Letter from America
In a moving essay published earlier this month in America magazine, the writer Mike Lewis chronicles how the division in the Church over Pope Francis has divided his own family, with his elderly (now deceased) mother spending her final years on earth saying that Francis has confused the Church.
“My mother, who never read anything Pope Francis actually wrote, became convinced he was a heretic by her friends at church, members of her Catholic book club and through watching The World Over Live, a weekly talk show on EWTN hosted by Raymond Arroyo, which often features outspoken papal critics,” writes Mr Lewis, who runs the first-rate blog Where Peter Is.
Four years ago I offered a similar reflection lamenting the fact that as a convert from Protestantism, part of what drew me to the Church was the unity she offered, in large part due to the authority of the Pope.
A decade ago prior to my conversion it was the likes of EWTN and similar media outlets that were quite formative and shaped my introduction to the faith, so it’s been all the more painful to see them fueling so much of the recent division within the Church.
“As someone who continues to be inspired by the life and legacies of Popes John Paul II and Benedict, it’s been all the more disheartening that such behaviour has arisen from the very writers, thinkers, and publications that paved the way for my early exploration of Catholicism,” I wrote in 2017. “They were once the first to proclaim that the cafeteria was closed. Today, not only does the cafeteria seem to be open, but some of those figures are encouraging a food fight.”
It was nearly impossible for those of us in the press to even appreciate Francis’ long, beautiful silence and prayer at Knock”
All of this comes to mind as I reflect on the two year anniversary of the World Meeting of Families. While I have the most fond memories of happy times in Dublin (including much of it being time spent with the writers of this paper), the whole meeting was overshadowed not by the clouds and rain (though there was plenty of that) but by a letter penned by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal representative to the US, that was released on the morning of Francis’ final day in the country.
In that letter, Archbishop Viganò – the disgruntled and now discredited former Vatican employee – accused Francis of ignoring clerical abuse cases, particularly that of former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Washington, and went as far as to call for Francis’ resignation.
It was nearly impossible for those of us in the press to even appreciate Francis’ long, beautiful silence and prayer at Knock on that Sunday morning because of the distraction of that letter.
Part of the reason the Church has invested so heavily, both in terms of man hours and financial resources on major events like World Youth Days and World Meetings of Families, over the last three decades is that they have historically served as unifying, galvanising experiences both for the local Church and beyond.
Reflecting on the World Meeting of Families two months after the fact, Archbishop Eamon Martin told me that Archbishop Vigano had “hijacked” the event. That’s not to say that the event was unsuccessful and hasn’t yielded beautiful moments for the Church worldwide, but for a Pope who came to Ireland to help catapult his pastoral letter on the Joy of the Family, it’s not an exaggeration to say that he was overshadowed at best.
For more than seven years, Francis has been met with continued resistance by those made uncomfortable by his push for a Church that seeks to go out from itself, to stand in solidarity with the marginalised in new and creative ways, and for its priorities to be refocused to those on the peripheries of society, not those in the center of the spotlight.
Catholic media and those in the pews that are hostile to this mission do a disservice to this Pope and the Church. Two years on from Francis’ visit to Ireland, it’s a lesson the global Church must reconsider anew – because it’s hard to talk credibly about the “joy of the family” when one’s own house is in disarray.
Christopher White is the national correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @CWWhite212