Like former-president Trump, Pope Francis is incredibly transparent. Though their similarities might begin and end with this one thing, it is refreshing to witness such clear-sighted leadership. At the same time, it is probably not enjoyable for them to be continuously criticized for it. Pope Francis recently spoke about the criticism he receives—much, if not most, of it from the United States where freedom of speech, from D.C.’s polarized battlefields to Hollywood’s defective moral compass, gets gaslighted by social media’s uncontrollable wildfire.
Father Richard Rohr once wrote: “God and His good news get used, abused, and distorted. He remains word instead of the Word-made-flesh. He is argued instead of loved. He is proven instead of shared. He is religious structure instead of the core structure of our lives.” Most Catholics in America are rooted in faith-based traditions that guide our thinking: human life is sacred at every age and stage; abortion is objectively morally evil; the sacrament of holy matrimony is between one man and one woman; those in civil unions should be protected with legal rights; immigrants seeking a better life ought to be given the opportunity to pursue it as did our forebears; judging and condemning others is antithetical to Christianity; we should live by the golden rule and be in communion with Christ; the Holy Spirit is our constant companion who will help us make wise decisions. Pope Francis is very clear about these things—we try to be also. Unfortunately, many of us who hold faith-based traditional views get criticized too, accused of being insensitive, prejudiced, and even evil, by those who succumb to polarized ideology and/or the dysfunctional moral standards that cloud and iCloud our society from coast to coast. In beauty, truth, and goodness, we can uphold the sanctity of marriage and sanctity of life and, at the same time, show compassion to LGBT+ and individuals contemplating abortion or facing other horrific circumstances.
The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) has been one of the Pope’s chief critics. While the network has achieved amazing feats—primarily because its foundress, Mother Angelica, was able to accomplish what other powerful church leaders could not—it often capitulates to condemnatory, polarizing, Pharisaical attitudes that reveal an ugly side of religion, and which Jesus warned us against. Like in other social media agencies, God and His good news get used, abused, argued, and distorted there and Jesus’ message of love, mercy, and compassion gets lost. Father Ron Rolheiser once noted that, “Becoming like Jesus is as much about having a relaxed and joyful heart as it is believing and doing the right thing; it’s as much about proper energy as it is proper truth.” A joyful heart inculcates the energy of the Holy Spirit into the core structure of our lives. Where Christ is that center, we evangelize by our actions more than by stating our belief, conveying our version of God’s truth, or denouncing others.
As the Pope says, it is okay to criticize him because he is a sinner. But it is not okay to work against Christ’s core message of mercy and love. Likewise, it is not okay to condemn because our faith was born of compassion.