Truth be told, I have only lived with three popes.
When I was born, St. Pope John Paul the Great was already 4 years into his pontificate, and I can't remembering ever hearing a bad word about him (of course, there wasn't Twitter and Facebook back then...).
While people may have moaned and groaned from time to time during Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate, they didn't seem to make a hobby out of picking apart his every word.
And then, we have Pope Francis.
Perhaps it's because I'm more plugged into the Catholic media scene than I was previously, or perhaps it's because there are more outlets for people to widely express their views, but the negativity that many Catholics send Pope Francis' way has finally bubbled over for me and I just can't keep it in anymore.
From the moment he walked out onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square, the haters came out in full force.
From "he wasn't wearing the proper attire," to "he shouldn't have asked for everyone to pray for him," the comments I heard about our new pontiff were disheartening to say the least.
And it has gotten much worse since that day in March of 2013.
From the "Who am I to judge?" comment, to the foot washing of a female prisoner on Holy Thursday who happened to also be a Muslim, to the letter to an atheist, to the comment about Catholics needing to stop focusing too much on single issues like abortion and contraception, to his seemingly negative stance on Capitalism, to his focus on the negative human impact on the environment, to the comment about Catholics not needing to breed like rabbits, to the seemingly neverending flow of unfiltered "off the cuff" remarks, and on and on and on.
Pope Francis has certainly got the hair on the back of certain Catholics' heads standing at attention.
And yet, he has also gained the attention of many people who, until recently, felt that the Church was outdated, irrelevant, and unimportant.
And that is exactly what makes the anti-Francis crowd within the Catholic Church so maddeningly frustrating.
People who haven't been close to the Church in years have all of the sudden found themselves listening to what the Pope has to say. They are interested, and that is the first step in moving them back to the fullness of truth! And yet, when they log into the Catholic Twitterverse (or whatever the Facebook equivalent of the Twitterverse is) they quickly run into very prominent members of the Catholic media complaining about the Pope making "yet another damaging remark about our tradition, history, or our fill-in-the-blank."
When prominent, and even just ordinary, Catholics post tweets, blog posts, and Facebook statuses criticizing Pope Francis, it does absolutely nothing to bring the Body of Christ closer together. Instead, it serves as a divisive tool that actually pulls the Body of Christ further apart.
Now, I'm sure many will hit the comment boxes hard, explaining to me that Catholics in good faith have a right to question the Pope (his actions, words, and motives) whenever he isn't speaking infallibly. Catholics in good faith don't have to agree with everything the Pope says or does, unless he is exercising that speical grace given to the Church by Jesus Christ.
To those interested in pointing out this obvious fact, can I just get ahead of you and say that I understand and agree?
And yet, we Catholics can never lose sight of the fact that there is something special about the office of the successor of St. Peter. Even if one may disagree with Pope Francis' stance on any particular issue, we should disagree with the same respect we would give to St. Peter himself. We can't quote one sentence out of a speech, turn it into something other than what Pope Francis meant, and then obsessively complain about it with an onslaught of negative tweets.
I guess I'd like to ask all those flexing their right to disagree with Pope Francis one simple question:
What is it that you have such a problem with?
Do you have a problem with Pope Francis reiterating the teaching of Jesus Christ that we have no right to judge the hearts of those seeking after God in the best way they know how? Do you have a problem with Pope Francis saying that we need to focus more on the Gospel message, and frame all other issues within the framework of that Gospel? Do you have a problem with Pope Francis saying that the throwaway culture that comes out of our obsessive consumerism is leading all of us to place things over people? Do you have a problem with Pope Francis refocusing us all on the need to be good stewards of the amazing and undeserved gifts that God has given us? Do you have a problem with Pope Francis frankly and honestly dispelling the myth that Catholic teaching says we all need to have as many kids as possible?
You see, when I hear the words of Pope Francis, I hear the words of a man who clearly understands how badly this world is hurting. I hear the words of a man who understands the seriousness of getting the Gospel message out to as many as possible as quickly as possible. I hear the words of a man who is using his office and position within the Church founded by Jesus himself, to open the doors and bring people back to the Savior who has been waiting for them for so long.
And maybe that's just it: the anti-Francis crowd sees the Church as a home for the righteous, but in reality, the Church is a home for sinners.
I'm sure if Pope Francis said something like that, a lot of people would be pretty upset.
After all, Jesus said the same thing in Luke 5, and we all know how the righteous of His day felt about Him.
Copyright 2015 Tommy Tighe.
Image copyright 2015 Tommy Tighe. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Tommy is a Catholic husband, father of four boys, and the author of The Catholic Hipster Handbook (available now!).