A masterful mash-up of three biographies, and an irenic marshaling of words that nonetheless confirms the instincts of many: Francis is a genial, aging Jesuit who believes, yes, but has also lived such a varied life, witnessed so much Catholicism that seems in spirit so unChristian, and finally followed the reigning progressive-moderate theology to its logical conclusions. And so he's inevitably become a Vatican version of a disarming, retirement-aged Barrack Obama. Once you see it, you can't not — all the explanations and conservative Catholic spin to the contrary.Is that a fair characterization of Douthat's article? Is it a fair characterization of the pontificate of Pope Francis? This isn't the first time I've heard such parallels drawn, even by well-known conservative Catholic colleagues. I hardly know what to say. Douthat is a thoughtful, respected journalist, but we also do need to read widely and carefully.
"After all that," says Noir, "read Mullarkey if you can." He refers to Maureen Mullarkey's "Notes on an Idol" (First Things, April 21, 2015), in which she says, among other things:
"The mission of the Church is to keep man mindful that he has another life to live. When the Church maneuvers to be counted a player among the principalities and powers, the subversion of Christian truth and charity has begun."Finally, Noir asks, echoing the title of Douthat's article: "Can a successor of St. Peter break the Church? I don't know. But he most certainly can subvert its mission and contribute to its deformation."
We Catholics do have an extensive historical list of "anti-popes" and "bad popes," true. I think an acquaintance with that history bolsters our confidence that the Church can weather just about any storm; but I also do know that we are not absolved by our faith in that tenet from our own responsibility in defending and supporting and promoting the Catholic Faith in our own lifetimes.