George Neumayr on ‘Fantasy’ Francis

George Neumayr thinks Pope Francis is all too real, and he doesn’t like it. He writes in Spectator:      

While some of the media’s claims about Francis are excessive, at least one is dismayingly real…: that Francis is more liberal than his predecessors. Indeed, not a week passes without some new papal statement or action to puzzle conservatives and embolden liberals.

You have to understand that Neumayr has an axe to grind. As a critic of Pope Francis, he is out to emphasize the discontinuity between Benedict XVI and Francis, to the disparagement of the latter. And the way these things work, what is bad news for Neumayr is good news for many people – including, no doubt, some Pray Tell readers.

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21 comments

  1. You have to understand that Praytell has an axe to grind. As a critic of Pope Benedict, they are out to emphasize the discontinuity between Benedict XVI and Francis, to the disparagement of the former.

    1. @John Drake – comment #1:
      It is possible to distinguish between being critical of a pope’s particular opinions, policies, and solutions without swinging an axe at a man’s neck.

      Count me as thrilled with Pope Francis, and very much relieved and optimistic for the future of Roman Catholicism.

      No doubt, Pope Benedict is a good and holy man with the best intentions. I’m willing to give him credit for positive aspects of his ministry as the Bishop of Rome, and leave it there. But his era is over. We’ve had our 1978-2013 hiccup of retrenchment. It’s time to focus on discipleship, engagement with the world, and moving to the farthest boundaries. The “deep” of JP2, if you will.

      Face it: many conservatives had gotten so used to the hermeneutic of complaint, that even Joseph Ratzinger in the Chair of Peter wasn’t enough for them. A year ago next month, they were openly hoping for a get-tougher pope who would erect battlements around the family compound and give orders to shoot the Prodigal Son on sight. And eject any dissenters for the slightest breach of fashion etiquette.

      Clearly, something else is happening.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #8:
        “A year ago next month, they were openly hoping for a get-tougher pope who would erect battlements around the family compound and give orders to shoot the Prodigal Son on sight. And eject any dissenters for the slightest breach of fashion etiquette. Clearly, something else is happening.”

        Well put. I remember the fevered hopes for Cdls Burke and Ranjith, among others.

        That said, Pope Francis’ reign will have its limits. I would just be happy if we could return to the historical norm that Catholics don’t have a personality cult around individual popes, even the ones I prefer.

      2. @Elisabeth Ahn – comment #10:
        For most of history, most Catholics weren’t getting regular news about what current Pope N was teaching or saying. If they lived under his direct civil jurisdiction, they would know somewhat more, but not otherwise as a typical matter. We even have to be careful about projecting back too much of our own mental template about parish life onto Catholic life in certain previous eras, where parishes as we know them often did not even exist any more or yet. It was a monumental effort of centuries just to get parish *pastors* to become more consequential in the daily life of most ordinary Catholics. Bishops were more important as landlords.

        The penny press of the the 19th century, plus telegraphy and railroads, then the advent of broadcast media in the 20th century, have permitted Catholics to get a more wrapped up in the individual personality of a given pope.

      3. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #11:

        Thank you. I for one am glad, however, that we now have (relatively) easy access to all papal teachings, and wouldn’t want to go back to the old days when “most Catholics weren’t getting regular news about what current Pope N was teaching or saying.”

        I do agree with you about the possible pitfall of “getting wrapped up in the individual personality of a given pope.”

        Nevertheless, I confess I cannot help but like this pope, even after having been thoroughly disillusioned by one of his predecessors, Pope JPII, and even at the risk of having “such jubilation stuck in my throat.”

      4. @Elisabeth Ahn – comment #16:
        My attitude is that, no matter how much what a given pope says or does that might delight my preferences, popes come and go.

        I pay attention to the interesting fact that Jesus spent a great deal of effort preparing his disciples for his eventual absence from the mode they became attached to having him. He was a very unusual, if not entirely unique, leader in that regard. I’ve long marked it a sign of the best class of leader that they are attune to when their flock becomes more attached to the leader than to the mission, and work to prepare the flock for the leader’s departure. Lots of leaders get ego strokes from being needed in this way. I think Pope Francis’s Ignatian training has scoured that ego need from his regular habits: he strikes me as someone who has arrived at a fairly healthy detachment from many pathologies common to people who rise up into the prelature in the Catholic church. (What’s more, he’s very clear this required painful work on his part: indeed, failure. He understands that his roles were invitations to failure, rather than “success” because it is in failure that God can prune what needs to be pruned. Pope Francis is no affirmation junkie. How many pastors and bishops do you know who openly embrace failure as failure without some level of ego-drama? Many appear to be like job applicants who, when asked to name their major fault, say “I am a perfectionist and I work too hard.”)

      5. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #17:

        “Pope Francis is no affirmation junkie.”

        Nope, he’s not. Remember that time when he “admonished” and asked the faithful in St. Peter’s Square to shout Jesus, instead of his own name, Francis?

        (which is, sigh, all the more reason to like him.)

        Anyway, I get your point, and I agree, wholeheartedly.

      6. @Elisabeth Ahn – comment #18:
        While I like Pope Francis very much and see him as a refreshing and much needed change, he reminds me of some Jesuits I’ve known. Who can shock you with his bluntness and, at the same, his appeal to your better nature. Dazzling you with his footwork in his feats of logic and rhetorical prowess. Yet, when you scrape the surface, you at once notice they are also inherently dedicated men of the Church. Displaying, with few exceptions, a thorough understanding of human nature and a loyalty any good courtier in the service of the bishop of Rome would be loathe to hide.

      7. @Brian Palmer – comment #19:

        Well, all those “Jesuit characteristics,” as you say, are pluses in my book.

        Besides, I don’t think one needs to “scrape the surface” to see that this pope is an “inherently dedicated man of the Church with a thorough understanding of human nature” and I would add, of the world as well, since he comes off as such even on the surface.

        To me, anyway.

        And really, God knows we need more of such men — and of course, women — in the Church leadership, instead of those “courtiers” who fancy themselves loyal servants of the bishop of Rome, but who in truth are nothing more than power-seeking, self-serving parasites.

        @ STEVEN SURRENCY — comment #20

        I agree, but alas, such categorization and labeling probably are not going to go away anytime soon, if ever.

  2. ….one is dismayingly real…: that Francis is more liberal than his predecessors…

    Assuming, arguendo, that this is true, i.e., that Francis is more liberal (at least on actual doctrine I am not sure that it is true), why is that bad? Unless you view the papacy as a political office – a seat of political power of some kind – what difference does it make? Regardless, the Pope’s approval ratings are so high among the Catholic population that not liking his actions to date really does sound like having an axe to grind.

  3. A writer for the Spectator with an axe to grind? My word, what are things coming to? Next thing you know, you’ll tell me there are writers at National Catholic Reporter with an axe to grind. Then I will need to get more crop insurance.

    Grinding axes the wrong way dulls them, fwiw.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #5:

      As Karl observes, the Spectator is far from a non-partisan publication. Since George Neumayr views Pope Francis’s service as the Bishop of Rome through a necessarily political lens, he politicizes concepts which are not political, and certainly not pertinent to American politics.

      Neumayr cites Pope Benedict’s “restorationist priorities”, only to immediately drop that train of thought and merge into another example of so-called Franciscan liberalism. I don’t understand how Summorum pontificum, for example, directly benefits any political philosophy. Yes, the SSPX has informally allied with the Front National in France (a far-right xenophobic political party), but the SSPX’s political alliances are not due to the Tridentine liturgy alone. One would have to make super-human leaps of logic to unambiguously politicize Pope Benedict’s liberalization of the celebration of Tridentine liturgy.

      I sense from this article that Neumayr laments that Pope Francis is not a culture warrior. And still, who is he to brand Pope Francis as a relativist when the Pope has spoken out strongly against abortion while also recognizing the universal broken nature of humanity? I suspect that Neumayr (and his colleagues at similar publications) will go ahead and reshape their false idol of Pope Francis, regardless of this idol’s resemblance to Pope Francis and regardless of the idol’s durability.

  4. “Indeed, not a week passes without some new papal statement or action to puzzle conservatives and embolden liberals.”

    He says that like it’s a bad thing.

    Interesting though, for some 35 years “conservatives” were very fond of telling people that if they did not like the pope or what he did they weren’t “authentically” Catholic and should leave the church.

    I will do my best to refrain from taking that same approach so my prayer these days is to ask God for the strength and ability to treat these Catholic with more respect and understanding than they treated me for the past 3 and half decades.

  5. Karl Liam Saur, from your lips to Francis’s ears. Would that he understood that less is more. He’s the Church’s equivalent of Bill Clinton. He never stops talking!

    1. @John Drake – comment #12:
      Get used to it. I think he still has a lot more to say. My own sense is that if anything he’s been holding his tongue compared to what he’s capable of.

    2. @John Drake – comment #12:
      Well, I think I read a lot about him. I don’t actually hear anything he says. But I read him at least as carefully as his predecessor.

      Agreed with Karl. He has a lot he could say, if he were an undisciplined sort like Bill Clinton. The only thing those two share is a history of learning under the Jesuits. Oh, and being the same species.

  6. “Francis is more liberal than his predecessors…”

    Not in every area. On many of the issues that have caused Catholics to leave the church – the handling of sex abuse, the doctrine of annulments, the treatment of LGBT people, the roles of women, the linking of the US bishops with conservative politics – he has made no actual changes.

  7. Just let me say, again, I hate the use of political terms. They are so unhelpful! Pope Benedict was “conservative”? Not on sex abuse. Not on the environment. Not on the issue of eschatology (Traddies hate much of his writing in this area.). Not on economics- alas did anyone read his encyclicals? Francis is “liberal.” Not on issues of popular piety. Not on the belief in a literal devil? Not on women’s roles (it seems). I hate metanarratives that cause “conservatives” to love Benedict and “liberals” to love Francis. Neither fit into our American political camps at all! I love Benedict and Francis. I agree with each of them on many issues. I disagree with each of them on some. I’d imagine this is how they feel about each other. I don’t think the areas of agreement or disagreement have to do with political categories at all.

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