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Pope Francis must inspire Catholics to stop ‘biting and devouring’ one another

He must remind us that faction and partisanship are the enemies of truth as well as charity

By on Friday, 22 March 2013

Pope Francis greets parishioners outside Sant'Anna church (CNS)

Pope Francis greets parishioners outside Sant'Anna church (CNS)

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio stepped out for the first time on to the central loggia of St Peter’s Basilica, his face told us that he was at least as shocked as the prognosticators who had failed to predict his election. The delayed reaction of the crowd reflected his status as a relative unknown. His informal greeting and address seemed naïve, as well as winning, but gave little hint of his thoughts on the many and urgent problems confronting the worldwide flock he now leads.

The new Pope seemed daunted by the enormity of his task. And well he might be, given not only the momentous nature of the problems he faces, but the conflicting expectations and even demands which are presented to him both inside and outside the Church.

If we look first at the needs of the Church in the developed world it is clear that the new Pope faces a crisis of historic proportions. Churches are being sold for lack of clergy to man them and faithful to fill them. The older generations watch in impotent sorrow as their children desert the Church in droves, and ask themselves why they have failed to pass on the Faith. Exposure of misdeeds among the clergy has wounded fatefully the credibility of the institution. Both inside and outside the Church people ask themselves how men who have dedicated themselves to God can sink so low as to defile the innocence of children, and how their superiors can betray their trust by systematic failure to punish the guilty and protect the victims – or even to listen to them. Up to the highest echelons of the hierarchy, undisguised infighting leads to betrayal of secrets, exposing as empty rhetoric all the talk of authority as a form of service. Energetic action must be taken to enforce discipline, and especially to deal effectively with abusers. That the Roman Curia must be reformed is obvious to all except – apparently – the Roman Curia. Only reform at the top can restore confidence so that clergy and laity may collaborate fruitfully in the task of re-evangelising the cynical and disaffected societies of the West.

As if these problems were not enough, Catholics in the developed world are divided as perhaps never before. Francis must be a Pope of reconciliation. There are reasons to believe that he was as elected as a result of a deadlock in the conclave, and that he emerged as a reconciling force. We identify ourselves as conservative or progressive, traditionalist or liberal, and are quick to attack and mock those who do not share our views. As Pope Benedict noted with sadness over the Williamson affair, we “bite and devour one another” with alacrity. The new Pope must teach in a manner which enables Catholics of different sensibilities and spiritualities to listen and talk to one another. He must remind us that faction and partisanship are the enemies of truth, as well as charity, and to judge each issue on its merits and not react reflexively on the basis of some label we have learned to attach to ourselves. He can and must teach us that true unity requires that the truth be expressed in today’s world through a diversity of expressions which are mutually enriching, as long as there is true unity in the essentials of faith.

In the matter of the liturgy, the need for reconciliation is particularly evident. The sacrament of unity has become the focus of strife. Francis has shown that he is not of the same sensibility as his predecessor, to the fury of some and the glee of others. On the internet they bite and devour, not only each other but whichever of the two living successors of St Peter they find uncongenial. We must regret the spiritual immaturity which howls recriminations when it does not get its way. The Pope is, surely, simply being himself rather than deliberately repudiating his predecessor’s legacy. He is, no doubt, aware of the dangers of allowing himself to be presented as an “anti-Benedict”. He should also look for opportunities to show the more traditional members of his flock that he loves them too with a fatherly care.

But we in the West need to remember that for the vast majority of the world’s Catholics, the main priority is not how many candles there should be on the altar, nor even truly serious issues like protecting children and using the gifts of women, but simply the daily challenge of survival. The Church’s role in combating poverty and injustice lies, rightly, at the heart of his concerns. This was most surely the major reason for his election, and was signaled powerfully as soon as the world learned the name he had chosen.

Pope Francis is leader of a Church whose universality obliges it to be ever reaching outwards. There are already promising signs that Francis is re-launching the stalled process of ecumenism by combining an unselfconscious commitment to the truth of the Catholic faith with a humility which attracts by refusing all triumphalism. His clear preference for the title of Bishop of Rome, and the presence at his installation of the Patriarch of Constantinople, for the first time since the 1,000-year-old schism between East and West, are of enormous significance here.

Perhaps, most of all, Francis knows that he must reach out to a non-believing world which views the Church with indifference at best, and at worst hostility. The media and secular society at large give the impression that it is in the matter of sexual morality that the Church’s credibility stands or falls. Francis has already shown that he sees the main mission of the Church not as propagating a certain view of sexuality, but of proclaiming Jesus Christ and his love for humanity. He is unlikely to satisfy those who want him to turn his back on the Church’s constant teaching, but he has already spoken in such a way as to show that mercy, and not implacable justice, is at the heart of God’s law.

Often we win people for Christ not by the arguments we present them with, but by the love we show them. On Saturday Francis met the press, often seen as the Church’s most ferocious critics. He did not chide them. He thanked them for their hard work. He told them he loved them. Perhaps it will be by touching hearts that he shows the world the true face of Christ and his Church.

Fr Mark Drew is a priest currently working in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. He has studied and ministered in Rome, France and Greece. He is a researcher specialising in theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches

  • Brer Lapin

    None of that makes any sense, jae. Your arguments are all over the shop and you have not yet even understood the basics of what is at stake here. Ben Carter understands the philosophical continuity between JPII and BXVI and he is not including Pope Francis along with them. You are missing the point entirely. Get a little background (like catch up with the last hundred and fifty years in the Church) and then come back with some ideas, eh?

  • Julian Lord

    mud-slinging is not evangelisation

  • Julian Lord


    Modernism is the heresy whereby people elevate their own personal opinions to such a degree that they define their Christian beliefs in relation to those opinions, and as being subservient to them, rather than seeking the proper, humble, obedient Catholic subjection to the Revelation and the Tradition of the Faith.

    Your own attempt to try and impose your personal views of catholicism upon those of millions of traditional Catholics, as if your views were somehow inherently superior, and theirs inherently inferior, is Modernist in its very nature.

    And I honestly cannot stress how GHASTLY I find it that you have chosen THIS thread and THIS day as the recipient of this latest dose of your contumely.

  • myles keogh

    Well said Peter.

  • scary goat

    Jae….”Yes, your friend Ben believes the same way as his leader +Fellay”….Sorry but this is blatantly untrue. All along you have accused Mr. Carter of everything you can lay tongue to….sedevacantist, SSPX etc etc. In actual fact Mr. Carter’s position is almost identical to mine. He is fully aware of the limitations regarding jurisdiction of SSPX. When possible he prefers the TLM but also attends the NO, and like me, has SSPX sympathies. Nothing more, nothing less. He cares deeply about the Church and sometimes gets frustrated by the lack of knowledge of the Traditional position shown by less traditional Catholics. A few months ago, if you were reading, I was getting worried about some things, and Mr. Carter told me clearly to stay put in the mainstream, and that was here on CH in full view of everyone….it seems you missed it! And I’m sorry Jae, but when it comes to vitriol, you need to take a look in the mirror. As for Rorate Caeli….I also read there, and I have seen many many comments posted in that forum that present differing views, and the articles themselves present both sides of the picture. Even where people are worried about a situation, I see people calling for prayers for the Holy Father all the time. I understand that you view yourself as defending the Faith, but really I think you have got the wrong target. I have had many discussions in here with Mr. C and Jabba, and there are some slight differences in views between us, but we always manage to discuss in a civil manner without ripping into each other. Please, give it a rest. Try to argue calmly and discuss the point at hand, and stop the constant attacking Mr. C. He does not deserve it. Thank you.

  • jae

    I admit but your are quilty as well :-((

  • jae

    Thanks Scary, as yet again you are kind and generous, God bless you. I must admit my emotions got the best of me and I apologize for that. It’s my reaction to provocations by Ben Carter by his snarky and sarcastic comments, and I dont react like this with other traditionalist and protestant fundamentalists i have encountered primarily because most of them do not take the higher ground with superior mentality, that’s all I’m saying.

  • Brer Lapin

    If you look back through your inflammatory comments today, you may find that your tone, consistency, charity, grammar and spelling all need some careful revision before you can be considered a reasonable commenter. It is a little premature to be telling others they are “quilty”… :-)

  • scary goat

    Thank you for the kind reply Jae. I often find that people can get stuck in a “position” or a personality clash becomes ingrained and people lose sight of the actual argument and end up arguing. Personally I do not find Mr. C to be at all snarky….I find him very kind. Maybe you could consider the possibility that it takes 2 to tango, and you may be misunderstanding Mr. C’s position, and the more you attack, the more likely it is that you will get a snarky response from him. Other people have emotions too. Peace. Chill. Talk to him nicely without making assumptions and you will see a different person.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “Only reform at the top can restore confidence so that clergy and laity
    may collaborate fruitfully in the task of re-evangelising the cynical
    and disaffected societies of the West.

    “Only reform…..


    Father, sorry you are just repeating the same old story again in your turn.

    It is not the question of “re-evangelising….But the question of FACING THE TRUTH or better in the words of the Lord himself, Coming “to know the Truth….” about OURSELVES, about THE CHURCH and especially about TOP CHURCH OFFICIALS…are they, (Let us include ourselves also among them), these officials APOSTLES to Evangelise others? For only APOSTLES can evangelise others, not anybody who just look like them or are just people who have achieved mere RITUAL status as APOSTLES BECAUSE OF THE OFFICE THEY HOLD.

    APOSTLES are empowered by the SPIRIT OF JESUS, and besides these present credible SIGNS OF THE KINGDOM, only then, when they command in the name of Jesus the Lord, things happen and witnessing these happenings, ordinary people come to recognise them as TRUE APOSTLES. This is how the Primitive Church went about growing from glory to glory and spreading all over the region, for, every Christian in the Primitive Church was an APOSTLE.

    WITHOUT ENTERING THE kingdom (without we ourselves being TRUE APOSTLES) how can any one bring others into the KINGDOM, if it is the KINGDOM of Jesus the Lord you implicitly mean?

    OR Is it only a question of playing with words like “re-evangelising….

    and “…..reform… etc. to pass our time so that we come to have the illusion that we have done what we could?

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • scary goat

    Just a small comment in Jae’s defence, English is not her first language so give her some slack on that. :-)

  • Pope Zicola

    Sired??!?! SIRED?!?!?!?!

    *Horrified gasp!*

    Have some respect for the cloth, sir, and the parents thereof!

    If we wish to talk matters of the turf, Aintree is up the road from St Helens … and Kildare is in Ireland!

  • Pope Zicola

    …. and a standing ovation and round of applause from me, paulpriest, for telling it LIKE IT REALLY IS with the Roman Catholic Church.

    Nowadays, if some young ‘baptised but ain’t practising’ Roman Catholic ended up on ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ and Chris Tarrant asks the £1Million question: ‘What is the name of the current Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool?’ Neither 50/50, Ask the Audience nor Phone A Friend would help.

    And people think I’m raving or, on the other hand, obsessing over piffling details.

    Am I heck!

    Although my Bishop (I spell it with a capital B in his case), Mark Davies, has been in Shrewsbury Diocese for three years, he regularly visits teachers and children in schools where they don’t know who he is or what a bishop does (except when they watch Father Ted).
    Worse still, the older folk call him by another name when he visits parishes… the name of the last incumbent!

    OK, he jokes about it because he has a sharp sense of humour – he can take it (well, the poor man has to, what pigging choice does he have?) but there is only so much one can take of such embarrassment before it sinks in that enough is enough and respect is due.

    It’s hair raisingly disturbing! Little wonder there is a disgraceful percentage of lapsing from the church from measures which were meant to ”attract” people in the pseudo-’Spirit of Vatican II’

    IF the Roman Catholic Church was a business, it would need the collective nous of Lord Sugar of Clapton, Alex Polizzi , Gordon Ramsay, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and the entire line-up of Dragon’s Den to fix this St Jude’s Case of a business!
    What is hard to crack, in their experience, is similar to ecclesiastical matters: the awkward squad versus the prematurely bald who are on the brink…

    For the love of All That Is Holy, the Roman Catholic Church could supply the world’s equivalent of the National Grid with the brain and intellectual power of its members… but it can’t handle or do the practical stuff of the equivalent of changing a wheel, put up a shelf, build an extension, boil an egg or tile a roof!

    We’ve put up with politically correct hymn-books, reality-tv-show-style camcorders at the ‘solemn’ celebration of the sacraments with people who don’t know the true meaning of the word ‘respect’, applause in church, the Vision-On Gallery of kid’s paintings in the sanctuary, the ”option” to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation instead of saying that it is NOT an option (like what you can leave off your Big Mac) and the parish priest being afraid to enforce ‘house rules’ for God’s House in case it discourages people from coming back!
    I love to hear anecdotes of priests etc. who tell it like it is and, thanks to the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, incidents of standing their ground and not putting up with such unnecessary crap were showing a slight increase.
    That we know the names of our pastors, great and small…
    That we know one end of a confession box from another…
    That we know the rudiments/essentials of our Roman Catholic Faith…
    That we don’t put up with watered-down liturgy and blatant disrespect of our sacraments and sacramentals!

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “The West is a spiritual wasteland….”

    BECAUSE OF THE SCANDALOUS LIVES of Priests and others…

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    older generations watch in impotent sorrow as their children desert

    the Church in droves, and ask themselves why they have failed to pass on

    the Faith.”

    Some time back while I was on their Dental Chair, one young couple started
    pouring out their problems with their first child whom they found it almost
    impossible to get him attend the Catechism class on Sundays. “Father”
    the mother said to me, “it is so burdensome for him and we have to force
    him and then we feel bad”. But then, she did not say the same about his
    school subjects.

    When religion is presented in dry, intellectual language and through lifeless
    rituals, all enforced from outside, and when there is nothing experiential in
    it to attract children and young people on their own, this is bound to happen.

    Why to speak about children and others; let me speak about myself: The revised
    Roman missal of Pope Paul VI was introduced some time back in India. The
    language and the translation is so archaic and pietistic with long drawn out
    sentences, so much so one has to struggle to get the meaning. One is made
    helpless and cannot pray in spontaneous
    human language; it is such a pity one is bound to feel like being forced take
    in sour wine from old bottles; but of course I take it as part of Cross
    I have undertaken to carry.

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Benedict Carter

    Go back to the Old Mass, Father: unlearned Africans loved it, and it didn’t stop St. Francis Xavier doing rather well in India, did it?

    Give people beauty again!

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Catholic Herald, U.K.

    Dear Editor, Please keep this article by Fr. Fr Mark Drew
    open for many more days.

    Fr.Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Very SPECIAL Thanks Fr. Drew

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Just wasting time and life.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Feel at home where one is at home this Mass or that Mass. I think the Popes are generous enough in their own way to accept all age groups and provide for their needs.

    Blame game and arguing to win is simply foolish except when both the parties have a history of intellectual honesty and outstanding love for Truth.


  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “….his thoughts on the many and urgent problems confronting the worldwide flock he now leads.”

    If one is to go only by his thoughts Jesus would be forced to remain in the grave for ever and we would be lost forever perhaps. OR should we keep PRAYING for frequent CHANGE OF POPES?

    Mere Intellectualism (Take it for cleverness otherwise what! The Lord’s own Enemies had only such cleverness.) in a German University created such animosity and enmity one hates to recall it and of its consequences.

    When the SHEPHERD is only an intellectual and not a TRUE APOSTLE the SHEEP get KILLED or MAULED and who cares?


    Intellectual WAY is only the EASY WAY; it is like trying to “ENTER” by the “BROAD GATE”. Those who don’t pay ATTENTION to The Lord will lead us to WHERE you think?


    Did not Peter and party toil the whole night uselessly? AND WHAT HAPPENED when the LORD was WELCOMED AND OBEYED? The RESULT, THE FRUIT!

    If one in the HIGHEST OFFICE is not found taking COUNSEL with the LORD, if not found habitually CONSULTING THE LORD, if not found courting the COMPANY OF TRUE APOSTLES…wait and watch and be prepared …….

    AND WHAT ABOUT THE THREAT TO CONQUER ROME! Actually it is quietly in the PROCESS and many of our own ‘NETAS’ are in CONSTERNATION and are just LOST ….ALL BECAUSE they don’t have the “GOODWILL” to repent and enter the “KINGDOM”.

    Those who go about in Pagan spirit cannot and will not Proclaim the KINGDOM; they are just not EMPOWERED from on high.


  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    A REQUEST to some bloggers: Please see that the blogs are in some way relevant to the subjects of the articles; we all could save a lot of time, energy, space and goodwill for each other.

    DIVISIONS of all sorts come not from JESUS THE LORD and not also from his TRUE CHURCH but from POLITICIANS and their shareholders. We find them everywhere. Let us keep away.

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Julian Lord

    Following the great Way of Saint James is hardly a “waste” of time and “life”, I would likely never have become a Catholic without the intervention of that Great Saint of our Holy Church into my life.

    the “thunder” of St. James had been purified of all worldly ambition and vain glory. Now, his thunder and zeal was wholly intent upon the spread of the Kingdom of God. Seeing his Master and Savior die and rise, and receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, St. James’ will was wholly conformed to the Divine Will.

    This wonderful ideal is VERY worth struggling for with ALL of one’s human and God-given supernatural strength.

  • Irene

    Good article. But please, STOP using the inadequate term “child sex abuse”.
    The writer surely knows what most of us know: that the abuse scandals were about HOMOSEXUAL abuse, against NOT children, but against teenagers(bad enough!) and young adult males.!if the church is proclaiming that she always stands up for the TRUTH, there has to be an open and humble acknowledgement of this huge and sad problem with wide spread homosexuality among priests, bishops and, as we have seen, even among cardinals.

  • Searcher

    “The older generation watch in sorrow as their children desert the Church in droves.”
    From discussions with other parents over many years I don’t think this is an accurate assessment.
    A significant number of parents, who are themselves Catholic, consider that it is immoral to indoctrinate their children into any religious system, and prefer to leave it to these children to decide for themselves on such matters as they mature. The reality is that large numbers of these children then reject a belief system which includes large measures what charitably might might be called “Mediteranearn spirituality” or, less charitably , dogmatised mythology and superstition, e.g veneration of relics, Mariology, infallibility of the Pope etc.. The reality is that, to the young minds of today, the Catholic Church seems to have little real connection with the simplicity of Christ’s teaching and appears largely irrelevant.. The reported figure of 90% lapse rate, does not surprise me.