Idols are commonplace in this postlapsarian universe of ours. Money may be the most attractive one, but popes can fall into that category as well. This is not a new phenomenon. For years I saw Catholics of various stripes make idols out of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Some traditional Catholics have a whole pantheon of papal idols, starting with Pius IX on up to and including Pius XII. Pope Francis, through no direct fault of his own, is being idolized — idolized by those who believe he can, in the name of an immanent and secularized form of mercy, change the indefectible teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. This idol Francis, like all idols, is a fiction; there is an appearance of reality with nothing truthful behind it. The idol, unlike the one God who is, was, and ever shall be, shifts with the seasons, being one day a representation of justice deformed into indifference and, on another, the incarnation of the Zeitgeist. It is understandable when the secular media crafts such idols; it is lamentable when Catholics do.
Daniel Nichols, a writer and iconographer whose work I have long admired, has an idol Francis. And with that idol Francis comes the Manichaean construct, the Anti-Francis. The role of the latter in Nichols’s light-and-darkness cosmology belongs, troublingly, to Cardinal Raymond Burke, a faithful churchman whose darkest deed to date has been to stand up for the depositum fidei in the face of a truly extraordinary attempt to circumvent, if not corrupt, it. Though he has refrained from besmirching Cardinal Burke as a closeted homosexual on his web-log, Caelum et Terra, Nichols has had no compunction in another social-media forum suggesting a close connection between Burke’s sexuality and his choice to wear the traditional vestments and ceremonial garb of the Roman Church. That type of cheap talk would be forgivable if it were not backed up by a distressingly warped sense of reality whereby those Catholic faithful — clerical or lay — who openly question some of the words and decisions of the real Holy Father (not the idol pope) should be cast into the outer darkness. Can Nichols truly believe this? Can an idol overtake an intelligent man’s judgment to such an extent that instead of confronting with words and reason those with whom he disagrees, he has instead warped himself into into a second reality where the idol and anti-idol — “the children of light and the children of darkness” — must clash before the final victory is handed off to a worldly set of principles which have nothing to do with Christ, his Church, or the salvation of souls? One has to wonder — if I may quote Nichols’s tag line — where the “beauty, mercy, and justice” is in that.
The truth is that Francis is a man, not an idol. He is the Vicar of Christ, not the oracle of God — and certainly not the oracle of a new age where vice is called virtue and the deleterious effects of sin are set aside in the hopes of inaugurating a false peace between the necessary things and the things of this world. I know that Nichols knows this, just as I know that he has been fighting the good fight longer than most. Caelum et Terra, whether in print or pixel, has long stood as a sentry against the false union of economic liberalism and Catholicism. No such union is possible without betraying the magisterium of the Church. For the same teaching authority which has spoken so forcefully and clearly on the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage; the perniciousness of contraception; and the sinfulness of irregular sexual unions has also told us that we must pay the laborer his just wages and refrain from embarking on immoral wars. They all fit together as one body of doctrine from which we cannot derogate, no matter what the world says. Infallibility was promised to the Church, not to pundits and ideologues.
Let there be no more idol Francis and the false worship being directed its way. Let there be no more talk of an Anti-Francis and his dark legions of retrograde Christians who are apparently blinded by aesthetics and formality. That entire package is a package of lies.
Let there instead be love and prayer for our Pope Francis, the head of the universal Church, who has been tasked to lead it in continuity and truth in these very troubled times. And if our Holy Father should need correction, then let it be spoken in charity — without exaggeration, panic, or malice. There are real problems in the Church. There are an array of matters this Pope has not yet addressed adequately. Instead of fretting about “will he or won’t he,” let us simply pray that he is given the wisdom and resolve to do what is right. There can be no doubt that the “Extraordinary Synod on the Family” has shaken the confidence of some, perhaps many, in the current Pontificate and the direction in which he is steering the Barque of St. Peter. Fair enough. Let us recognize that. But let us also recognize, too, that that this Pope, our Pope, is out there reminding us that the devil is real and that the idol of money, backed up by an erroneous economic ideology parading about as the result of neutral science, has its grip on the world. I hope that Pope Francis continues to preach and teach on these and other matters integral to the Faith and our duty to live it out in our lives daily.