It’s difficult to read anything for public consumption on the internet these days without seeing references to Pope Francis. Just take a gander at CNN’s Belief Blog, which is a veritable buffet of articles about Pope Francis. You might find that Pope Francis has won the Internet, a dubious honor at best.
Numerous people have expressed how impressed they are with Pope Francis and how much they like him, including many who normally take an exceedingly dim view of the very idea of the Papacy, let alone its reality.
The question is sometimes asked of me, “Do you like Pope Francis?” Before I get to the answer, I’ll explain several things I don’t like about this question.
1. To like someone is really easy and to dislike someone is even less difficult. I like most people. I like a lot of different kinds of foods and drinks. I like clean water and clean energy. Asking me whether I like someone is quite possibly one of the least useful questions to ask me. Why not ask me whether or not I pray for his ministry? Why not ask me if he has inspired me to greater service for the poor and vulnerable? Why not ask me if I think that his pastoral style has borne good fruit inside the Church and outside the Church?
2. It really does not matter in the slightest whether or not I like Pope Francis. He is the Pope regardless of whether I can muster the mediocre feeling of liking him or the largely empty gesture of hitting the thumbs-up button on his Facebook page. He has an immensely public platform, the position of head of state, and one of the most grueling jobs in the world whether I like him or not. I owe him the appropriate respect for his human dignity, his temporal office, and his Petrine ministry whether I like him or not. I will love him as my brother in Christ whether I like him or not, because my more petty feelings are not the sole source of my behavior.
3. Partisanship erodes Church unity, and there is something profoundly partisan about appealing to my liking or disliking a Pope. The Catholic Church is not a political body in which opinion polls are indicative of which way the decisions will be made, which I am very comfortable with because I understand my own lack of expertise. The Pope is not like a President or Prime Minister in a very important respect; he is not beholden to the whims of an electorate or to the corporate interests who funded his election campaign or to the Party whose networks he was allowed to utilize. Nor should he be so beholden; I shudder to imagine the consequences of the Papacy once again being under the thumb of the state or of the mob. The Pope is to be a servant leader calling us to renew our lives in Christ and practice the charity of Christ.
All that said, I do like Pope Francis.