The past two Fridays have seen media attacks launched on Pope Francis in Rome. First, a series of posters were placed (illegally, without any permission) on billboards with a rather unflattering picture of the Holy Father with the following message in Italian (in the local Roman dialect): “Eh, Francis, you’ve commissioned Congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, you’ve ignored cardinals … but where’s your mercy?”
The following Friday saw a parody copy of L’Osservatore Romano released, sarcastically having the pope answering the questions of four cardinals concerning “Amoris Laetitia” on the reception of Holy Communion by those who are civilly remarried without the benefit of an annulment.
This public baiting and mocking of a pope is truly unprecedented in modern Church history. These anonymous attacks are blamed on some in the more conservative side of the Church and it would be easy to write the story as progressive, nice Pope Francis vs. traditionalist, nasty conservatives. But nothing in life is that simple.
Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., a close friend and collaborator of the pope, described the Holy Father as “serene” in the face of this attacks. These posters and parodies are childish and in no way aid in the creation of a culture of dialogue that the Pope has asked.
What good can come out of this? Perhaps this: a real and open dialogue between the pope and his critics. It is obvious not everyone agrees with every decision made by Pope Francis. It is obvious clarity is needed concerning certain points in “Amoris Laetitia,” in order to come to a true appreciation of what the Holy Father is asking.
But this dialogue cannot occur when one side seems to be mocking the Vicar of Christ in a childish fashion. Francis is the pope and as the Successor of St. Peter, he should always be treated with the utmost deference, respect and love. The Church is not Saturday Night Live and these questions on Church policy are not a skit. They are important and they involve the care of souls.
Likewise, those who wish to offer a more liberal interpretation of the Holy Father’s words and actions need to not just dismiss those with legitimate concerns, who ask in a proper and respectful fashion, as crazy, scrupulous Pharisees.
Dialogue is needed, real dialogue. The great 20th-century theologian, Father Bernard Lonergan, S.J., in his classical work, “Method in Theology” (1972) writes: “There is bound to be formed a solid right that is determined to live in a world that no longer exists. There is bound to be formed a scattered left, captivated by now this, now that new development, exploring now this and now that new possibility. But what will count is a perhaps not numerous center, big enough to be at home in both the old and the new, painstaking enough to work out one by one the transitions to be made, strong enough to refuse half measures and insist on complete solutions even though it has to wait.”
We need that “not numerous center” to emerge in our Church, now more than ever.