I spent some time writing about my faith and how it shapes my political worldview in my application to write for this wonderful publication, as the two are inextricably linked.
I did not choose to become a conservative before I chose to be Catholic. In fact, I chose to be a Republican because it was the only choice that makes sense for me as a Catholic. I am a Roman Catholic conservative of the William F. Buckley, Jr. ilk, and my faith compels me to believe that there is a God, that He is mighty and good, and that He sent His son to die for our sins. As a Catholic Christian, I believe in the sanctity of human life, in charity toward the less fortunate, and in the freedom to worship according to personal conviction. The Republican Party champions these things.
Speaking from the Catholic conservative perspective, it has been troubling to see the media narrative that is developing around Pope Francis. Tom Kington wrote in a Politico article this week that his papacy is an attempt to “put compassion before dogma.” Tony Lee wrote in a Breitbart.com article about liberal Chicago Archbishop and Pope Francis appointee Blase Cupich praising Obama’s radical immigration reforms. A writer from this very publication called Pope Francis’s speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences “slanderous” and “contradictory.”
While pundits are busy scrutinizing Pope Francis’s every statement to determine if he is a “liberal” or a “soft Catholic,” they are missing the larger point about Catholicism.
Let’s first establish what the pope is: he is a sinner in need of a savior. He is also the shepherd of the Church, fully human and capable of erring in both speech and judgement. Let’s also establish what the pope is not: he is not an infallible being whose speech and thoughts are equivalent to God’s. He is not a leader whose daily utterances should be confused with Church doctrine. And he is not identical to his predecessors.
The problem that American Catholics face, and perhaps that we have created for ourselves, is that in so frequently citing the inspiring personas of popes as justifications for actions, we have opened the human weaknesses of popes to attacks. Time and again American Catholics fell in love with popes. “Pius XII? That guy’s a boss.” “John Paull II was a rockstar.” “I would shoot hoops with Benedict XVI any day of the week.”
And now, waiting for every opportune moment to hear a liberal statement from Francis, liberals are essentially telling us, “You need to own this guy.” I’m afraid I have to shatter their illusion.
There was a time when Pope Francis called belief in unfettered and free markets “crude and naive.” I disagree with the pope. In fact, I loathe socialism in all of its disgusting forms. What’s fascinating about the Catholic faith is that I am perfectly free to disagree with the pope when it comes to economics. My loyalty lies with Christ, with his faith and principles, and the pope does his best with the human heart he possesses to cultivate those principles.
But that does not mean that every word from the mouth of Pope Francis is an edict that must be followed. In fact, an ex cathedra statement, or a statement carrying the weight of Church doctrine, has not been issued since the Assumption of Mary was declared Church doctrine in 1950.
Perhaps you’re noticing a similar pattern of venerating personalities that has manifested itself in American politics–and its manifestation is to the detriment of our democracy.
Since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt (an abysmal presidency if ever there was one) Americans have extolled presidents as models of political virtue. My grandparents, and many other Americans, were converted to the Democratic Party by fireside chats and an admittedly effective aura of communication. The same iconic status radiated from the presidency of Ronald Reagan. A hero to all of us who love conservatism, Reagan was the most effective spokesman for the Republican Party since Abraham Lincoln. Just as Democrats have viciously torn at Reagan’s legacy, we have upheld it as the golden conservative standard.
But not all Republicans are Ronald Reagan, and not all popes are Karol Jozef Wojtyla.
The question Catholics and conservatives must ask themselves is startlingly similar: has our loyalty to men we greatly revere blinded our ability to acknowledge the failures of humanity when they arise? Principles will never lead us astray. Virtue will always light the way, no matter how dark the forest. However, men can–and do–lead us astray. It is our imperfect nature.
What ought to separate conservatives from liberals is that we as conservatives have the courage to call out our leaders when they fall away from principles. Doing so will strengthen our leaders. Similarly, speaking as a Catholic, calling out popes for their mistakes will strengthen our Holy Father. Just as no man can perfectly embody the divine love of Christ, no conservative should be credited with perfectly embodying our virtues. We are not a nation of kings or nobility, but even in a democratic nation, we must be careful to reproach ourselves when we are tempted to follow a cult of personality.
I say to my fellow Catholics that il Papa is not perfect, but the love of Christ is. I say to my fellow conservatives that Republicans are not perfect, but our conservative principles are rooted in truth, and liberalism is not.
We must never mistake the errors of man for faults in the beliefs we love and know in our hearts to be true.