Another day, another Phil Lawler bomb lobbed at Pope Francis. Another online article accusing the Holy Father of undermining orthodox Catholic teaching, causing confusion in the Church, and other alarmist sensationalism. Here we go… again.

Oh yes, and another concluding paragraph self-promoting Lawler’s new book. A book that paints Francis as a bad pope. As I have stated on several occasions: “The self-promotion in Phil Lawler’s neverending criticism of the Holy Father? It is not incidental but a feature.”

Controversy Creates Ca$h was the title of the autobiography published by legendary professional wrestling promoter Eric Bischoff. And few find controversy with every word and action of Pope Francis like Phil Lawler. Curious to know why? All you need is $13 U.S. and a Kindle-ready device!

Today’s controversy concerns a private conversation between Pope Francis and Juan Carlos Cruz–the latter a childhood victim of priestly sexual misconduct. Cruz is also openly gay. He reports that Pope Francis told him “you have to be happy with who you are” and “God made you like that and He loves you like that and I do not care.”

We do not know Pope Francis’s side of the story. What we do know is the following: First, the conversation was private. In fact, it may have been in a privileged forum like sacramental confession or spiritual direction. Such a forum obliges Pope Francis to confidentiality, but not Cruz.

Second, the catalyst for the conversation was Cruz’s painful experience as a childhood victim of priestly sexual abuse–a betrayal of the worst sort. Often its victims are left facing a lifetime of self-loathing and suicidal ideation. Not to mention Cruz was forced to fight all through adulthood to be taken seriously as a victim.

As America Magazine reports:

[Cruz] told the pope that when he came forward with allegations of sexual abuse, leaders in the Chilean church, including Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, a member of the pope’s advisory council, said that because Mr. Cruz is gay, he was not a legitimate victim of abuse because he may have “liked” it.

Yet in generating media controversy over this incident, Phil Lawler can only see two possibilities about why Pope Francis has not responded publicly:

1. The Pope did make the statements that Cruz attributed to him—or at least statements close enough so that no correction is necessary, because he intends to change Church teaching on the question of homosexuality.

2. The Pope did not make the statements attributed to him, but he does not choose to issue a public correction because he is content to allow confusion about Church teaching on the question of homosexuality.

Not surprisingly, both of Lawler’s possibilities generate controversy by attributing ill will or secret agendas to the Holy Father. At the same time, neither possibility considers that Pope Francis was speaking pastorally and in a privileged forum. Nor that he was speaking to a person who had twice been traumatized by the Church–first as a childhood victim of clergy sexual abuse, and second as a wounded victim whose pain was repeatedly mocked by those who represented his abuser.

“Really, is there any other way to explain the Pope’s statement and his subsequent silence—in this case and many others?” Lawler asks as he sets up the concluding self-promotion of his book.

Yes, there is.

There is the third possibility offered by Cruz himself:

Mr. Cruz, a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in his native Chile, said that even if the church’s teaching on homosexuality remains unchanged, the pope’s words provide an example as to how L.G.B.T. Catholics can be welcomed in the church.

“I saw a compassionate man, I saw someone who was caring for someone, not worrying about if we are gay, straight, brown, white. He was hearing from someone who has been hurt, abused,” Mr. Cruz said.

Of course this third possibility is not controversial to most Catholics. It fails to portray Francis as “a bad pope”. And thus it is unlikely to be as effective in generating sales of Lawler’s book.

Hence the self-promotion in Phil Lawler’s neverending criticism of the Pope Francis: it is not incidental but a feature.

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Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

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