Why some people just don’t get Pope Francis

The weekly news magazine Time was forced into an embarrassing clarification this week. By the time you read this, the magazine – which circulates more than 3 million copies per week – will have announced their ‘Person of the Year’. Among the short-listed candidates was, unsurprisingly, Pope Francis. Now, few could argue that since his election in March, the Pope has had a remarkable impact on the Church and the world. He is a worthy candidate for the short-list. The problem is the reason Time gave for nominating the Pope: his rejection of Catholic dogma! Yes, the standard of reporting of religious affairs at one of the most-respected magazines in the world really is poor enough to interpret Pope Francis’ actions as a rejection of Church dogma.

This is despite the fact that the Pope has given no indication whatsoever that he intends to reject or revise any Church dogmas. He is the Pope after all, responsible for promoting and preaching the Church’s teaching. It shows the extent to which many people don’t really get Pope Francis and are instead engaged in a campaign to shape him in their own image and likeness. The publishers did correct the howler, but only after it was pointed out.


The controversial theologian Hans Küng is also among those trying to spin Pope Francis to suit a particular agenda. 85-year-old Dr Küng, who is no stranger to picking and choosing what parts of the Church’s teaching he thinks worthy of following, has penned a lengthy article on the Pope’s recent document Evangelii Gaudium.

Predictably, Dr Küng gushes about the parts of the document where he believes the Pope to be in agreement with his own analysis. Where Francis is at odds with Dr Küng, the Swiss theologian has a formula to explain the Pope away: Francis is ‘under pressure’ from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to conform. This, Dr Küng says with bombastic arrogance, shows the “dogmatic limits of this Pope”.

Radical reform

What has been clear from Pope Francis since his election that he is not a man to be the puppet of anyone. He is a man who simultaneously wants to push radical reform of the Church’s structures and life while making it clear that the essence of the Faith remains timeless and unchanging. People like Dr Küng are desperate to latch on to anything to try and prove their specious claim that Pope Francis is determined to change the essential teachings of the Catholic Church beyond recognition. They conveniently ignore the fact that Pope Francis has repeatedly re-iterated the Church’s teaching on the issues that the mainstream media find contentious: abortion, the ordination of women, homosexuality and the traditional family based on marriage between a man and a woman.

Make no mistake: Pope Francis will transform the Church: he is definitely determined to place the entire Church on a missionary footing. In some circumstances, this will mean leaving old ways and old mind-sets behind. But, attempts to mould Pope Francis into a one-dimensional caricature will be useless as this Pope of surprises continues to surprise us.

If you’re a Catholic and you’re not challenged, even sometimes unsettled, by what Pope Francis is saying, you’re clearly not listening. One thing is for certain: whatever his overall agenda for transforming the Church will be, it will be a reform and renewal that will be authentically Catholic.

Newsflash: the Pope is a Catholic!