Over at First Things, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska has some reflections on the recent Rolling Stone cover story about Pope Francis (the article that was dubbed superficial and crude by the Vatican spokesman last week). Bishop Conley calls the article “an exercise in standard revisionism” that attempts to “remake” Pope Francis as “the quiet hero of the liberal left.”
Sexual and social libertines have little interest in discrediting Christianity. They’re far more interested in refashioning it—in claiming Christ, and his vicar, as their supporters. The secularist social agenda is more palatable to impressionable young people if it complements, rather than competes with, the residual Christianity of their families. The enemy has no interest in eradicating Christianity if he can sublimate it to his own purposes.
The greatest trick of the devil isn’t convincing the world he doesn’t exist—it’s convincing the world that Jesus Christ is the champion of his causes.
Faced with questions about whether Pope Francis knows how his words and actions will likely be interpreted—or misinterpreted—by the media, Bishop Conley says he suspects the Holy Father “is keenly aware of the choices he’s making, and the risks they pose.”
It is the simplicity of Pope Francis, and his charity, which are misappropriated. His generosity and humanity are remade as a shibboleth of heterodoxy. And as a foil, the humility and academic brilliance of Pope Benedict are characterized, with a fair bit of anti-Teutonic stereotyping, as Machiavellian scheming. But these images are laughably inaccurate, and fleeting.
The promise of the Gospel is that authentic commitment to the truth—and a refusal to separate a commitment to social justice from a commitment to orthodoxy and piety—will lead to conversion. The path of Pope Francis might lead to “media martyrdom.” But martyrdom sows the seeds of conversion.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict wrote that “[St.] Paul was not of the opinion that the chief pastoral task was to avoid controversy. Nor did he think that an apostle should have above all good press. No, he wanted to arouse, to awaken consciences, even if it cost him his life.” In different ways, rooted in different personalities, Benedict and Francis have both demonstrated commitment to that ideal. So should we.
Read all of Bishop Conley’s article here.