By FR. DWIGHT LONGENECKER
(Editor’s Note: Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. He studied theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge, and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. He is the author of The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.
(The article is reprinted with permission from Aleteiaw, ww.aleteia.org, where it first appeared on January 30, 2014. All rights reserved.)
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Pope Francis is busy racking up magazine cover appearances. Within the last few months, his smiling face has graced the cover of Time as their Person of the Year. The New Yorker featured him front and center, as did the Italian edition of Vanity Fair and an American gay activist magazine, Advocate. Now the Pope headlines Rolling Stone magazine with a 7,700 word feature article entitled “Pope Francis: The Times, They are A-Changin’.”
In addition, the pop culture Pope took on a new appearance this week on a wall in the area of Rome called the Borgo, just outside the Vatican gates. The Pope — complete with a billowing cape — is shown flying up, up, and away like a superhero.
I hate to rain on the parade, but before too long, the masters of pop culture will probably be voicing their disappointment with Pope Francis. The change they see is mostly a change in style and emphasis. The change they want is not likely to happen, because the change the world’s press gang wants is for Pope Francis to implement their own progressivist agenda.
Already this week in the Huffington Post, there were rumblings that Pope Francis has let gays and women down because he smiles and says nice things like “Who am I to judge?” but has not allowed women to be priests and he hasn’t changed the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. The disappointment (and with it the rage) is already beginning to build.
People of the popular press need to get their head around it: Women will not be ordained as priests. In the famous airplane interview where Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge?” he also stated, “The door is closed to women’s ordination.” While he has not spoken out in harsh condemnation of homosexual actions, neither has he condoned them, nor will he.
What casual observers don’t understand is that Catholic moral teaching is intimately bound up with Catholic theology. Catholics do not simply have a rule book like a school handbook which the Pope can edit and change whenever he wants like the school principal does. Catholic moral teaching on human sexuality is integrated with what Catholics believe about the human person, and what we believe about the human person is integrated with what we believe about God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and Mary, the Mother of God. In Catholicism, what we believe and how we behave is an integrated unity, like two hands folded in prayer.
High expectations often lead to great disappointments, and while all Catholics are delighted with Pope Francis’ popularity, I fear the pundits in the popular press — who clearly have high hopes for radical change — will be radically disappointed. Pope Francis shows Christ’s compassion for the poor and marginalized, but as he has asserted, he is a “faithful son of the Church,” which means that while he may approach the Catholic faith with a different style, he will not change the substance.
The title “Rolling Stone” is apt for popular culture, for popular culture rolls along swiftly — always changing with the shifting attitudes and sociopolitical pressures. Jesus Christ said, however, that He would build His Church not on a rolling stone, but a boulder — a solid rock that cannot be moved and against which even the powers of Hell could not prevail. This Rock was His friend, Peter, whose very name means “The Rock.” And the Successor of Peter is Pope Francis.