VIEW FROM THE PEW
Recent popes have come under constant and intense media scrutiny. How has this affected the Faith?
Today, when so many Catholics get their information from secular media, it seems that Catholic teaching is routinely twisted to fit the media’s agenda. Similarly, the popularity of a pope has become a ‘media circus.’
Five ordinary US Catholics got together on Facebook recently to hash it out. Here’s what Zachary, 31, a security guard from California; Robert, 61, a lawyer from Maine; Malia is 44, an entrepreneur from LA; Sean, 34, a laboratory technician from Chicago, and Rosemary, 59, a substitute teacher from Jerome, Idaho had to say to REGINA MAGAZINE recently, in this fourth in a seven-part series.
MODERATOR: I remember how fond people were of John Paul II in the early 1990s when I was a new convert; I was puzzled by this. I definitely respected him and saw that he was faithful and loved the church. But sometimes the way the faithful talked about him seemed a bit exaggerated. Perhaps it was because I was not raised in the faith, but I did not feel such strong emotions towards him. I then saw a radical difference with Pope Benedict XVI. He was loved by the more traditionally minded Catholics, while the majority seemed to merely tolerate him. Today we have a different situation again. A pope with a strong personality whose problematic statements are often justified in pretty incredible ways. Can we perhaps talk about a phenomenon of ‘papolatry’? What do you think has caused it?
Zachary: This is likely due to having a run of decent to good Popes since Vatican II, I personally think the Legionnaires of Christ scandal was the worse scandal during JPII’s pontificate, exceeding even the sex abuse scandals due to the founders’s wholly unrepentant attitude when caught and his extreme personal corruption while leading an entire religious order. Showing a lack of true justice, the Order should have been dissolved immediately and all of the priests formed by the order sent for spiritual direction & psychological counselling. But yes, a strain of ultramontainism and the Catholic media downplaying the bad sides of JPII’s reign, along with their current covering for Pope Francis’s actions and not being able to say 2+2 = 4. They prefer to avoid the question entirely with notable exceptions of Edward Pentin and Raymond Arroyo.
Robert: Fr. Le Floch, superior of the French Seminary in Rome, announced in 1926:
“The heresy which is now being born will become the most dangerous of all; the exaggeration of the respect due to the pope and the illegitimate extension of his infallibility.” (One of Fr. Le Floch’s students, by the way, was none other than Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.)
While I fully adhere to the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, of course, it has long since been exaggerated, just as Fr. Le Floch predicted. Now there is a very large segment of the Catholic population that believes the Holy Ghost directly chooses the Pope – a notion totally without justification.
Also, following the Council of Trent, the Church rightfully “circled the wagons” against Protestant heretics. The Church enjoyed a long succession of rather impressive pontiffs, which gave an air of invincibility to the Papal Throne. The Church, in a sense, has become a victim of her earlier success.
The Papacy, even today, remains an object of awe. The office is the only monarchy (yes, the Pope is a King, despite relinquishing the tiara as Paul VI did, or the insistence of Francis to be called the “Bishop of Rome”) the only monarchy to last 2,000 years. People recognize, and it is reasonable to believe that such an institution, had it been of human origin, would have crumbled into dust centuries ago, if it had ever gotten going at all. People, all of us, are rightly referred to by Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, as sheep. We tend to be lost without strong leadership. It is natural for one who loves the Church to love the Pope. I love the Pope … but love, like humility acknowledges the truth. I do not love the Pope if I applaud his every move, even those that frankly cause scandal. It is a disturbing reality of our time that we must inquire of papal statements. We must be discerning and prudent, to ensure that they themselves adhere to the constant teaching of Holy Mother Church. This is hard for most people – they are not theologians, are not experts, and oftentimes are not critical thinkers. They are sheep in need of a shepherd.
Malia: The idolizing of something is a “tendency” that is found in the human trait. Whether it is money, automobile, food, entertainment, technology, musician, actor, etc., these are units that can be ascribed and be fixated upon by a person. The “papalatry” phenomenon is one of superficiality and a “worldly” attraction. It has no bearing to the Spiritual realm and or the truth. It is a media created and driven “sensationalism” with limitations that could only lead to destruction, falsehood, idolizing, including offering no permanent solutions. In other words, there is no happiness because it is fleeting and a temporary fixation. If the media can build you up; it can also tear you down. If it can selectively raise you up according to its fashions, guidelines, and standards, it can pull the rug right from under you without your knowledge, and merciless while at it. Such phenomenon is “hyped” only to the extent and the level in which the media favors you or not. The more aligned the Pope is to their agenda, the more they will raise you on the pedestal.
Pope Benedict has been a stalwart in his disposition of defending doctrines and dogmas. It is his love for Scriptures that he searches the face of Christ in every situation. He has the gift of “words” and the natural ability to see the relevance of “reason”, and he is able to melodiously construct a passage relating to Christ and His overall mission. It is pure humility with love for truth, simultaneously! Papa Benedict has captured the inner beauty of God’s mysteries, whereas the late Pope John Paul II captured the outer beauty. Both have worked creatively and synonymously, harmonizing the beauty of “Truth” without contradicting authentic teachings that have been passed down from time immemorial. They have also garnered constructive criticisms as well as less favorable ones with a selective following. Assuredly, the “world” did not fall “head-over-heels” for either one. The case of Francis is quite another altogether!
Sean: In general, I suspect the pitfall of papolatry is largely owing to the pope’s position as the head of a worldwide and hierarchically organized religion. Catholics naturally look to the pope for leadership and see him as a larger-than-life, almost superhuman figure, a focus for the shared enthusiasm of large groups. Devotion to the Holy Father is a healthy thing in itself, but it is possible to take this devotion to an unhealthy extreme. In the case of Pope Francis, I think that a personality cult has been part of his pontificate from the start. Papal retainers like Greg Burke as well as the media, celebrities, political elites and others have carefully managed this cult of personality, in which Pope Francis enjoys the status of a heavenly luminary for a broad liberal agenda. Liberal operatives, from high-level cadres to low-level do-gooders, pick up on this “signal” and take up the pope’s banner. Less informed persons, including Catholics and non-Catholics, pick up on this suggestion and form an ill-understood but strong, implicit trust in the Pope Francis presented to them by the purveyors of this beneficent image of a wise and kindly man in white.
TOMORROW: How Culture Affects How Catholics See the Pope