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Pope Francis: Rupture vs. Change

pope-francis-wave“That’s not what he really meant to say…”

These are increasingly common words spoken on behalf of Pope Francis.

Increasingly, Catholic bloggers are having to compile montages of quotes to show the strain of orthodox continuity in the Pope’s interviews. For many traditionalists, it is the frightful spectre of a Jesuit pope ascending the throne of Peter just in time to undo all of the damage control and growth wrought by John Paul and Benedict in the wake of Vatican II. Now, many fear, we stand to lose all that has been set aright. In this, many speak openly and disparigingly of the new pope, contempt dripping in a manner not unlike the leftists in their assessment of John Paul and Benedict.

Right or left, orthodox or progressive, it is all a manifestation of the same underlying spiritual illness…

Pride.

Are we only to submit to papal authority when the mood, or mode suits us? Do we place stylistic predilection over our duty to respect and obedience to legitimate episcopal and papal authority? Is our faith on the orthodox side of the aisle so fragile that we get a case of the vapors at the least departure from our preferred norm? To be certain, this pope is dangerous. His style is that of…

Jesus.

He reaches out to sinners and dines with them.

He gives interviews to atheists.

He eschews the pomp and splendor that is his due for something very, very different.

He accords women unusual influence for his day.

He has reached beyond the broad parameters carved out by John Paul II, and has been warning us that great change is on the way.

In all of this, we must never, ever, EVER lose sight of this most central reality:

He. Is. Peter.

Unless the day comes where he breaks with defined teaching, he will have my respect and obedience, and I will keep any transient dyspeptic moments to myself.

Yes, there is great potential for misunderstanding when he speaks off the cuff, but ultimately, little room for harm. Those whose faith is well-informed and rock-solid cannot be rattled.

Those who ridiculed John Paul and Benedict may hear him when the truth is spoken in a different way. At worst, they will simply look for any justification to persist in their unbelief.

Those who are weak will need us to be Francis’ defenders, to explicate his teaching and show its continuity with all that has gone before. It is the Parable of the Sower.

Change is coming with this pope, much needed change. He comes from those people below the equator who have been largely invisible to us in the faithless north. He speaks for them, and from their experience of the Church. He was elected to effect the changes that Benedict saw as necessary, but was too infirm to effect.

The coin of the realm in all of this will be faith and obedience, especially from those of us who revere John Paul and Benedict, who count ourselves the orthodox backbone of the Church. This is no time for that backbone to become arthritic.

Francis is going to need every one of us.

I’m with Peter.


Dr. Gerard Nadal is Science and Health Education Policy Advisor for the Bioethics Defense Fund. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a minor in Philosophy from Saint John's University, New York City. After his post-baccalaureate sciences at Columbia University, New York City,  Dr. Nadal returned to Saint John's University where he received his Master of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology, Master of Philosophy in Biology, and Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology. Also a member of University Faculty For Life and the Catholic Writers Guild, Dr. Nadal is a columnist for Headline BistroDr. Nadal also serves on several advisory boards, including the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, Good Counsel Homes, and the Children First Foundation. A Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus and unapologetic Roman Catholic loyal to the Magisterium, Dr. Nadal and his wife home school their three children. He blogs at Coming Home.


  • Solilquize

    I can’t help but believe that the Pope is more interested in sinners and the unredeemed than the faithful. Sending the faithless messages to welcome them to the flock is fine, but the flock itself needs acknowledgement to keep it viable.

    The Pope apparently assumes that everyone has the degree of faith that he has, yet from Matthew 17:20 “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith
    as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from
    here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

    Jesus is acknowledging that faith may be weak. Yet the Pope seems to be more interested in kindling the smallest spark of faith in the faithless and the as yet unredeemed than he does in kindling into a stronger fire the faith of followers. I believe that people today are jaded by a constant influx in the awareness of suffering of others. Yes, 2000 years ago, they also suffered, individually, as a community, and regionally, but due to TV and the Internet, we are constantly assaulted with the despair and suffering of people in the remotest regions. I think this tries faith beyond what existed 2000 years ago. In this regard, I think that people seek affirmation for their sacrifice and determination in staying the course. It may not wholly be in accordance with the principles of Christianity, but it is in accordance with the frail nature of the human psyche, and as the Pope strives to overcome the these deficits in the faithless, I think he should acknowledge the same in the faithful.

    Women and couples that elected to have children because of their Catholic Faith (rather than have an abortion), despite hardships that they may have endured due to their commitment, may be aghast that the Pope seems to have a cavalier attitude towards people that elected to have abortions, provided that they now embrace the Lord. Again, spiritually correct, but not paying due respect to those that did the right things for the right reasons.

    And, quite frankly, Jesuit priests alone could not do, in terms of charity, what the Catholic Church itself has. The love of money may be the root of all evil, but the lack of it accomplishes little. Socialist views towards the world will more than likely bring all people to low living standards rather than poor people to higher standards. Again, a noble idea, but not realistic.

    • maureen

      I know there is much that can be said about Pope Francis and his way of leading, but the first thing that came to my mind when I read your post was Mark 2: 15-17.

      • Solilquize

        I realized that, in principle, when I wrote my comment. Thank you for the non-confrontational way of addressing it. But I still feel that the faithful may only be tenuously so. Think of a flock of sheep, where the sheepherder tends to the weak and sick. Eventually the strong and healthy will become weak if no attention is paid to them, though they can naturally tend to their own needs, they need to be lead to a wholesome grazing area to be succussful. Please don’t consider my thoughts to be a scathing review of Pope Francis, I respect what he is doing, it’s an interesting departure from the status quo. But I do urge him to be more proactive to the faithful especially in light of his new method of addressing the world.

  • noelfitz

    When I started reading this article I was a bit concerned.
    I do not like the word orthodox, it is too near Orthodox.

    I read “Right or left, orthodox or progressive, it is all a manifestation of the same underlying spiritual illness…Pride.”

    Is Dr Nadal really claiming that to be orthodox or progressive is a manifestation
    of pride?

    But then I read on.

    The article is magnificent, like may recent articles in CL, being solid,
    sound and sincere.

    PS: Solilquize, doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible about leaving the 99 sheep and seeking the one lost (Mt 18:12)?

    • Solilquize

      Parables and allegory are essential to understanding religious concepts, and I don’t dispute their significance, but I feel we are living in a world that fuels fear, despair, hopelessness, and has suffered, especially in this country, from a lack of extended families. We are talking about a series of Popes that had a relatively constant series of progression concerning what to expect from them as they assumed the position as Pope. By all means seek the lost and bring them into the fold, but remember that the faithful may have vulnerabilities that could benefit by succor. By no means am I advocating that Pope Francis abondon the lost, I’m advocating that he doesn’t loose the faithful.

  • goral

    Everyone wants to speak for the Pope and put their own interpretation on what it is exactly that he is saying. That’s reason to be concerned because his words are being parsed mostly by people who hate the word “orthodox”.

    My personal feeling is that there’s more to his papacy then what we can see. His non-assuming style is perhaps allowing so much of the opposition to let down their guard so that he could affect the necessary changes.

    Let’s pray that it goes in that direction because we don’t want the Ship of Peter to

    sail toward the rocks while the helmsman is out on the raft trying to save a drowning soul. I think that’s the point that Solilquize is making,

  • noelfitz

    Hi Goral,

    It is always good to hear from you as you express views
    robustly and with sincerity.

    I am one who does not like the term ‘orthodox’, as it is ambiguous,
    usually referring to Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches (Greek, Russian etc.) not in communion with Rome.

    I note:

    Over time the Western church gradually identified with the
    “Catholic” label and people of Western Europe gradually associated
    the “Orthodox” label with the Eastern church.

    The Orthodox Church throughout the ages has maintained a continuity of faith and love with the apostolic community which was founded by Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that she has preserved and taught the historic Christian Faith, free from error and distortion, from the time of the Apostles.( http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7062.