Now that I'm on the mend, though, I wanted to comment on some recent events, such as that time when a pope made an off-the-cuff comment that seemed to apply that he was in favor of something that the Church strongly opposes, and the Catholic blogosphere rushed to his defense and cleared up the controversy...oh, my mistake. That wasn't recent; that was when an off-the-cuff quote from Pope Benedict XVI got taken out of context by the media who spun it as the pope's approval of condom use in some circumstances, when it was, of course, (as Fr. Z said in the link above) nothing of the sort.
Funnily enough, nobody called it "popesplaining" or whatever the term of the day is back then; it was obvious that Pope Benedict XVI had been taken out of context and misunderstood, and the Catholic blogosphere didn't go nuts trying to prove that, no, really, BXVI was trying to approve of condoms in a sneaky or stealthy way because he was really a modernist or something. Instead, as I recall, the whole incident was taken as yet more proof that the media really does not get anything about religion right, and is always breathlessly reporting "news" which turns out to be nothing of the sort, especially when it comes to traditional faiths that still hold the line against the approved and trendy modern forms of sin.
When I read the transcript of Pope Francis' recent plane interview I noticed a few things right away. First, despite the news articles, the reporter never said the word "contraception." Instead, the reporter asked whether the Church would condone avoiding pregnancies as a "lesser evil" than abortion. One can almost sense a kind of frustration in the pope's answer as he explains, as popes have been deliberately and carefully explaining for decades now, that abortion can't ever be put into a "lesser evil" sort of construct in the first place--for what could be more evil than depriving an innocent human being of his or her life? What I see when I read that answer is a pope doing his best--for the umpteen millionth time--to make it absolutely, positively, abundantly clear that abortion isn't some sort of "Catholic sin," like eating meat on purpose on a Lenten Friday or failing to attend Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation without a valid reason to miss it. Rather, abortion is a crime against humanity that can never be condoned regardless of the circumstances.
True, His Holiness goes on to say that avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. I wish he had taken the opportunity to speak about how the means used are what is important, and to remind those worried about Zika or anything else that the Church permits NFP or other natural methods of spacing births to married couples; I also wish that he'd left the sort of off-topic example of what nuns might or might not theoretically have been permitted in cases where rape was a grave risk alone--but I think that was more of a "theoretical moral theology misfire" than any deliberate or intentional message, especially when you consider that Pope Francis, like every other recent pope, has made it quite clear that the Church's teachings against contraception are here to stay.
The thing is that it is not hard at all to put the pope's answer in the most charitable light possible, just like most of us did with Benedict XVI when the media was screaming in all caps the totally improbable news that "Pope gives Church's blessing to condoms for gay sex workers!!" and similarly ludicrous spins on what he actually did say. The question then becomes: why are so many Catholics apparently so willing to see every off-the-cuff remark of Pope Francis' as proof positive that he's a secret stealth modernist heretic anti-Pope out to undermine the True Church and usher in the New World Order, the Antichrist, and the Apocalypse?
There are several answers to this, ranging from our American fondness for conspiracy theories to the scars inflicted during forty years of unremitting liturgical war (and as much as I appreciate good liturgy, we have reached the point where yelling, "But they started it!" is no longer an effective strategy) that have left us unwilling to trust anyone who sort of reminds us of Father Nicefellow who was nice to everybody except people who wanted to pray the rosary in public or actually liked statues, and that sort of thing (though I hasten to point out that Pope Francis has a deep devotion to the rosary himself, and I wouldn't think he minds statues particularly either--he just sort of talks like Father Nicefellow on occasion). And all of that is part of it.
But I think there's something else at work here, and it shows up when Pope Francis says other things, such as this:
Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as 'animal politicus.' At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.
When it comes to taking a pro-immigrant stance, Pope Francis' words here are really mild. He says that someone who is only interested in building walls and not bridges isn't acting like a Christian. But from that mild statement I have heard Catholics and other Christians insisting that the pope opposes border security and wants America to allow every illegal immigrant who can make it across our borders to move in and take our hard-earned stuff and import terrorists and take away our jobs and our Social Security and our money and our things that we've earned all by ourselves by our hard work and we shouldn't have to hand our money and goods over to lazy no-good immigrants or homeless people or welfare recipients or...
Nobody thinks that illegal immigration is the same thing as legal immigration, and nobody I know of thinks we have to have completely open borders with no laws whatsoever--not even the Church, who in asking for greater compassion for those already here is not demanding a repeal of all laws governing lawful immigration. But there's a troubling attitude behind much of the outrage against Pope Francis' words regarding a border wall, an attitude that is part pride, part greed and part fear--and the main aspect of the fear is that illegal immigrants are all out to take away our material goods, coupled with a prideful belief that we earned those goods totally by the sweat of our brows and not, perhaps, because we were born into a prosperous nation at a time in history when it was possible to earn a decent living and "get ahead," so to speak, none of which is really our own doing at all.
A sad thing, to me, is that this attitude of pride and greed and fear often comes from some of the same Catholics who fully accept the Church's teaching against contraception and who would never dream of using artificial birth control. They can't seem to see that the same combination of pride mixed with greed and fear is often responsible for other Catholics rejecting Church teaching against birth control and using it. For those Catholic couples, the unplanned child is like the illegal immigrant: a hostile stranger who is coming among them to take away not only their material goods but also that prideful belief that we have full control over our own earthly lives. Fear of that stranger/child causes contracepting Catholics to put up their own walls, built of latex or chemicals; and fear of that child can even lead to abortion when despite the wall of "protection" the child is discovered living in the womb.
Catholics can, and should, debate the best ways to go forward when it comes to illegal immigration (and bearing in mind that some people are injured or killed just trying to get here, which is something we ought not to take lightly). But we ought to go forward in light of Christian principles, and to remember that the Lord we follow said that we ought to love our neighbor (and He didn't restrict that love based on geography). If our objection to illegal immigrants is based on a prideful sense that we have earned everything we have plus a greed to keep all of our blessings for ourselves and a fear that the immigrant will join the widow and the orphan and the poor and the homeless as people we ought to be concerned about and be willing to help even with our material blessings, then we aren't, as the pope said, being Christian about them at all.
I honestly think that at least part of the reason so many don't want to give Pope Francis the same benefit of the doubt that many did automatically give to Pope Benedict XVI is because it would be a lot easier on us if we could believe that Pope Francis was a modernist or a heretic or an anti-Pope or some such thing--because if he were any of those, we could ignore him when he reminds us that it's not Catholic to see our brothers and sisters as leeches or bloodsuckers or threats to our (material) security just because they happen to be in need, or in this country illegally, or out of work, or living on the street. We Americans are awfully inclined to forget that God alone gives us what we have, and that seeing ourselves as the authors of our own destinies and the absolute rulers of our own tiny material kingdoms is a form of idolatry, of a kind that the pope's namesake especially rejected when St. Francis threw off his material goods for the sake of the true kingdom.