The Washington Post “explains” Pope Francis to us

On July 2, 2016, the Washington Post carried an interesting Editorial entitled, “The Pope’s Welcome Surprises”. The Editorial is short and can be read in a few minutes, and what follows presupposes acquaintance with the Post Editorial itself. That this Editorial is written is not a particularly great “surprise”. It reveals, in my opinion, just how responsible non-Catholic observers understand what the Holy Father has been saying and doing. Whether they have him exactly right can and should be debated.

What follows here is one man’s “reading” or “re-reading” of what is said and implied in this Post Editorial. This “re-reading” and “re-writing” is not a parody or a critique of what the Post wrote or what the Holy Father may hold. It is putting in my own words what can fairly be taken to be what at least some of the public hear the Pope saying. Others may see it differently, but I think what follows comes close to what is implied in the Editorial:

“The Pope Surprises the World”

Under Pope Francis, the Catholic Church now, in principle, accepts the liberal/humanist concepts of modern morality and justice. This view emphasizes state authority (positive law), unlimited moral freedom, theoretic relativism, and universal tolerance.

Francis has not yet formally managed infallibly to install these principles–such as the feasible goodness of divorce, the gay life, abortion, and the denial of any dogmatism or rigidity. He is a severe critic of inequality in all forms, a champion of the downtrodden. He approves ecology’s concern with earth’s dwindling resources. He is systematically working his way through these issues and will, no doubt, soon define these concepts in formal ecclesial terms.

This ‘Francis’ revolution in the Catholic Church is unexpected but welcome. It is long overdue. The old order of doctrine, tradition, and unchangeable moral principles can gradually be set aside. This new freedom and scientific understanding of the Catholic Church are what we now witness in the memorable words of this Argentine pope. They come from the last place from whence we might expect the long-awaited modernization of this venerable but stubborn institution.

Again, this is how one man reads the minds that composed the Post’s Editorial. I take it to be a fair interpretation. As such Editorials on the intentions of Pope Francis multiply in the world press, it seems to be up to the Holy Father to clarify himself for the benefit of everyone. Because of the high profile of this Post Editorial, I do not think ‘the Vatican’ bureaucracy can any longer perform this clarifying task. In this sense, the Editorial is welcome as a basis of deep reflection about the nature of the Church.


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About James V. Schall, S.J. 177 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until retiring in 2012. He was the author of numerous books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. One of his last books was On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018). He died at the age of 91 on April 17, 2019. Visit his site, "Another Sort of Learning", for more about his writings and work.