In a darkly toned essay reminiscent of The Borgias, Washington Post Berlin Bureau Chief Anthony Faiola tells his readers that a storm is brewing in the Church, pitting liberal “Francis Catholics” against a sour group of disenfranchised conservatives who are looking for ways to stymie the pontiff at every turn.
Typical of writers who have spent little time in or around the Vatican, Faiola falls for all the stereotypes imaginable, sketching the Pope as a liberal stick figure open to every possible change in Church teaching while equally two-dimensional conservatives utter ominous “warnings” to the Pope on the limits of his authority.
According to Faiola, Francis “upends church convention” while simultaneously grappling with a “conservative backlash to the liberal momentum building inside the church.”
All of this makes for good tabloid fodder, but none of it reflects the more nuanced reality of the interior workings of the Catholic Church, which means that it generates far more heat than light.
In point of fact: although liberals would love to be able to claim Pope Francis as their poster boy, he resists such a facile appropriation. His tone may sound liberal, but in substance he is anything but.
Despite Faiola’s misplaced contentions to the contrary, the Pope is not open to any and all change, and has staked out hardline positions on a number of issues that make liberals cringe. He has railed against “gender ideology” (Argentinian language for the LGBT agenda) and insisted that marriage is based on the complementarity of man and woman.
“I wonder,” said Pope Francis last April, “whether the so-called theory of gender is not an expression of frustration and resignation, which tries to erase sexual differences because it doesn’t know how to handle them.”
Every chance he gets Francis speaks out against the “scourge” of abortion, comparing abortion activists to mafia kingpins who “eliminate” anyone who gets in their way, even if it means killing an unborn child.
Faiola calls Francis a “revolutionary” for broadening the power of priests during the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy to absolve women who commit abortion, while failing to note that his predecessor Pope John Paul II did the exact same thing during the last Jubilee year, and that in the United States, such a practice is already commonplace.
The “bruising theological pushback by conservatives” against Francis that Faiola conjures up for his piece seems to be the product of his own overactive imagination, rather than an ascertainable reality in the Church, and he offers not a scrap of evidence that such a “pushback” even exists.
Similarly, in saying that Francis supports “liberal church leaders who are pressing for radical change,” Faiola reveals much more about his own dreams for the Church than he does about Francis himself.
Pope Francis has indeed encouraged dialogue and debate in the Church, urging all to speak their minds freely, even when they disagree with him. He has welcomed correction, and fostered a climate of openness where the cloak and dagger world imagined by Faiola is completely unnecessary.
The next time the Washington Post is looking for a writer to report on the Catholic Church, maybe they should ask Dan Brown if he’s free. At least he admits that he writes fiction.