It hasn’t stopped, and I doubt it ever will, the sometimes deliberate, sometimes ignorant misinterpretation of Pope Francis and his words and opinions, from both within and outside of the Church.
It began as soon as the white smoke drifted into the Roman air, with eager journalists asking if Catholicism would now accept abortion, same-sex marriage, divorce, and contraception. It’s always the sexual issues of course, shouted by critics who then accuse the Church of being obsessed with, well, sexual issues.
It was this tired litany of questions that led Random House to ask me to write The Future of Catholicism, published earlier this month. My previous two books, particularly Why Catholics Are Right, had sold surprisingly well and even enormous secular publishing houses know a good thing when they see it. Actually that’s not fair to the people at Random House, who have never asked this conservative Catholic to withdraw or edit a word; somewhat proving the ultra-right conspiracy theorists in the Church to be somewhat hysterical. It’s often how you say something rather than what you say that alienates people.
Which is surely what the Holy Father has been telling us for some time, if only we would listen. The Church remains the Church, and Church teachings remain Church teachings, but if people are not paying attention we must adapt the manner in which we speak to them and how we communicate that unchanging truth.
Just recently, for example, American commentator Pat Buchanan quoted Pope Francis as saying that if someone was homosexual, who were we to judge? No Pat, that’s not so. What the Pope did say was that if someone has a same-sex attraction but is searching for God, we shouldn’t judge. That’s radically different, in that if they are genuinely searching for God they are struggling with their nature and trying to lead a Catholic life. This is important, and quintessentially indicative. The Church cannot change it teachings on homosexuality, but it needs to do a better job in empowering and embracing those who struggle with temptation, whatever that temptation may be.
But, naturally, Buchanan’s column did the rounds of internet warriors, and this and some of his other flawed conclusions led all sorts of people to condemn a Pontiff who is in fact re-introducing the Church to the world. How he might do that is, to an extent, what the new book is about. Where can the Church change, where can it not? I have devoted entire chapters to same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, contraception, and female ordination, where there is simply no place in Scripture or the deposit of faith for fundamental movement.
I have also written chapters on evangelization, ecumenism, internal reform, party politics, and social, where there certainly is room for change, even radical change. But in all of these areas, we have to be careful not to be, forgive me, ecumenical with the truth. There are permanent things, absolutes, that are to be defended, cherished, and relished for all time. We are Catholics to love, not to be loved, and anybody looking for acceptance in a culture bombarded by decadence and materialism is in the wrong place.
The future Church is part of a continuum, a seamless garment of guidance, a megaphone for God’s word. If anybody is looking for a book about the future of Catholicism that describes a type of wilting, Romanized Protestantism, please don’t waste your money. The Church, and this subject, is much more important than that.
Michael Coren is a British-Canadian author and broadcaster. His latest book, The Future of Catholicism, is published by Signal Books.