What a strange title? Indeed what a strange title for a column written by a Parish Priest in a Parish Newsletter. I agree it is a bit unusual as far as titles go and yet here in the Bunker I hope we can address topics that are of interest and relevance to us as pilgrims on the journey. That said, it is with some sadness that I believe there is a growing need to discuss our relationship with the Pope.
I am sure for many of you the term itself, Pope Bashing, may be new to you, and it probably needs a little explanation. Believe it or not I grew up with the term as did many of us who grew up north of the border. I often heard the term ‘No Pope here!’ ‘Say no to Rome!’ and ‘pray for an end to Popery!’ I am of course referring to a very divided sectarian society. Sadly there was much animosity, and at times worse, between us Catholics and our Protestant neighbours in the Belfast that I grew up in. It remains a source of sadness that we built a wall in Belfast to keep Catholics and Protestants apart. All these years later to think that we called it The Peace Wall. Of course it certainly did not bring peace. Do walls ever bring peace? One of my favourite lines in history was uttered by President Ronald Reagan in Berlin when he addressed the Soviet leader with the words ‘Tear down this wall Mr. Gorbachev!’
In some ways though we should not be surprised that the Pope or at least the notion of the Pope was so divisive in a war torn Belfast. However in 2019 here in Ireland it is still somewhat remarkable to hear Catholics, and I mean, fairly committed Catholics, weigh in against the Pope. I still find it hard to understand people wanting to align themselves with Pope Benedict as opposed to Pope Francis. Not that I have any problem with people having their preferences. For example, I loved John Paul II and he was a huge influence on me. However my favourite Pope, as you all know was Old Roncalli, John XXIII, and yet with all that, there is only one Pope whom I had the privilege to meet. Namely the present one.
What intrigues me is the prevailing notion, and indeed it seems to be growing, of conspiracy within the realms of the Church. You’ll get this in relation to our present Pope, Pope Francis. There’s always someone who has the ‘scoop on the Conclave’. Of course the truth is there’s no such scoop. Having said that I can understand the attraction and at times fixation with what went on during the election of a Pope. What I smile at, is the idea that manipulation, or ambition or lobbying are new things. These things have always been there. ‘I am for Peter, I am for Paul’. We should never be surprised at naked ambition nor indeed at the sinfulness of Man in general. Sometimes of course it’s just that we don’t like what the Pope said or indeed how he said it. In our annoyance then we seek to dilute what he said, or indeed to discredit the man himself.
I actually believe this is a dangerous area. I believe that loyalty to the Pope is important. Do we seriously think for a minute all the ambition, all the conniving or plotting in the world is going to outfox the Holy Spirit? Of course not.
I was recently privileged to be in the same room as the Holy Father. As he walked away from us, leaving the room, I had a profound sense that I been in the presence of one who knows Jesus. One who is steeped in Jesus. I do not have the slightest doubt that at the end of February 2013, Jorge Mario Borgolio SJ was the choice of the Holy Spirit as Successor of Peter. I am absolutely convinced that Pope Francis is the Pope for our times. I respectfully challenge Catholics who do not believe this to take a good prayerful look at themselves.