It's cheaply humorous to watch the way self-styled conservatives opine about Pope Francis—almost like watching Wile E. Coyote track The Road Runner in a trail of smoke only to find himself ten feet too far over a cliff. It's not really that funny; but the moment of confident hesitation before the fall signifies something comically ironic.
While the Coyote hangs just long enough to realize the folly of his over-exertion, "right-wingers" who hunt down the pope tend to occupy their final seconds with a desperate scramble to the opposite ledge. It happens all the time. For example, tracking the pope as an anti-globalist becomes incredibly flimsy when one is faced with the depth of Catholic Social Teaching. A solution? Run as fast as possible to another pope and call Francis's advisors Satanic communists. Yet whatever the merit of such claims, they'll never warrant sweeping conclusions like "Globalization has helped tens of millions in long-impoverished places like India and China move from grinding poverty to relative prosperity."
This is just an example. There are plenty more. It's over the cliff. There's no ground beneath it. It's going to fall.
Of course, I never imagined I'd be one to criticize the "Catholic right." I don't find conservatism problematic (perhaps because I'm not sure whether I've found it at all). Instead, it's that many in the conservative camp have outed themselves as ideologues as bigoted and powerful as their liberal adversaries. Note, I don't use the term "bigot" lightly, either: I'm referring to the almost superstitious belief that dialogue beyond the entrenchment of talking points is not only worthless, but even morally harmful.
Then there's Pope Francis: the most talked about person on the internet. The anti-globalist. The recipient of praise from NARAL Pro-Choice America. The Jesuit. The embracer of children and the deformed. The excommunicator of dissident priests. The maker of a daily holy hour. The pastor. The Vicar of Christ. The sinner.
It's no wonder that many are uncomfortable with him. We tend to be uncomfortable with those more honest, sincere, and holy than ourselves. We expel them from hallowed places, we connive to trip them up with trick questions and obscure truths, we drive them to the edge—and as we're prepared to shove them off, they walk away unscathed in our midst.
The failure of many conservative Catholics to grasp the Franciscan papacy is twofold: on the one hand, the ideas offered (i.e., the perennial teachings of the Church) are too manifold to digest from the perspective of a single, increasingly narrow and politically charged ideology. Conservatism—whatever it is—is not equal to Catholicism. On the other hand, the man who presents these ideas, the present Bishop of Rome, is simply not interested in encountering "the right." In fact, he's not interested in encountering "the left," either. If there's one thing that's clear so far, it's that Francis encounters people—and he doesn't much care where they've come from, only that they're with him at the moment.
Recently, the "leading conservative" Archbishop Chaput counseled that Catholics "look at [Pope Francis] after a year, rather than trying to size him up at each speech." Indeed, this is good advice. And it's a recommendation that fits not only with Francis's pastoral agenda, but also with the scriptural—if somewhat cartoonish—response by Peter, who felt compelled to interject on Christ's Transfiguration: "Lord, it is good that we are here."
If the testimony of those who've encountered Francis most personally is to be trusted (and why wouldn't it be, given the apostolic bases of our faith?), then we should be eager for patience, for study, and for pursuing the heavenly kingdom in our midst. Encouragement to the contrary really is, as the pope loves to point out, something demonic—and most assuredly so. Chatter and ideologies over-extend us, they debase us, and they leave us with no firm options, save a laughable effort to span the gap between imperfection and a restricted, if perfectly closed and politically expedient, worldview.
Like I said, it's not really that funny. But the irony is enough at least to make you smirk.