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A Reply to Young Ross Douthat's Ominous-Sounding Critique of Pope Francis

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) April 22, 2015: In his short time as pope, Pope Francis has garnered an enormous amount of media coverage, usually for some catchy expression.

Granted, he does say catchy bite-sized things that lend themselves to being quoted.

Granted, he is charismatic.

Granted, the Roman Catholic Church is a powerful global institution.

Thus far, however, he has not orchestrated any significant changes in the church's current teachings, many of which I think should be changed.

By all accounts, Pope Francis is a conservative Catholic, as are all of the Catholic bishops.

Nevertheless, the possibility that Pope Francis may yet oversee a significant change in the church's current conservative teachings has prompted the New York Times' young conservative columnist Ross Douthat to publish his lengthy article in The Atlantic: "Will Pope Francis Break the Church?" (published at the magazine's website).

Young Douthat's critique of Pope Francis involves a young paleo-conservative Catholic (Ross Douthat) criticizing an old non-paleo-conservative Catholic (Pope Francis).

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Your guess is as good as mine as to who wrote the title -- Douthat or the editors. (Douthat presumably would have referred to a possible schism, the conventional term for a big break in the church.)

Basically, the title accurately reflects young Douthat's paleo-conservative apprehensiveness of any possible significant change in the church's current teachings -- significant, that is, in the view of conservatives who value the church's current teachings as supposed certainties in their lives. Evidently, it does not occur to paleo-conservatives like young Douthat that the church's teachings are not certainties that cannot be changed. Because of the extraordinary value that paleo-conservatives place on supposed certainties, any possible change that they deem as significant threatens their supposed certainties.

Granted, church authorities have fostered this kind of mistaken attitude about current church teachings as supposedly representing certainties.

Now, The Atlantic is not famous for being a venue for conservative views. So let's look at how the young paleo-conservative Douthat structures his article in this presumably secular venue.

Douthat begins his article with a discussion of the 1979 novel THE VICAR OF CHRIST. For Douthat's purpose of discussing Pope Francis, that novel is convenient to use as a springboard because it features a fictional Pope Francis.

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Next, Douthat shifts his attention to certain other manifestations of interest in popes in American popular culture.

Your guess is as good as mine as to why young Douthat does not start with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church. No doubt certain changes initiated by Vatican II disturbed the sense of certainty that paleo-conservative Catholics like to place such extraordinary value on.

Next, Douthat makes a big bow to the two recent paleo-conservative popes, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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