Pope Francis has an American problem

The Pope’s first visit to the United States, to attend September’s World Meeting of Families gathering in Philadelphia—a massive Catholic event that, with Francis’s presence, may draw a million participants—will also take the pontiff to the heart of what theologian and Church historian Massimo Faggioli calls Francis’s “American problem.”

It’s less a single problem, Faggioli goes on to explain, than a linked complex of issues that might all come into play next fall. The American Church is perhaps the most important and wealthiest national church within Catholicism, he says, and certainly “the most important in the northern hemisphere, [where the U.S. is] the largest and least secular developed country.” It’s also, as much because it reflects the divisions within a polarized America as it does those within Catholicism, a militantly ideological church, both the world centre of Catholic feminism and the home of a hierarchy unafraid to take to the pulpit with politically conservative messages.

The American bishops, like Francis himself, defy conventional American left-right political categorization. They can seem like the Republican party at prayer in their opposition to the contraception provisions of President Barack Obama’s health care law or on the topic of same-sex marriage, but like militant Democrats on the question of sweeping amnesty for illegal immigrants—who are mostly Hispanic Catholics. They may not be as economically radical as Francis, but the Pope is not, as demonstrated by his recent robust championing of traditional marriage, very far removed from their social morality.

Yet the Pope and U.S. bishops part ways on tone, the Church’s overall focus and, perhaps, on more substantive issues, as well. Francis is determined to move the focus from the sexual morality issues that dominate relations between Catholicism and the secular world view to where he believes it should be: on the plight of the poor and marginalized.


Not sure how much of this is really out there - this so called “problem” between the US bishops and Francis. The bishops are pretty pro-immigrant as the article notes (a lot more than I am!). The Pope is pretty pro traditional marriage. In terms of abortion, gay marriage, social justice, they ARE on the same page, without question. I am not convinced the US bishops are hung up on “moral” issues to the exclusion of caring about the poor; in fact, they would be insulted by that insinuation. It is a liberal misreading of the US Church, coming from the press (again), not Francis.

The American Church is perhaps the most important and wealthiest national church within Catholicism

Very questionable.

He will “ease off from the condemnations of contraception, divorce and homosexuality,” Wills predicts, not by fiat but “by encouraging bishops to move in new directions. Church authorities [will] rather let practices lapse than end them with formal decrees.”

This is perhaps the key question. Will the Church remain orthodox, prolife, and pro-family or not? We are being pulled in two opposite directions by different groups.

Pope Francis is, well, the Pope. Catholics believe that he was elected by the college of Cardinals who were being guided by the holy spirit in making that decision.

If there is in fact a problem between Americans and the Pope, then it is Americans who have a problem with Pope Francis, not the other way around.

Either he was selected by god to lead his church or he wasn’t. But it’s very strange to me to hear faithful Catholics go on and on about how wrong/dangerous/liberal/radical/whatever Pope Francis is. What is it you trust in more, the infallible Pope or your own personal politics?


The Pope is not infallible, which is actually being discuss on another thread. It is almost impossible to agree, like, believe what every single Pope has said, done, or focused on without changing you views with everyone.

As far as the Cardinals being lead by the Holy Spirit over the selecting of Pope Francis, I believe the Holy Spirit was trying to lead each and every man there, but I also believe their were some greedy, corrupt, and power hunger men their with their own agenda, just like the Pope recently scolded them over.

Good post … I would only change it slightly to ask instead, What is it you trust in more, the promise of Jesus who said that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church, or your own personal politics? More simply, do you trust God, or not?



Benedict on Papal election:

I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. . . . I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. **Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined. ** There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!

The only assurance we have is that a Pope will not RUIN the Church.

Well, I was not a huge fan of Pope Benedict, but I really like his point here. Very well stated.

I agree with much of what you posted.However,the Pope’s infallibility extends to only issues related to faith and morals.anything else is his opinion and as such faithful Catholics are free to agree or not with those opinions.

I think that article highlights a thing that distinguishes American Catholicism from Catholicism in other countries. That is, that the ‘American Church’ has a different working structure to most. I’ve never got the impression that the USCCB has ever really been at odds with Rome but there seems to be another unofficial working authority in the Church that is justified as a vigilante ‘protector’ of all things culturally conservative. It presents the ‘American Church’ as more like a two headed structure rather than having the classic pyramidal hierarchy.

If Pope Francis is detecting some American problem, I don’t think it would be with the official USCCB, but with that unofficial ‘authority’.


Do you know the Bishop’s stance on Immigration?
They also tend to be pro-gun control.
They supported the ACA until they wouldn’t block Abortion and contraception coverage.

Heck, the only thing conservative I see from the Bishops is the anti-contraceptive and pro-life stance.

Yes, in practice the USCCB is much more “liberal” than many seem to grasp. This “conservative” image is projected on them far and wide. Perhaps partly because the bishops do speak up loud and clear on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage more than in other parts of the world, for sure more than Europe or South America anyway. But they ARE equally vocal on other issues. They get flak from the so- called conservative laity a lot. Gun control and illegal immigration (I think we should include the word illegal; most American Catholics of all stripes support legal immigration) are good examples, but there are many others. All the time.

I’m saying that the USCCB seems to me to very in line with the Vatican, but there is an unofficial authority comprising lay and some clergy, who often times speaks for the US Church with an authority drawn from a thing that is culturally American.

I get a sense that many feel the USCCB is useful… but not necessary. Just like there is that sense that the police are useful… but not necessary. Or the government is useful… but not necessary. That philosophy stemming from a belief that ‘the people’ have the ultimate authority when it gets back to the bottom line. That seems to have created that specter of an authority within the Church there as well. It’s a creation that has something to do with American culture and history.

I’m not saying one way or the other, but I do wonder how he viewed the last U.S. election results.

But there again, I’ll use my own national example… the Church hierarchy here… conservative and liberal alike… are pretty much on the side of generosity regarding refugees and collectively opposed to guns outside of State needs, security employees, sport and recreational usage. Those issues are only ‘conservative’ issues in the US. Not in other countries where the conservative stance is the opposite. In the US, those issues are what form accusations of ‘liberal’ regarding the hierarchies stance.

He seems like a good enough Christian. My guess is he would have the same tough time the rest of us do in picking a political party in any Western country these days for the exact same reasons…I am always a little happy and a little scared when either side wins or loses. Good and bad in it for the Catholic.

This is true. But one of the problems is that too much of what the Pope says get construed as a faith or moral issue, such as evolution, climate change, etc.

What makes most sense to me is that more weight is given to teachings successive Popes make rather than any one Pope by himself. This from EWTN:

As Vatican II noted, the weight to be given such teaching is “according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression.” Thus, more weight would have to be given to something taught many times by successive popes than to something taught once by one pope.


Now does that mean we don’t listen to the Pope? Of course not. We respect his authority (and even his sports teams) but unless something questionable in the way of faith or morals get reinforced by his successors, it isn’t of much value according to Vatican II guidelines on this.

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