Russell Shaw: The press have “gotten it essentially right” about Pope Francis

Respected Catholic commentator Russell Shaw writes:

Among Catholics who’ve been rattled by remarks by Pope Francis in his famous interviews, some have sought solace in blaming the media. … But when you’re through criticizing the press, the fact remains that the reporters have gotten it essentially right. Pope Francis truly is saying something different …

Drawing on Italian Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister, Shaw writes that

Pope Francis … should be seen in the line of two larger-than-life figures of the not so distant past – Cardinal Carlo Martini, S.J., of Milan and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

Their approach?

Instead of confronting the secular culture, seek common ground. Where no common ground can be found, downplay the conflict as much as can be done without sacrificing principle.

Shaw concludes,

We’re in for an exciting ride.

Read the whole thing here.



  1. Francis certainly identifies with Martini, and Martini was the great liberal hope for a liberal Pope.

    However how this applies to the specific sociological situation of the United States is far more complicated, and probably not served well by invoking Bernardin.

    The Divorce-Remarriage question is a good place to begin, and the key to understanding it is provided by Greeley and Hout’s classic The Truth about Conservative Christians which I would include in any top ten sociology books for understanding the USA.

    Greeley argues from data that the “sexual revolution” was all about substituting “monogamy” rather than “promiscuity” as the sexual norm instead of life-long marriage. That revolution said that serial monogamy (i.e. divorce) was OK and that premarital monogamy was also OK including living together. The wide acceptance of “gay marriage” is only the latest development of this monogamy ethic.

    By and large Conservative Protestant ministers have accepted rather than challenged this culture of monogamy. Their only real challenge was to deny premarital monogamy to teens by advocating abstinence rather than contraceptives. The culture wars they engaged in against the “liberal media” failed to face the real problems at home in the congregation and the family.

    Bashing “gay marriage” hardly attacks the root cause of our problems which is the easy acceptance of divorce. Much research has shown the negative effects of divorce on children. Some of that research has shown that children of amicable divorces have more problems than children of dysfunctional divorces. When the parents clearly do not get along children often can figure out the problems and confidently marry keeping in mind how they are not going to follow their parental example. Children of amicable divorces have little explanation for divorce and a greater reluctance to commit themselves to marriage as a life long institution. They are left with a vision of marriage as a convenience, and they often know they were the victims of that convenience.

    My conclusion is that we need to get out of the gay bashing and culture bashing and face the real complex human problems of a society in which divorce is prevalent. We can do that with Francis’ church culture of love and mercy that reaches out to people in their need rather than standing in the door of the church with the key in our pocket shouting ideology and moral norms at people (as Francis recently expressed it in one of his homlities).

    I am hopeful that the coming extraordinary synod will be a step in the right direction. Recognize however, as I suspect Francis does, that we are a world of many different cultures, and that there is no one size fits all approach to promoting the Christian ideal of life long marriage and dealing with the battlefields of divorce and other forms of disposable people.

    Francis will surely provide the framework of love and mercy and warn us against ideology and moralism. However whether that will help American bishops create a church culture of love and mercy remains to be seen. For several years I had prayed for a new pope, and I still pray for new bishops!

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