Be wary of popularist leaders


The New Testament makes it abundantly clear, in myriad verses, that the decision to follow Christ means you cannot belong to this world. To be a true disciple involves living the life of faith. And that requires stepping outside of the thinking and values of this world and taking on the armour of Christ. It is a challenge that requires us to strive for truth over popularity. Jesus put it this way: If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. JOHN 15:19

 Jesus clearly considered hostility from the world to be normative for the Christian. Proof that you are no longer living according to the world but for Christ in its service. After all the values of the Gospel are diametrically opposed to the values of this fallen world. And certainly history has proved the point. Jesus himself never courted popularity but spoke the truth frankly in love. It ultimately transformed the world for the better but it left him hanging on a cross with just a handful of followers at his side. 

Since that dreadful day countless great Saints have followed in his footsteps. The first 33 Popes all having given their life to Christ. Countless other saints witnessing to Christ by their suffering and rejection in this world. Most recently we see this played out in the Middle East where a great many heroic souls have lost their lives for love of Jesus Christ. Indeed more people have died for being Christian in the last Century than all others combined.

We also saw this suffering in the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. A man gentle and humble in spirit, who will surely be proved prophetic – a doctor of the church- and yet who was nevertheless constantly attacked in the media and grotesquely misrepresented. What people “hated” about him was his robust and inflexible defence of  Catholic faith. Do not fall for the lies of the enemies of the Church. Those who would paint him as a right wing dinosaur to set against a compassionate modern lefty. The Catholic faith has never been about the left and right of human politics. That is the thinking of this world. It is centred on the Gospel. On the fundamental issue of what is truth and what is error.

Thus Pope Benedict delighted Catholics who wanted to preserve the faith of the ages. Yet scandalised those outside the church, as well as those within it who would conform the faith to the world. I speak here of those who uphold the ideals of the sexual revolution to the extent that they would have the church abandon its historic teaching to bend to the will of modernity. What a scandal that amongst this brood of vipers we find those at the highest level of church governance!

What could possibly motivate a Cardinal to desire unscriptural reform? To even attempt a detachment of pastoral practice from doctrine to tip things in the worlds favour? The answer, I suspect, would not delight Christ. Rather we see hunger for popularity, a place at the high tables of society, desire for personal comfort, hunger for church taxes (in Germany) and evidence of those who long ago abandoned faith for the political agendas of this world. Dare I suggest we might also witness the harvest of blind eyes being turned (during the seventies and eighties) to immoral life in the seminaries?  That the gay issue might touch more than a few nerves within the episcopate?

People ask me what  I think about Pope Francis. I love his charisma and warmth. I love his missionary heart. I believe he is a true son of the Church. At least I hope so because the alternative would be grave. But he worries me or rather his approach does.

I assume his intention is to soft peddle faith amongst unbelievers (realising how far apart the modern world is from the church) without actually changing teaching. Which is to say he holds those of faith to a higher/different standard to those of no faith. Gradualism in other words. This would explain why he said ‘who am I to judge’ to the world but chastised the curia for x,y and z. But, if true, this is a dangerous game to play. I fear he underestimates the power of the media who, by broadcasting only half of his message, are cleverly casting their own face and agenda onto him to make him a tool for their cause. The result: he delights the very people Benedict horrified and horrifies those Benedict delighted.

Think about that. Doubtless the detractors of this blog will hoot in delight- for they are those hungering for unscriptural revolution. But those not entirely sold on the liberal causes might ponder what make of a Pope who, unintentionally (I hope) delights non-believers but dismays the person of faith. Who galvanises those who seek to undermine church teaching but alienates those who, with much difficulty in the modern world, seek fidelity and obedience to it. And I do know of a lot of fine Catholics who feel let confused, let down and demoralised at present. In  business terms- does it make sense to chase those who do not buy your product at the clear cost of your faithful consumer base?

So we must pray that the Pope stops playing to the PR gurus and returns to his role in defending the faith even to the point of being disliked. Jesus did not try to give one message to those outside of faith and another to those within it. He just spoke to the truth in love and dared to offend in the process. Our confused world needs that truth more than ever before. And we cannot afford to confuse them by suggesting that a range of opinions are possible. That is called protestantism not Catholicism. And it leads to fracture and schism. Consider again that verse in the Gospel of John

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. JOHN 15:19

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16 thoughts on “Be wary of popularist leaders

  1. I share your admiration of Pope Benedict and disgust at the misrepresentation of such a humble, wise and supremely intelligent man.

    I strongly suspect that this current Pope is a great deal wiser than the same media give him credit for. He seems supremely incarnational to me and there are also many examples of Our Lord getting along side sinners with compassion that made people want to repent by just being in his presence. Zaccheus is my personal favourite.

    I see more admiration for him though in taking on the system and cleaning out dead wood. His courageous rebuke of Vatican officials is particularly appealing to many onlookers.

    1. All helpful and valid points Paul. And I hope he is as brilliant as you suggest but, I must note, that alongside this stuff there is the contradictory statements and the confusion he sows. Most of the world, for example, imagine he is pro gay marriage. Perhaps his delighting you is, in fact, part of what I am talking about, in that it is those outside of Catholicism who admire him more than the orthodox within. You delight would chime with my suspicion that he is more a darling of all Anglicans and liberal Catholics than those seeking to live by historic Catholic faith. That is rather the point I was making.

      1. Happy New Year Father and to your family as well.

        I’m inside the tent and rejoice in what our Holy Father is doing! He’s taking on many tough issues and that will always cause mistrust and worry.

        He’s hardly conforming the Church to the secular world in the way the Avignon Popes did with the French Crown.

        I seem to remember you writing something similar a few months ago. Remember we can only judge a Papacy in decades and Centuries, not months and years.

  2. But at least the world is sitting up and listening, though is apt to misrepresent or misinterpret his true intentions. What we Catholics need to do is to pray for the Pope that God will grant him wisdom to guide the Church by strengthening the faith of its members and to engage with the world so that it may heed the Christian message. While Pope Francis may be treading a dangerous path, I firmly believe he will not change the Church’s fundamental teaching while keeping the line of communication open with the secular world.

  3. No, I don’t think so, Ed. I think you’re over simplifying it or at least underestimating the true hunger in the hearts of many in the world who find him appealing. As long as he remains in the true faith I suspect he will have more success in bringing people to our Lord than any recent predecessors.

    His so called contradictory statements seem like folly to you but to others he is making himself vulnerable and showing a capacity to grapple with big issues that people struggle with. Showing such a capacity for struggle alongside a desire to be true to the faith is what makes him so appealing in my view, probably as it seems more authentically Jesus than other approaches.

  4. Forgive me for criticising, but I do believe that we members of the Ordinariate should be seen to stand loyally behind the Holy Father, even if subjectively we may not be 100 % comfortable with everything we hear or see. Especially we bloggers are very public representatives of the Ordinariate and the Church.

    David Murphy

    1. I stand loyally behind the pope, and my post contains many compliments about his pontificate. However I do not believe we should be unquestioning. Blind obedience is not what Christ or the church asks of us. Indeed Pope Francis himself has asked for an open debate.

        1. No Harvey, nothing like that at all. You speak of dissent from the deposit of faith, I speak of defending that deposit.

          1. Here you are talking as though the “deposit of faith” is a static body that does not change whereas on another recent posting you said the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception only came about in the 19th Century.

            Sometimes change comes about from the top down and sometimes from the bottom up. Either way one usually begets the other though not always in the ways intended.

          2. Harvey show me where I ever stated the doctrine of the Immaculate conception came about in the 19th Century? Hardly. It was in existence from the moment Mary’s tomb was opened and found to be not only empty but brilliantly clean. All that happened in the 19th Century was that this long standing belief of the early church was formally accepted as part of the deposit of faith. Things may develop but there is no room for innovation. From the top or the bottom….

  5. I think the comments on this blog in the past illustrate your points rather well, Fr. Ed.

    When Benedict VI was Pope, Andy Godsell and gang absolutely hated him. Now, they’re cooing over what they perceive to be a “new type” of Pope. Someone softer, more willing to be of this world but they are going to be in for a big disappoint.

    No, he will not allow or approve of gay marriages, contraception, abortion or whatever else they think is necessary for modern life. Or whatever they think is the ‘right’ interpretation of the Word of God.

    As I had mentioned before on this blog, even the worst Popes in history, like the Borgias, never even dared to touch or change the teachings of the Church.

  6. Catholicism has never been afraid to pursue truth wherever it leads and has always had a strong intellectualism. We are asked to serve the Lord with “our whole mind” as well as every other aspect of ourselves. As a Jesuit the Pope is not going to shy away from wading in waters that others, including fellow Catholics feel uncomfortable with.

    It is interesting and of course ironic that many who claim themselves as Orthodox Catholics and defended Pope Benedict in his unique vocation are now so fearful and critical of our current Pope. I don’t include you in that Fr. Ed as I am referring to almost hysterical postings from some very conservative bloggers. I often don’t read them any more as they lack hope and have a very insular view of the Church most of the time.

    The Church exists to evangelize and Pope Francis is engaging with the world in a way that is making many curious and open to the Church who were not in the past.

    I am not concerned that Pope Francis will change anything about the deposit of faith or Catholic traditional morality. If you read what he writes and says rather than just what the media decide to focus on (including the Catholic blogosphere) he talks about hell and the devil, temptation and struggle and emphasizes and defends traditional marriage and sounds very like a Catholic Pope in my very ‘umble opinion.

    He is also our first Pope from the Global South. We are used to the way European Pope’s engage and relate to us. Pope Francis is from a very different cultural experience and direct experience of intense poverty. I don’t think he will have a lot of patience with handwringing from developed nations. In fact in all the Orthodox Catholic blogs I browse it is rare to hear a mention of the poor and serving them – an exception is Fr. Blake in Brighton. Pope Francis is making us uncomfortable and that is not necessarily a bad thing, Jesus also appalled many believers and disappointed them.

    Fr. Ed has every right to express his opinion and as he said, Pope Francis would encourage him to – interesting.

  7. Fr Ed, you always have an answer and that was just one example. The church previously allowed married priests and there was one a female pope (an inconvenient truth that has been conveniently swept under the carpet by the Vatican hierarchy).

    It seems there are a number of things you and I will never agree on so I’m just going to keep quiet for a while.

    I wish you well Fr Ed.

  8. Your Comment:- ” Pope Francis is making us uncomfortable and that is not necessarily a bad thing, Jesus also appalled many believers and disappointed them” is ‘on the mark’. Jesus certainly upset both the religious and secular authorities of his day. We who try to follow him should be causing discomfort among the complacent. The trouble, for some, with Pope Francis is that he is seen to be trying hard to enact the Gospel. That makes the comfortable somewhat uncomfortable.

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