. sincere appreciation, Dan.

    humility, it brings me right back to HIM every time. I think He’s working on the shut-up thing with me again–i mean, still.

  • vito

    Why is it suddenly that every Catholic right-winger feels an unsurmountable urge to act as an interpreter for the Pope. He said what he said and even before saying it he clearly knew how it will be taken by the media and elsewhere. He is a highly intelligent and perceptive man. And the people can read and understand by themselves. Stop trying to water down what he said. Media headlines are, of course, bound to generalize and exaggerate. That’s always happening. But the message in general, especially as far as it is promising future change, whether on matter sexual or poverty/greed/economy, has been understood correctly.

  • maggie

    I go in and out of confusion about what Pope Francis is trying to say. I found comfort in one of his recent statements, asking some reporters to please stop scandalizing the church, recounting with force that we have always believed in life and none of these primary beliefs are ever going to change. Of course I’m paraphrasing, but it was very direct and clear. But his words are not always so direct. More often his words leave me feeling, “say what?”And his words are being used everywhere to victimize practicing Catholics with the constant line I keep hearing, “shame on you, even the Pope has said not to judge.” Thank you for being a voice crying out in the wilderness. Please continue to engage in the fight, we need your logical brain. Let us not forget, the devil operates in the shades of gray. Everyone should be asking, “why is this so complicated?”May we all pray for Pope Francis to have his words resound clearly, “yes” or “no.” Anything else is from the evil one.

  • rakeys

    Pope Francis did not say that he was going to change any teaching. Here is his exact quote which was only partially stated in the press.

    Pope Francis was talking about The Church as a Field Hospital, and the need to take care of all the wounded Catholics and Christians

    “We Cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. i have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about theses issues all the time.”

    Pope Francis did not say not to talk about these issues but said “when we speak about them…” and he also said “The teaching of the Church, for that matter is clear, And I am a son of the Church”

    Pope Francis totally supports the teaching of the church about abortion , contraception, and gay marriage, and has spoken about them multiple times as a Cardinal and as a Pope. In fact the day after he gave this interview he addressed a group of OBGyn’ s and told them about the sanctity of life that begins at the “instant” of conception.

    The pope would not have been talking about the Church as a field hospital unless there were people wounded by sin. if everyone was healthy, and not sinning, they would not need a hospital.

    The press needs to quote the entire paragraph and not just pick out part of a sentence that they agree with, and totally contradicts what the Pope actually said.