The Pope Francis Effect: Why I’m Having a Tough Time


Pope Francis 2I have a confession. I’m having a tough time adjusting to Pope Francis.

I admit that I’m a B16 fan girl and I’m still getting over Pape Bene’s understandable departure. It’s like when your best friend moves far away and no matter how hard you try, you can’t help but compare all your other friends to him. Or when you’re at an extended family gathering and both your grandads are there and even though you respect both of them, you clearly prefer one over the other.

But it’s not just that. We can all agree that right after Pope Francis says something, articles, Youtube videos, and blog posts immediately appear trying to explain what he just said. It’s like he’s the relative that, whenever he speaks, we wonder if we heard correctly.  We’re all trying to interpret , clarify, justify or put our own spin on his statements. It can be frustrating trying to make sense of it all. What’s My Line: the Pope Francis Edition is really trendy right now and everyone from the stay-at-home mom blogger to Fr. Z has jumped on the bandwagon.

I’m not criticizing Pope Francis. He is who he is, tempered by life as he knows it, and to give him his due, he is the Holy Father of a church family of 1.2 billion people with diverse ideas, experiences, attitudes, and personalities. Like all extended families, there will always be tension and misunderstandings and he’s trying his best to steer the barque of Peter through some pretty rough seas while the rest of us quarrel. I wouldn’t want to be in his [not red]shoes. Would you?

A major part of my discomfort is the bickering that his statements cause among the Catholic family. My perception is that of a line drawn between those who are head-over-heels in love with him and those of us who are not as enthusiastic.

I’ve read articles, commentaries and Facebook posts that maintain a civilized, grown-up tone while debating his latest speeches and interviews. But then there are the comments that are less reasonable and seem to be on the attack, whether for or against Pope Francis. The worst ones are the rants and responses that clearly show a lack of basic understanding of Catholic doctrine and teachings. They are the ones that are impossible to discuss. They do the most harm and drive a wedge between family members.

I know I’m rambling but I’m sure I’m not alone in my thinking. I love our Catholic family even when we fail to act charitably towards each other. We’re big and colorful and imperfect but we do a lot of good both inside and outside the family circle. Because there are so many of us, it’s understandable that we won’t always agree but we ought to tone down the volume and at least try to keep an open mind. We ought to learn more about the family history and read up on what older family members have written over the past 2000 years so that when we have our spirited discussions, we’ll at least know what we’re talking about. Like all family histories, there’s the real one and the made-up one so we have to be very careful who we read and listen to.

The Catholic Church is my home. I’d like to believe that I would lay down my life to defend Her. And I really want to do the right thing by Her. But what is the right thing?

A wise friend pointed out that no matter what is going on around me, no one can stop me from doing my work and saying my prayers. So that’s what I’m going to do, for the sake of our Catholic family.

My work consists in loving my neighbor (which includes difficult family members and a Pontiff who is trying his best)  as myself. I don’t have to treat everyone like they’re my favorite brother or uncle or grandfather, but I have to respect them and recognize when to speak up and when to keep quiet.

And my prayer? I’m begging St. Joseph to look after Holy Mother Church and beseeching St. Michael the Archangel to defend Her. Most importantly, I’m taking the example of our Blessed Mother who teaches us the most valuable lesson in prayer. I’m holding on tight to her hand, hiding beneath her mantle and quietly, steadfastly and humbly repeating over and over again: “Thy Will be done.”



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  • noelfitz


    many thanks; this is a great article.

    It is full of Christian love and understanding.

    Perhaps it also carries a message for participants here in CL. We may superficially seem to disagree, but fundamentally Catholics here are faithful and loving.

    • Terry

      You’re welcome. I agree. I think we all strive to serve the Church as best as we can but being human, we don’t always agree on what the best way is so we disagree in love.

  • Katalina

    My opinion is this. Francis is a mixed bag. On one hand he has managed to stop a potential strike on Syria through his prayer vigil. Also many Catholics have come back to Confession. That is great. But on the other hand as he admitted himself he is not good at governance and is naïve. It is already known how he feels about Catholics are more traditionally orthodox or the Latin Mass. He said the 2007 action of Benedict was prudent and yet he goes against it which the Pope Emeritus himself has said, The Moto Proprio was wounded by the act taken against the FFI, which canon lawyers have said go against Benedict but ST Pius V. The interview is just one symptom of a deeper problem with this Pontificate.

    • Terry

      Personally, I’m taking a wait and see attitude for now and continuing to say my prayers for Holy Mother Church.

  • Ruben Aguilar

    Mrs. McDermott, I question “what is right thing”, as you do. I also came to the conclusion that no matter what is happening around me no one can stop me from doing my work and praying, and so I pray for you, everyone else and then me. I’m not the sharpest pencil in the world, but i hope that my conscience is sharp, my love is sharp and that I use them correctly. Let us grab our cross and kiss it. God Bless you and your family!

    • Terry

      Thank you, Ruben. Lift high the cross!

  • AugustineThomas

    I don’t think Mr. Bergoglio is being very charitable to his perceived enemies, “the conservatives”, aka the orthodox!

    • CatherineA

      “Mr. Bergoglio”? I don’t think that is respectful or appropriate. I’m probably as frustrated and disappointed in Pope Francis as just about anyone, but we must tread very carefully here. Like him or not, he is our Holy Father, not “Mr. Bergoglio,” and we must be careful not to let our natural desire to talk through our confusion turn into sinful attacks of detraction, calumny, or simply strife that drives people away from the Church. We must remember what has happened to those who fought against God’s anointed.

      • Terry

        Thank you,Catherine. My thoughts exactly. Augustine, I can understand your frustration but above all,I think we have to try and be charitable and respectful

  • I’m in the somewhat odd position here. I’m a traditionalist, and I really have no problem with either of those two interviews. Perhaps Terry we could have a discussion on these and other issues in the future. (I’m actually thinking of doing a symposium here on Catholic Lane at the year mark of Francis’ pontificate for a variety of views.)

    I think the attitude Terry takes is the proper one though, and if all Catholics adopted it, a lot of good would happen. I’m not saying the Pope is irrelevant. I am saying that he’s actually a lot less relevant in your life than you think. In the end, focus on what’s in front of you. Frequent confession and communion, reverently assisting at whatever Mass you find yourself in, fighting for a greater consciousness of the truth even in your own parish.

    Another important thing, evangelize. Not with crafty arguments if that isn’t your forte. Just with a steadiness and stillness of Christ. People take notice of those things. I know that over the past few weeks, I’ve had several chances to talk about these things with people I normally wouldn’t.

    Kevin Tierney
    Contributing Editor
    Catholic Lane

    • Terry

      Yes, Kevin! That’s it entirely. The friend I spoke with pointed out that what is truly important is doing the work God gives us and focusing on the people he puts in our life. Your suggestions of frequent confession, communion, Mass and evangelization are important to sustain our faith. A symposium at the end of the Holy Father’s first year is a great idea.

  • noelfitz


    You recommend:
    “Frequent confession and communion, reverently assisting at
    whatever Mass you find yourself in, fighting for a greater consciousness of the
    truth even in your own parish.”

    As a Catholic, whether you are progressive or traditional,
    left or right, blue or red, Democrat or Republican, American or not, your
    advice remains sound.


    • Terry

      No matter what, it is the Sacraments and Holy Mass that sustain us.

    • What worries me most about the Church is a growing tribalism, where we are governed not by leaders, but by personality cults.

      There is even one such cult around Francis, where everyone is trying to say he changes church teaching, or that everything he says is the work of the Holy Spirit, and people should just “See what the Spirit does”, or says that his election was the direct work of the Holy Spirit.

      That’s highly presumptious, and most likely nonsense on stilts. The only thing we know about the governance of the Spirit is that the Paraclete prevents the Church from teaching error. That’s it. It didn’t inspire Francis’ election. It simply accepts the work of the Church in electing a Roman Pontiff.

      What makes it interesting is that there is in a sense a reverse personality cult. Like those practically worshipping the Pope, they tend to think the Pope is an all powerful irresistible monarch, and the Church is going to be destroyed as a result.

      Meanwhile I sit and ponder: how did Catholics survive before Pius XII? It was only through him that it became possible to know with great frequency what was going on with the Pope. Otherwise, communication was slow, popes did what they did (and only wonks, theologians and historical buffs knew about it) meanwhile the layity most likely never read anything from the Pope, they just had to do their best to remain holy. Sometimes the job was easy(ish), sometimes it was very difficult(ish).

      I don’t think Francis is the worst thing to happen in the world or the Church. but even if you did, the chances that he will directly impact you are next to minimal. (Highly unlikely he is revoking Summorum Pontificum for example.) So in light of that fact, we still got a job to do.

      • James

        That’s an important point. How did Catholics survive before Pius XII? Or before Vatican I? Or before Trent?

        The internet gives us the world quicker access to more papal pronouncements than the most well-educated theologians had a generation ago. There is a danger in us becoming “Protestants with a catechism”, believing all believers have a right to interpret Church teaching for ourselves with no training and subject to no ecclesiastical authority beyond the words of the document.

        But most Catholics are not theologians, nor do they want to be. They want guidance on how to be closer to God, or perhaps simply to avoid hell, not necessarily more information on the finer points of theology.

        I recently read about a study that concluded what caused the greatest shake up after the council was not the changes in the mass, which were mostly well-received, but the ending of Friday abstinence. This is a relatively mundane issue theologically. (Is eating fish really a penance when fish is more expensive than meat?) But it signified for many Catholics a change to a practice that was an important part of their identity. If Catholics could eat meat on Friday, then what other changes were possible? And if any changes were possible, then why not married priests, women priests, and approval of divorce, contraception, and homosexual activity?

        I believe many of the problems since the council were due to too many theologians. The laity got sucked into discussions and debates they were not qualified to understand, thanks in large part to improved communications, combined with a slowness of the Vatican to adapt to change. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

        Pope Francis seems to want to get the Church back to a practical nuts-and-bolts Catholicism. Parsing his informal statements for deeper theological meaning (by all sides) is, IMHO, a symptom of exactly what is wrong in the Church.

  • noelfitz


    Thank you so much for a sound, thought-provoking post. I agree there is tribalism in the Church, but it may not always be a bad thing, in certain circumstances it can reflect loyalty.

    The “personality cult/devotion” to Our Lady, when not carried to excess, is a good thing, as is devotion to various saints. Different orders/groups in the Church have their own specific charisms. Thus Jesuits focus on Ignatius of Loyola, Opus Dei on Josemaria Escriva, etc.

    Until I went to America I thought I was a Catholic, but when there I learned I was An Irish-Catholic.

    The support for and loyalty to say JP II and B XVI in most cases
    are beneficial. But we must be conscious of excesses.

    The Paraclete prevents the Church from falling into error, but not all of us. Some of us may be wrong at times.

    Thus your post is very important, as it warns us of the need
    of balance and loyalty to the Church, not individuals in the Church.

    • I don’t think personality cults can really ever do much good. Even Marian devotion is meant not for Mary, but for Christ. Louis De Montfort criticizes those who forget that in True Devotion to Mary, and viewed his Total Consecration as a way to get people back on track to the purpose of Marian devotion: to better identify with our Lord, and as a way to renew the promises of our baptism.

      I love different charisms. I’m a faithful traditionalist for precisely that reason. I think a traditional spirituality and way of looking at things offers something a lot of contemporary Catholicism misses.

      I think Benedict XV got it right. Let each person ascribe to their charism and defend their viewpoint within lawful bounds in goodwill. Just don’t let that defense turn into a tribalism which labels others suggesting disloyalty or disobedience merely for doing things in a way you don’t like.