The Corner

‘Papa Is a Rolling Stone’

Kudos to the ultra-Traditionalist Novus Ordo Watch for the headline, upon which I could not possibly improve. It turns out that the venerable music magazine Rolling Stone has joined the ranks of media outlets that have caught Pope Francis fever; they’ve put him on the cover of their current issue.

To this cover story, by Rolling Stone contributing editor Mark Binelli, I offer just a few cavils. First, on behalf of ex-pope Benedict XVI: Binelli calls him “a dour academic.” I would say “shy,” if you want to be neutral, or “nerdy,” if you want to be critical; but “dour” is really inaccurate about his personality. And to refer to “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,” is more accurate as a description of media clichés about Ratzinger than about the reality of his life and pontificate.

Second, the article admits, accurately but very grudgingly, that Pope Francis is not trying to reverse official doctrine on hot-button issues: “The pope’s tonal changes don’t necessarily signal a wild swing from tradition. Francis has ruled out the ordination of women, for example, and he still considers abortion an evil.” Am I wrong to bridle at that word “still”? It sounds to me like, “Mike Potemra still thinks women ought to be allowed to vote.” Could the implication be more obvious that gosh, Pope Francis still thinks abortion is wrong, even though all cool, intelligent people know that’s a ridiculous opinion to hold?

Third, there’s this: “Though still outwardly orthodox, Bergoglio joked to a friend about church leaders who ‘want to stick the whole world inside a condom.’” But wait: How on earth is that statement of Bergoglio at odds with his “outward” orthodoxy?

And fourth, little mistakes like referring to “a senior Vaticanisti” irk me. Hello: “Vaticanista,” singular.

I could go on in this vein, but these are, as I said, minor cavils about a story that is a lot better than it ought to be. (By which I mean, I suspect Rolling Stone’s cover story about the pope is better than L’Osservatore Romano’s last cover story on Jay-Z or Death Cab for Cutie.) And I am especially impressed with Binelli’s choice of Father John Wauck as a source for this story. I met Father Wauck many years ago, and he is a warm and intelligent person, in addition to being as doctrinally orthodox as his Opus Dei affiliation would lead you to expect. (Just to avoid an obvious temptation for conspiracy theorists: I am not in any way affiliated with Opus Dei.)

And if all this is not enough to make you curious about this Stone piece, let me point out that NR’s own Kathryn Lopez is mentioned, on page 5 (of 6 pages).

I think this article is proof that Pope Benedict XVI’s strategy is working: A new approach to the papacy is getting the whole world to pay attention to an ancient institution that has helpful things to say about today’s challenges.