Gonna see my picture on the cover
Gonna buy five copies for my mother
Gonna see my shining face
On the cover of the Rolling Stone!
By now most people have heard that Pope Francis is on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. I loved the cover photo of him smiling and waving, but the picture printed with the article, sitting sideways in the shadows - very cool, very hip. That's awesome, I thought, even Rolling Stone recognizes this man as a fresh face in the Catholic Church. I couldn't wait to read the article. I found an online version of the article and dove right in.
Now, I expected the typical misquotes/misinterpretations that the secular media love to attribute to Pope Francis with the suggestion that he's going to turn Catholic teaching on its head. That's fine, I thought, that wouldn't be the first time, and hey, if it gets people to take a second look (or come home) to the Church, that's OK.
Much of Mark Binelli's piece was pretty good. He describes a general audience and the passionate reaction of the throngs to Pope Francis. He gives a detailed and interesting view into Pope Francis' life as a young priest in Argentina and his ascension to cardinal. He also gave a lot of print to how Pope Francis is reforming the Curia, the body that works with the pope on the operations of the Church.
But there was a good deal of nastiness and Church bashing. Binelli focuses most of his vitriol on Pope Emeritus Benedict, making it personal: "After the disastrous papacy of Benedict, a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares . . ." (Why didn't he just come out and say Freddy Kruger?) I guess Mr. Binelli has an axe to grind. (Sorry, I couldn't help it.)
Alright, I thought, this is a "liberal" secular publication, I shouldn't be surprised to read a negative criticism of Pope Benedict compared to Pope Francis. Then I reached page 2. Wow. I was met with a spew of anti-Catholic bashing. I guess the good news is that Pope Francis isn't mentioned on page 2 until the end of the last paragraph. The bad news? After spending a paragraph on a detailed tour of the "truly terrible popes" in history, Binelli uses several paragraphs to offer a scathing evaluation of the papacy of Pope Benedict, followed by accusations that tie him to American GOP politicians, who are then accused of being members of Opus Dei. (No, not that!)
Binelli gives a lot of attention to Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis' first apostolic exhortation on spreading the Good News in today's world. He predictably focuses on the alleged indictment of capitalism (which is neither the theme or the substance of the document) and smears it in the faces of American conservatives. Sigh. I expected that too.
I think the part of the article that left me cold was Binelli's insinuation that Pope Francis is a wolf in sheep's clothing, even if it a wolf he admires. According to Binelli, he can tell that Pope Francis really does support Liberation Theology ("liberation theology has clearly influenced his own papacy, most markedly in the language of Evangelii Gaudium"). He also spends a lot of time stressing that Pope Francis doesn't really care about Church teaching on social issues relating to homosexuality, marriage, divorce, contraception and abortion. I did have to giggle though, when he implied that a questionnaire distributed in Catholic parishes about these family issues constituted a "nod to democracy." He also suggests that Pope Francis plays in political intrigue, describing his "dexterity - and, if the situation demands, ruthlessness - as an operator." (Of course, this is Rolling Stone!).
I will admit that after my first read of the article I was much more critical, mostly because Binelli heaped so much contempt on Pope Benedict ("it's hard to imagine a worse choice to meet the particular challenges facing the Catholic Church than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger"), Church teaching and the Eucharist (calling a Vatican document on it "wonky"and saying that "desecration of Communion wafers" is an "esoteric" sin). However, on further read, the theme that "The Times They Are A-Changn'" is probably true. Pope Francis has certainly attracted a lot of attention from the secular media and he is changing the focus. However, Binelli's suggestion that Pope Francis is a wolf in sheep's clothing may turn out to be true - just not in the way he thinks.