I grew up with a deep affection for the pope. My childhood featured Pope John Paul II, and my siblings and I learned to love and appreciate him for being a bold defender of the Catholic faith. Indeed, the pope’s portrait was hung prominently in our home. His Koran-kissing, or further, his appointments of kissing cardinals, was never mentioned. Nor was our inability to attend a licit Mass, much less a traditional Latin Mass, ever considered within his realm of power to amend. I grew up trained like most Catholics: to love the pope and never to question his actions and ordinances. He was erroneously bestowed a free pass on most, if not all, Church ailments.
Conversely, my children do not know our current pontiff. There are no pictures of Pope Francis on our wall, nor do my wife and I talk about him openly in their presence. We do teach our children about the pope and his role in the Church during catechism, and we pray for him during our daily rosary, but otherwise my wife and I avoid discussing him. Currently, it is best this way, for as Shakespeare says in The Taming of the Shrew: “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart.” Instead, our children learn about men such as Pope St. Pius X and can eagerly explain to you Pius X’s entire childhood and subsequent journey toward being the bishop of Rome. Our children cannot tell you what country Pope Francis is from, nor a single story of his life.
I do not take it lightly that my children are ignorant of Pope Francis, yet I do not take the reasons for this ignorance lightly, either. What does this ignorance truly indicate?
Ignorance of the pope is ignorance of fallacious teachings. God does not actively will all religions, for God cannot contradict Himself. Reception of the Eucharist requires one to be in a state of sanctifying grace. Getting chummy with communists is deplorable. The death penalty has always been permitted by the Catholic Church. Catholics should try to convert non-Catholics. There are souls in Hell. Contraception is intrinsically evil. Yet each basic teaching listed above has been called into question, or directly contradicted, by Pope Francis.
Ignorance of the pope is ignorance of duplicity. One day, the pope is speaking out against the Devil. The next day, the Devil, or Great Accuser, is the man who shines light on corruption and calls sinners to repentance. In one moment, the pope likens abortion to hiring a hitman; in the next instance, he abandons to its self-inflicted desire to slaughter the innocent, with “not one word” of correction. Clericalism is named as the root cause of the abuse crisis; nevertheless, the usual favored clique of clerics are suspiciously promoted to the task of resolving the crisis. Duplicity abounds.
Ignorance of the pope is ignorance of verbal abuse. Indeed, how exactly does one explain to a child what a fomenter of coprophagia is, or a leprous courtier? Shall I teach my children, who no doubt came into being through quasi-rabbit-breeding, to be rigid and self-absorbed rosary-counters? Perhaps I am acting like a sourpuss Mr. Whiner who is a slave to superficiality, and nothing but a pickled pepper-faced Christian. Nevertheless, not to be a museum mummy, but is it too much to demand that the pope speak with an air of dignity and respect?
Ignorance of the pope is ignorance of supercilious authority. When a pope is asked a pressing and demanding question and replies that not one word is necessary, it is deceptive and haughty. When a pope refuses to respond to official dubia concerning Christ’s teachings on marriage, the Eucharist, and mortal sin, it is scandalously smug. When Catholics in a country decry the appointment of a bishop because of his abuse cover-ups, and these pleas are disregarded, it is a cause of righteous anger among Christians, who expect their overseers to be “shepherds of the church of God” (Acts 20:28) and not arrogant hirelings.
Ignorance of the Pope is ignorance of straw man arguments. It is ignorance of mercy without justice. It is ignorance of stalled Vatican Bank reforms, plummeting vocation numbers, rigged synods, Peronism, and plane flights with shocking interviews — and what I wouldn’t do never to hear another interview given from 40,000 feet in the air. Thus, ignorance of the pope is to be removed from a terrifying nightmarish state, and to return to living in reality. Lord have mercy on the Church, for we are suffering greatly.
Our oldest child is seven. He is intelligent for his age, but he is far too young to know the truth. This will come at a future time. Perhaps one day I will innocently sit him down and mimic the Jewel Akens tune: “Let me tell you about the birds and the bees, and the subtle heresies.”
For now, our children will remain ignorant. The walls of our home will be adorned only with icons of Jesus and Our Lady, and not with pictures of an Argentine dressed in white. In an astute way, a line from G.K. Chesterton’s On Household Gods and Goblins applies here: “For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” Keep the children innocent, I say, at least for now. It is by ignorance of the pope that my children will continue to love truth and justice.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of four. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.