Left, Right, and Middle

Pope Francis is causing quite a stir these days. He either delights or offends with his words and actions, and many people within the Catholic Church try to figure out where this guy stands on things. I am a big fan of Pope Francis, and I think he is exactly what the Church needs at this time. But the reason Pope Francis is so confusing to people is because they have been trying to put him in some political category. This is because there are three elements running in the Church--the Left, the Right, and the Middle.

The Catholic Left

The first element and the most problematic in the Church is the Catholic Left. These are those clergy, religious, and laypeople who either openly or silently defy Church teachings especially on matters such as contraception, homosexuality, and abortion. These are the ones who want to ordain women and don't really believe in the resurrection of Christ. They want the Church to be hip and modern and focused on charitable works but in a purely NGO way. They also embrace the heretical teaching known as liberation theology which is essentially Marxism cloaked in a Catholic veneer. The most visible examples of the Catholic Left would be the Nuns on the Bus and the dreadful National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Francis does not belong to the Catholic Left. He opposes abortion and stood against liberation theology while embracing the cause of the poor in Argentina. He has denied efforts to ordain women as priests. Yet, many on the Catholic Left think Francis is one of them because of his concern for the poor and the fact that he is a thoroughly Vatican II type of guy. The reason they think this way is because of their way of doing things in the Church. The Catholic Left are fundamentally a sniveling lot who remain stubbornly within a Church they hate and seek to erode it from within sort of like the toxic mold that springs from the dampness in a basement from a leaky pipe. Basically, you pay lip service to Church teachings while you do your damage in secret. Pope Francis is not one of these snivelers. At some point, the Catholic Left are going to realize this and turn on the guy.

The Catholic Right

The second element in the Church is the Catholic Right. The Catholic Right are those who affirm traditional Church teachings except they really hate Vatican II. They hate the Novus Ordo or Ordinary Form of the Mass in favor of the traditional Latin Mass or the Extraordinary Form as it is now known. They really hate the Catholic Left, and their time is spent either neck deep in worldly politics such as opposing Barack Obama or wanting to return the Church to a pre-Vatican II liturgy and sensibility. Basically, their theology matches their politics which is essentially right wing. If the Catholic Left wants to turn the Church into an NGO, the Catholic Right wants to turn the Church into a political action committee or PAC. The more extreme elements are in schism such as the Society for St. Pius X or SSPX and the sedevacantists who deny the authority of the current pope. Within the Church, the Catholic Right are represented by guys like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and the abrasive Michael Voris.

Pope Francis does not belong to the Catholic Right either. His recent disciplining of some Latin mass people and his desire to tone down rhetoric on hot button political issues in favor of a more holistic and merciful preaching of the Gospel have not won him any favor with this group. Pope Francis is definitely fond of Vatican II and sees it as a good thing. But he reads Vatican II in the "hermeneutic of continuity" which is with an eye towards the traditions that came before it. You can see this with his praise of the Latin mass even if he does not use that form himself.

The Catholic Middle

The Catholic Middle is where most Catholics are. They affirm Church teachings on the hot button political issues such as contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. But they also care about the poor and also the Church's theology and devotional life. The Catholic Middle does not scream the loudest but strives to live the Gospel and let their actions do the talking. They like Vatican II, celebrate the Mass in the ordinary form, and tend to be non-partisan in their political viewpoints recognizing that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are in line with all of Church teachings. These people are represented best by someone like Mother Angelica and the folks at EWTN, Father Robert Barron, the National Catholic Register, and the outstanding Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

I will say it as clearly as I can. The Catholic Middle represent what is best in the Catholic Church. They are neither heretics like the Catholic Left nor schismatics like the Catholic Right. Pope Francis belongs to the Catholic Middle.

It is said that you will know them by their fruit, and the Catholic Middle are the only ones with the fruit. The fruit of the Catholic Left is rotten and nauseating while the fruit of the Catholic Right is bitter. The fruit of the Catholic Middle is sweet and refreshing. Naturally, the middle is hated by both the Left and the Right. The Left hate them because they won't compromise their teachings, and the Right hate them because they are not belligerent and obnoxious in their tone.

The Importance of Vatican II

Some people think everything changed with Vatican II, but the reality is that all of these elements were there prior to Vatican II. Vatican II did not create the Left, the Right, and the Middle. What it did do was expose who was who. You get to see who are sheep and who are wolves. The Catholic Middle are the sheep while the Left and the Right are the wolves. Make no mistake about it. The Left and the Right have the same aim within the Church, and that aim is destruction. It is like the crossfire of a well planned assassination. The Left attempts to destroy the Church from within while the Right attempts to destroy the Church from outside.

Pope Francis is not much different from his predecessors in his teachings. His "radical" nature flows from his tone and style. The guy actually lives it. He is humble and gentle. He cares for the poor. He says what he thinks but not with a mean spirit. He is reforming the Church the way it should be reformed which is not like Martin Luther but St. Francis of Assisi.

To understand things better, you have to ask yourself two questions. What is wrong with the Church? And, what should be done to fix it? For the Left, what is wrong with the Church is that it is old and outdated. It needs to "modernize" and become more like the world. For the Right, what is wrong with the Church is that it is too modern and needs to return to the good ol' days. For the Middle, what is wrong with the Church is that it is full of sinners, and it needs to return to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

The Catholic Middle does not identify itself as the Middle, but it should. Both the Left and the Right want to claim these sheep for themselves in much the same way wolves wish to devour a flock. Matthew 7:15-19 warns us,
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire.
Determining who is who in the Church requires discernment, but Our Lord gives us the key to this discernment. Look at their fruits. What is the fruit of the Catholic Left? The answer is pretty obvious. They are the ones responsible for the priest sex abuse scandal and cover up in the Church. They are the ones who represent what Pope Francis calls the "gay lobby" in the Vatican. These are the ones who make a mockery of the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. What is the fruit of the Catholic Right? They breed schism and cynicism, and they usually disgrace themselves when their bile spews out usually in some Holocaust denying anti-semitic rant. You will know the Catholic Right by their hatred which is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

None of this is new. Jesus faced the same issues in His time on earth when He was opposed by the Sadducees and the Pharisees who were the Left and Right of His day. They never understood the Messiah. The Sadducees and the Pharisees hated each other, yet they found common cause in hating Jesus Christ. In the end, they were more alike than they cared to admit. Similarly, the Catholic Left and the Catholic Right both hate the Church. As time progresses, they will also hate Pope Francis. It is their nature as wolves.

As for me, I love Pope Francis. He has the spirit of Christ, and you know he is the real deal from his fruit. Francis represents what an authentic Christian and a Catholic should be. I doubt Francis will settle the conflict in the Church, but he settles the debate for me. It can be confusing with all these various people screaming at each other to decide which is the correct path to follow. Francis lights the way by his example. He has the good fruit of holiness and charity. Being in the middle seems kind of wishwashy, but Francis is the most radical thing to come along in the Church in some time. Who thought being in the middle could shake up the world? Yet, that is exactly what Francis is doing. Follow his example.