A Pope Away from a Perfect Life?

With the release of yet another controversial interview with Pope Francis--replete with continued cautions that Catholics needed to stop "obsessing" about the divisive culture war issues--progressives are welcoming the Pope they have been waiting for. Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit like Pope Francis, and former editor of the progressive Jesuit magazine America, told the Washington Post's Sally Quinn that "I haven't been this hopeful about the Church in decades...It's fun to be Catholic again."

Even President Obama said in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday that he has been "hugely impressed" with Pope Francis because he seems to be "thinking about how to embrace people as opposed to push them away." The progressive Catholics at the George-Soros supported Catholics United issued a press release which proclaimed "Pope to Right Wingers: I'm Not One of You."

Many traditional Catholics are beginning to feel--as Time magazine columnist, Mary Eberstadt recently suggested--that they have been "thrown under the popemobile." American Spectator's George Neumayr called Pope Francis the "hope and change" pontiff--the one "Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, and Jane Fonda have been waiting for...a Jesuit so loose, so cool, so "spiritual" that he doesn't fret over such fuddy-duddy anxieties as the killing of the elderly and the corruption of children." For many of the traditionalists, there is great anxiety that their defense of the perennially unpopular Church teachings on abortion and marriage is no longer valued in their own Church.

They would be wrong. While Pope Francis has said that "we cannot insist only " on these culture war issues, most have not noticed that he also added that "the teachings of the Church are clear...and I am a son of the Church...but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

Pope Francis believes that it is not helpful to talk about these issues all the time. And, while traditionalists maintain that we still need to talk about them sometimes, an increasing number of progressives and traditionalists are beginning to acknowledge the possibility of finding a true common ground. If Pope Francis can help us reach that common ground, then his pontificate will truly be the "one we have been waiting for."

A few years ago, in Status Envy, my book on Catholic colleges and universities, I titled a chapter in the book, "A Pope Away from a Perfect Life." The chapter suggested that progressives have always believed that they were a "pope away" from a Catholic Church that would allow full reproductive rights, female ordination, and same sex marriage.

It is likely that progressives--and traditionalists as well--will still have to wait a while for that perfect life. Besides, Christians know that we all remain "strangers in a strange land" here on earth. There will never be a "perfect life" here. But Pope Francis is simply asking that we all work together to make that life better for each other. Perhaps it is time to start.