The Pope is the guardian of dogma and of morals; he is the custodian of the principles that make families sound, nations great, souls holy; he is the counsellor of princes and of peoples; he is the head under whom no one feels tyrannized because he represents God Himself; he is the supreme father who unites in himself all that may exist that is loving, tender, divine. ~Pope Pius X
Back in 2013 when Pope Francis was elected I was working in the bookstore of a Christian Reformed college. I was the token Catholic. One of the first things I did when I moved into my office was hang up my diploma from the local Catholic college I attended along with an icon of the Blessed Mother. I became the “office expert” on everything papal when Pope Benedict retired and was totally live-streaming the Sistine Chapel’s chimney in my office when Francis was elected.
There were several college students who worked at the bookstore, and the summer after the conclave I was talking with one student who was studying abroad in Europe when Francis was elected. She was as Christian Reformed as they come, but I remember her definitively saying that Pope Francis was her pope too. He was her pope too.
In a way that sums up Francis’ papacy. He is a father for the world, not just faithful Catholics. If anything, he can be quite harsh to faithful Catholics. Like the Person he represents, Francis seems very preoccupied with doing whatever it takes to bring the one lost sheep, those on the margins, back home—even if that means that the ninety-nine righteous sheep he leaves behind grumble and complain.
Since his election I’ve admired Pope Francis. His gestures of humility, simplicity, and his special attention to the poor have inspired and challenged me. During the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis published a book titled The Name of God is Mercy. I read that book three times during the course of a year, and it was then that I went from liking the pope to loving him. This book spoke directly to my heart. As a faithful Catholic, the Holy Father challenged my tendency to judge others for their sins rather than see myself as a sinner. As a lay minister at a Catholic parish (I have moved on from the bookstore and put my Theology degree to use), he modeled what a ministry of mercy should look like. I fell in love with Pope Francis, so much so that my wife and I named our fourth child after him.
So when Amoris Laetitia came out in the spring of 2016, I felt torn. There were so many people who I’m friends with, people who I respect, people who I look up to for their theological expertise, who were emphatically saying how problematic this document was. I wished, like many people, that the pope would just clarify himself and tell those liberal bishops from Argentina that they were misunderstanding Amoris.
That was my opinion until this past September when a group of Catholics (theologians, writers, some clergy, and a bishop) published the Filial Correction letter accusing Pope Francis of propagating heresy. My gut said that this was way out of line (Nobody accuses my father of spreading heresy!). But when I criticized this letter, a canon lawyer I know told me that I didn’t really know what I was talking about. And maybe I didn’t, but being who I am, I took that comment to heart, saw it as a challenge, and started reading. However, when I read the documents for themselves, and not just the select quotes that the National Catholic Register was commenting on, I found that Amoris is not only obviously orthodox, but that Pope Francis hasn’t been confusing or ambiguous about what he means at all. (More about that in the next few weeks.)
However, if what the Holy Father is teaching is both orthodox and unambiguous, then what does that say about Catholics like Raymond Arroyo, Edward Pentin, and Fr. Gerald Murray who are regularly criticizing Pope Francis and his defenders? Catholic media has blown this controversy way out of proportion. The “confusion” and “scandal” caused by Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia is largely manufactured. I agree with Cardinal Cupich when he says, “I don’t think people are scandalized by the pope. I think they’re being told to be scandalized. I think there’s a difference.” My concern is that because Francis’ teachings are being misrepresented by traditionally orthodox Catholic sources, average faithful pew-sitting Catholics will look at our Holy Father with suspicion rather than affection.
It’s a sad day in the Church when average Catholics feel the need to create a website dedicated to defending the Holy Father from priests, theologians, and EWTN. But I’m honored to be a contributor for Where Peter Is and to share with you the fruit of my theological study as well as my love for Pope Francis.
Pope Francis photo credit: Aleteia Image Department [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Paul Fahey is a husband, father of four, and professional lay person.