The Early Pope Haters Need to Give It a Rest

So I’ve been talking with many old friends and reading a lot of what people have to say about the new Pope. Many have said that when Fr. Bergoglo, SJ was the Provincial of the Jesuits in Buenos Aires, he was not well liked. One article went on to say that he “ruled with an iron fist.”
Another person said he was a “divisive” person and that nobody liked him. A third said he failed to smile the whole time he was provincial.

It kind of reminded me of the story of a Paulist, Fr. Frank Diskin, CSP who is now deceased. I was very close with Padre Francisco, as the Latin Americans in our parish called him. He started the Hispanic Ministry at St. Paul’s in New York City, learning the language and doing a lot of outreach in Hell’s Kitchen to hispanics in the housing projects and in the outlying neighborhoods. In his old age, I began working for his religious community and we became fast friends, sharing a love of baseball, him the Red Sox and me the Mets and the Cubs. He was simple a sweet old man and I enjoyed his old stories of doing missions in Utah and working in hispanic ministry and his tales of his beloved Boston. A BC guy, he’d chide me about my Fordham loyalty as well.

I loved him, we all did.

But if you’d ask some of the guys who were about 20 years younger than Frank, they’d say he was a very tough pastor, not a bad man, but someone very, very demanding and a harsh critic. They didn’t have the fondest memories of the 20-years-ago-Frank.

One Paulist remarked to me,

EH! All the older guys were like that. Frank was no better or worse than any of them. Now they’re all retired, so they’ve all “mellowed out.”

And I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing in our new Pope. He’s an older man who now realizes some things aren’t worth getting all worked up over. I can hear him saying “Cars pollute the air, so I take the bus. This is the way it is.”

There’s nobody who says he wasn’t a good listener. They may not have liked the results of some of his decisions, but they respected him looking at all angles, especially on Liberation Theology.

But it drives me crazy when certain people dredge up old grudges and talk about them as if they were fresh wounds, or mention that it makes the Pope a more conservative Jesuit.

If this is conservative…I’d wonder what liberal is like.

Like myself, the Pope is a social conservative but a liberal economist. He cares about the poor and finds that fundamental to his theology, but on sexual issues he remains silent, keeping the doctrinal status quo. I’m more of a middling social conservative (pro-life but not so staunch on anything else–or better stated, I’m not so concerned with the other hot button sexual issues…but that’s a column for another time).

I can live with this guy. And let’s face facts, we weren’t getting anything different with any of these guys. They’re all conservatives..but the fact that this Pope is vociferous on the needs of the poor and has some first hand experience with the slums, leads we to believe that his first encyclical will be on care for the poor.

A few weeks back I made a checklist for what I thought the Pope should be like. Here’s how the new Pope ranks on the Hayes Scale:

Enthusiasm: Got it in spades.

Humility: Again got it in spades.

Vitality: OK, so he’s old. That could be a good thing. Read on.

Language: He’s no polyglot, but he’s adequate.

Collegial: Cmon the guy takes the bus with the Cardinals. He wants his priests to get along. Period.

A good preacher: Did ya catch yesterday?

Off the cuff, humble, open…a good preacher. Whattya know?

A first hand experience of the poor: Hello! The guy went to the slums.

Intelligent: Smart enough to do something different. So far, so good.

Understands the media: So far he’s a rock star.

Healthy and scandal free: Tom Reese had an excellent column about Pope Francis’ past today in NCR:

Here was my big takeaway:

In the face of tyranny, there are those who take a prophetic stance and die martyrs. There are those who collaborate with the regime. And there are others who do what they can while keeping their heads low. When admirers tried to claim that John Paul worked in the underground against Nazism, he set them straight and said he was no hero.

Those who have not lived under a dictatorship should not be quick to judge those who have, whether the dictatorship was in ancient Rome, Latin America, Africa, Nazi Germany, Communist Eastern Europe, or today’s China. We should revere martyrs, but not demand every Christian be one.

So to all you haters out there…can ya give the guy a chance to piss you off before you rip him in your columns and online? I mean he hasn’t even got pasta sauce on the white outfit yet! You’re becoming that critical teacher from high school who you could never satisfy and who nobody liked.

So prayers and more prayers for the kinder, more mellow Papa Francisco. We can only hope that your inspiration can help us all restore dignity to the poor and in so doing do the same thing for our church.