The Corner

Pope Francis on the Internet

Last night I did a post suggesting that Pope Francis’s approach to people of other faiths was rooted in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I did not know at the time that, yesterday, the Vatican released a statement from the pope (for World Communications Day) that made explicit reference to the Good Samaritan:

How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter?  What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel?  In spite of our own limitations and sinfulness, how do we draw truly close to one another?  These questions are summed up in what a scribe — a communicator — once asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29).  This question can help us to see communication in terms of “neighborliness.”  We might paraphrase the question in this way: How can we be “neighborly” in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology?  I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication.  Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbors.  The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him.  Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other.  Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God.

. . .

May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration.  Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts.  May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbors” to those wounded and left on the side of the road.  Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world.

Most of the headlines about this statement mention that Pope Francis referred to the Internet as “a gift from God”; one of the reports couldn’t resist having a chuckle at the expense of Al Gore. But the AP story had a very particular spin:

In comments that will likely rile the more conservative wing of the church, Francis suggested that in engaging in that dialogue, Catholics shouldn’t be arrogant in insisting that they alone possess the truth.

“To [have a] dialogue means to believe that the ‘other’ has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective,” Francis wrote. “Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the pretense that they alone are valid and absolute.” [Emphases MP’s.]


Riiiight: because “conservatives” are the only people who can be “arrogant” about their opinions. It’s not, like, human nature to favor one’s own views; after all, who among us has ever met an arrogant liberal? Okay, sarcasm off. This is in fact what alienated me from the Catholic Left when I was a Catholic boy back in the 1970s — the attitude that conservatives, and especially those who preferred the Tridentine Mass, were on the Wrong Side of History and thus shouldn’t be listened to and taken seriously. It’s hard for anyone who’s in the driver’s seat at a given moment to resist this temptation, but the 1970s Catholic Left was quite egregious in the extent to which it embraced this attitude. Here is the passage the AP story quoted, in fuller context:

Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others “by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence” (Benedict XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, 2013).  We need but recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus.  We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death.  We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert.  To dialogue means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective.  Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.

Note the call to be “people of depth” and “spiritually alert”; the quote from Benedict XVI, about patience with and respect for the Other; and the frank (no pun intended) reassertion of the message of redemption. Pope Francis has surely said things that challenge conservatives, just as he has — very eloquently — said things that challenge, e.g., those who advocate for abortion rights. But what he said in this case is a challenge not to conservatives specifically, but to everyone.