Friday, May 22, 2015


Why Do So Many Misunderstand Pope Francis?

Here's How Not to Make the Same Mistake
By Father Dwight Longenecker as printed in Newsmax

This week Pope Francis found himself in yet another media firestorm. Did he really say that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was "an angel of peace?"

CNN clarifies the controversy here. It turns out the Pope gave Abbas a commemorative medal just as he does other visiting politicians. On the medal is an angel of peace and, in explaining the medal, the Pope encouraged Abbas (as he encourages other politicians) to be "an angel of peace."

The misunderstanding unlocks a greater problem with Francis' papacy. In many ways it cannot be denied that Francis' papacy is divisive. His actions and words are misunderstood so often that we must ask why the problem occurs and what can be done about it. Some of it has to do with Francis' informal, off-the-cuff style. He would rather risk some misunderstanding than to be hedged about with so many restrictions that he cannot speak from the heart.

However, there are several factors that contribute to the problem which are no fault of Pope Francis'. First we have the language barrier. The Pope usually communicates in Italian or Spanish. Subtleties of subtext and connotation are invariably lost in translation. Not only must the Italian and Spanish be translated into English, but the words are translated into every global tongue.

To complicate matters further, with instant global communications the words are no sooner out of the pontiff's mouth than they are splashed across the world's headlines. Public figures have never had to cope with such constant accessibility and instant communication.

The third essential problem is the cultural barrier. The Pope is from Argentina. Like every Pope before him, he brings his own worldview, personal history, and cultural background to the papacy. It is impossible for everyone to understand the full context of his communications because it is impossible for everyone to understand what it means to be an Argentinian.

Communication is a two-way street, and in addition to the linguistic, media, and cultural difficulties every public figure experiences, one must also consider the person who is receiving the communications. Every communication is filtered through the ears and eyes of the person receiving the message. Whatever Pope Francis says, therefore, will be perceived in a different way depending on each person's personal background and bias.

Consequently, a North American progressive may very honestly perceive Pope Francis as a typical pro-gay, socialist left-winger, while a social conservative may see Pope Francis as a strong anti-abortion, pro-family traditional Catholic leader. In other words, those receiving the message may only hear the message they want to hear.

When Pope Francis turns out to be opposed to same-sex marriage and women's ordination, the progressive will either block out the message or devise some trick to pretend it is not really Pope Francis speaking.

Likewise, the social conservative might hear that Pope Francis seems to oppose capitalism, is open to helping divorced and re-married Catholics, and says he is not the one to judge people with same-sex attraction, and become upset because the Pope challenges his preconceived ideas.

Finally, Pope Francis — like every public figure — has to deal with the humiliation of having his words and actions dissected and deliberately misinterpreted by the world's press.

The mainstream journalists on Vatican duty rarely have enough education in Catholic matters to report accurately, and when they do, too often their reporting is biased. They are selective in what they report, slant the stories to cater to their editor's political viewpoint, and often miss the point of both the Pope's actions and the overall priorities and perspectives of the Catholic Church.

Therefore, here are some guidelines to avoid misunderstanding Pope Francis.

First of all, don't believe the headlines. Headlines are designed to grab your attention, not to communicate the story accurately. Don't believe the website headlines. Don't believe the blog headlines. Don't believe the Facebook headlines. Don't believe the newspaper headlines.

Secondly, try to get your news about the Catholic church from reliable Catholic news sources like Aleteia, Catholic News Service, and ZENIT. These online sources may not be as exciting as sensational blogs, salacious Facebook stories, or tabloid gossip, but they will use reporters who understand Pope Francis and the mission of the Catholic Church.

Thirdly, make a real attempt to get to know Pope Francis as he really is — not as the media presents him. There are plenty of good biographies on Francis and plenty of good books with his speeches, homilies, and writings. Try to understand his cultural, religious and political background.

Take time to understand how the turmoil of events in Argentina during his lifetime have formed his spirituality, his teaching, and his pastoral role in the church. Most of all, get to know him as the shepherd of souls, the compassionate pastor and the loving Holy Father. Remember who he is and who God has called him to be.

Finally, remember to really pray for Pope Francis. As you do, you will come to understand him in the deepest and truest way. The Holy Spirit will show you how to understand Pope Francis and why he has been chosen at this time to lead Christ's Church on earth.

Read Fr. Longenecker's blog, browse his books and be in touch at


Anonymous said...

Pope Francis removes Bishop Finn. Silences Cardinal Burke. Both orthodox out spoken teachers of the Faith.

Pope Francis remains silent when the mitre is ripped off the head of that bishop from Chile who is hated by the nation for protecting a pedophile priest. Pope Francis calls Cardinal Danneells out of retirement to attend the synod, a Cardinal who was proven to have shielded a priest who abused is own nephew. Both liberal bishops, Daneells in particular destroyed the Faith of a nation.

If a bishop is liberal and doesn't REALLY believe the Faith as it has always been taught then he is safe. If a bishops publicly defends and teaches the Faith, he is silenced. How am I miss reading Francis?

Anonymous said...

Reading Francis through Arius..or Luther...or Pelagius...

I hope I'm making my point

Anonymous said...

Respectfully, the Pope would do well to talk less. A LOT less. He strikes me as the Catholic Bill Clinton, captivated by the sound of his own voice.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I think it is a very legitimate criticism of Pope Francis that he talks too much and way too much off the cuff. We hear too much from him from his daily homilies to just about everything else.

He condemns those who talk too much using the Italian word that I love so much. But this betrays the fact that he is one of them and this is unbecoming for a pope who doesn't seem to grasp that the enemies of the Church both within and outside use him against those who love the Church, warts and all.

jolly jansenist said...

YAWN YAWN-YAWN-YAWN-YAWN-projectile vomit.

jolly jansenist said...

It ain't how much he talks, it is what he says.

Paul said...

Why do so many misinterpret and misrepresent Pope Francis, because so many people are waiting, on edge, for Pope Francis to legitimize and approve their sins.

Then they can say: "See, the Church was wrong all along, the Church cannot be trusted, we can "change" the Church through sheer force of will. Why have a Church?"

They're not looking for forgiveness, they're looking for permission.

For them all Pope Francis has to do is misspeak or slip up just once.

jolly jansenist said...

But, he has "" and "misspoken" dozens of times. But, he isn't mis-speaking or slipping…he knows very well what he is doing. He is weakening the Church's traditional barriers against secularism by engendering ambiguity, confusing the faithful, and creating an atmosphere in which formerly unquestionable practices and dogma may now be "discussed."

Militia Immaculata said...

JJ, prove to us that Pope Francis is intentionally trying to cause ambiguity. Prove to us that he's intentionally trying to sow confusion. Prove to us that he doesn't believe the Catholic faith.

You can't. But you've made up your mind that it's true. But did you know it's a MORTAL SIN to think like that? Let me explain . . . .

In St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa, he says the following regarding suspicion and rash judgment:

Now there are three degrees of suspicion. The first degree is when a man begins to doubt of another's goodness from slight indications. This is a venial and a light sin; for "it belongs to human temptation without which no man can go through this life," according to a gloss on 1 Corinthians 4:5, "Judge not before the time." The second degree is when a man, from slight indications, esteems another man's wickedness as certain. This is a mortal sin, if it be about a grave matter, since it cannot be without contempt of one's neighbor [emphasis added]. Hence the same gloss goes on to say: "If then we cannot avoid suspicions, because we are human, we must nevertheless restrain our judgment, and refrain from forming a definite and fixed opinion." The third degree is when a judge goes so far as to condemn a man on suspicion: this pertains directly to injustice, and is consequently a mortal sin.

jolly jansenist said...

Well, Militia, it is certainly my opinion. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it. I cannot speak to the Pope's beliefs, and was not doing so. And, I have nothing to prove…it is the Pope who has a lot of convincing to do.

Anonymous said...

jolly jan, I think you just got your butt kicked....

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

MI, thank you for your comments. I've criticized coloring book Catholics on the left, but the mean-spiritness on the right shows an abysmal lack of understanding of what the basics of Christian charity are and the understanding of both venial and mortal sin.