Pope Francis, The Magenta Catholic

Saturday, September 21, 2013 - 8:01am
Photo by Filippo Monteforte

Pope Francis, The Magenta Catholic

Lots of people are talking about our (still very new) Bishop of Rome — and especially his recent interview in America. Mark Silk says we have a "liberal" pope. So do Rod Dreher and many other commentators.

Do we? Perhaps it shows the limits of using secular political language that I'm not exactly sure what it means for Pope Francis to be considered "liberal" (thank goodness for America's new editorial policy rejecting the use of secular political categories in a Catholic context), but most self-described Catholic liberals are against authoritarian popes. How does this pope describe himself in the interview?

My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative.

Catholic liberals are also generally suspicious of "pre-Vatican II" liturgical and devotional practices. Like use of the Latin language, praying of the rosary, and Eucharistic adoration. How does Pope Francis feel about these things? From the interview:

I pray the breviary [in Latin] every morning. I like to pray with the psalms. Then, later, I celebrate Mass. I pray the Rosary. What I really prefer is adoration in the evening, even when I get distracted and think of other things, or even fall asleep praying. In the evening then, between seven and eight o’clock, I stay in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour in adoration.

But if there is one thing we know after the America interview yesterday, Pope Francis wants us to lay off issues like abortion, right? Except the very next day after the interview was published, Pope Francis said the following in an address to gynecologists:

Every unborn child, condemned unjustly to be aborted, has the face of the Lord. Although by their nature they are at the service of life, health professions are sometimes induced to disregard life itself. If you lose the personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fiber and makes people capable of mutual help.

The point Francis is making, which Benedict XVI and John Paul II have been making (less well) for decades, is that abortion is connected to a host of very important issues. If you obsess over abortion, you not only do a disservice to the Gospel (which is, of course, primary), you also paradoxically undermine your ability to work for justice of our prenatal children. One of the things which makes yesterday's interview so powerful is that Francis has been far more effective in making this point than were his predecessors. But the point he made is perhaps the guiding principle of Benedict's Caritas in Veritate.

Only in a world dominated by our lazy liberal/conservative, red/blue binary could Pope Francis be considered "liberal" simply because he doesn't fit into "conservative" categories. Quite rightly, Francis is a magenta Catholic — unburdened by the totally inadequate secular political categories that almost everyone is once again using to discuss and judge his papacy. And he gives every sign that he will continue to confound the wisdom of our time — but this, of course, is precisely what we should expect from the Gospel.


Share Post

Shortened URL


Charles C. Camosy

is an assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University in the Bronx. He works on initiatives that foster intellectual solidarity between binary groups that find conversation difficult. He serves on the ethics committee of the Children’s Hospital of New York and as an advisory board member for the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. He's the author of the forthcoming book, For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action and regularly blogs at Catholic Moral Theology.

Share Your Reflection



Before even reading this article I have to comment on the lead... it seems to me that "liberal" theology is not necessarily to western "liberal" politics. It is a shame that the word liberal is the only word available to describe to very different concepts.

Perhaps faithful is the word,faithful to God and to his, as well as ours, humanity...

I would guess that in a very large number of cases abortion has not been an "easy answer" for those who've had them. But in our binary world abortion is looked upon as an "easy answer." If Pope Francis is able to hit our binary discourse in the head and cause it to become more thoughtful, cause us to stop taking sides and instead begin (again) to think for ourselves, he will have surely done God's work on earth in bringing us back to the full burden and freedom of free will.

What you said about the Pope helping to make people "more thoughtful" is,in my opinion,at the crux of the problem. For years, there was absolutely no room for questioning any Church doctrine. I like to think of Christ telling us to "become as little children." Too many people have misinterpreted this as being becoming simple and accepting whatever "authority" dictates. If you've ever been around little children, then you realize that they question just about everything. We have free will and that means we have the ability to question and then make decisions based on conscience and experience. Yes, we need guidance; and yes, we need rules; but we don't need blind obedience to a set of dogmas or teachings which are basically interpretations of what God wants of us. Thanks for your reflection.

I agree with Mr. Carmosy. However, I think Mr. Carmosy's point is exactly what Pope Francis is attempting to address within the Church - the willingness and and lazy habit of indulging in easy binary thinking. Because binary thinking within the Church has been so prevalent within the conservative groups, it feels liberal to suggest a new approach. In fact, revolutionary does not automatically equate with liberal. I, personally, will take thoughtful, many-layered and connective dialogue any day over what we have had in the recent past!

First time I've encountered the notion of "binary groups", but welcome the idea. I suppose there have to be "either/or" categories as well as "both/and" ones. Clearly life (and the Gospel) resist any such reductions or distillations. I wonder if it is the western culture in general, or the cultural media (lazy?) that depends on competing ideologies for it's fuel. I also wonder if Francis' nuance and willingness to appear paradoxical will wear out our religious observers, and they will determine it's just too much work to understand a pope who won't sit still for his customary labeling.

No, Pope Francis is not conservative or liberal -- he is radical, as radical is found in the Gospel. I have seen that "radicalness" in action on a local level, but for the world to be reminded of it and see it carried out faithfully s something we have sorely needed for a while.

I find Prof. Carmosy's commentary fascinating and liberating! I think to put Pope Francis in a box in attempt to easily understand him does all of us a disservice and cuts off the conversation. I find Pope Francis to be a breath of fresh air and I believe he offers a more complex view of some very complicated issues--thank you God!

He's a "Christian", in the best sense of the word, simple as that. I'm not Catholic. I'm not a fan of dogma and doctrine, but I'm a huge fan of Jesus of Nazareth. The new, pope, it seems to me, is following in Jesus' footsteps. Jesus was not about rules and condemnation, he was about love and salvation. I wish the new pope well, and hope he continues down Jesus' path for the rest of his pontificate. You can't go wrong with a path like that.

On abortion, sounded like political back-pedaling to me.

My belief is that there is much truth on all sides of issues. To see Christ as Redeemer is to see the reconciliation of opposites. Life is complicated and sometimes choices must be made between saving one life at the expense of another as in cases where the life of the mother in problem pregnancies may be in danger. There are some cases where very young girls cannot carry a child to term. Could Pope Francis understand this?

Pope Francis' recent statements about abortion, same sex relationships, and atheists tend to lead us Protestants to believe the Roman Catholic tradition is moving into a new era. By appearing to espouse a more open Gospel and a wider acceptance of Christian beliefs, he is appearing to lead the "Church" in an ecumenical direction. Eventually, his actions, theological writings, and the administrative hierarchy of the church will demonstrate to the rest of the Christian world if he is a true reformer or simply possesses an appealing personality.
I believe his actions will speak louder than his words much like his name-sake, St. Francis of Assisi, who said, "preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."

Thanks for your interest in your "congregation's" reaction to this article, and to its subject. Listening to "On Being" is the closest I get to participation in a spiritual assembly, virtual as it is. About this Pope, it seems that the changes he proposes are about what gets top billing in public and media discussion, not what his organization's policies are. Like the republican party pretending to be sympathetic to the challenges and injustices undocumented immigrants face - it wants to change its image for its own benefit, but not actually extend real help to anyone who really needs it.

So sorry, but the Pope is not moving closer to a Protestant view of issues. Abortion, homosexual acts, etc., are still sins and always will be. The Pope was just trying to frame these actions in a broader context.

Virtual works for a while, but nothing beats face-to-face. Go find some kinfolk. If it's a good fit, you'll know it, and you'll open an entirely new aspect of life you never knew existed.

This is a tough piece to write. People are saying he's Liberal. Others are saying, "not so fast." Which is really what Camosy is saying in this piece (Conservative red+Liberal blue=Catholic magenta).

I was disappointed with it as a result. To create conservative statements from Francis, Camosy has to isolate some of what Pope Francis has said, For example, concerning the first citation about his quick decisions. Prof. Camosy knows that Francis is describing the way he learned that he had to consult with others before making decisions. It's not a conservative statement.

In the interview Pope Francis says that he prays the breviary. Most priests do. Does he pray it in Latin? He may, but he didn't say that in this interview. Those words are bracketed, because Camosy has added them in. My point is, praying the breviary isn't Liberal or Conservative. It is Catholic, and the reference is made in a way that's self-serving.

The reference to the Pope's message to gynecologists also falls short. Did the Pope say what's excerpted? Yes. Except he didn't stop where Camosy would have you think. Pope Francis also said:

"In the fragile human being each one of us is invited to recognize the face of the Lord, who in his human flesh experienced the indifference and solitude to which we often condemn the poorest, whether in developing countries or in wealthy societies,"

"Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world," he said. "And every old person, even if infirm and at the end of his days, carries with him the face of Christ. They must not be thrown away!"

Now, is the Pope Magenta? Yes. Because the Catholic Church is magenta.

I think a better piece would consider why people are responding to Pope Francis.

In my opinion, part of that is because he's reminding folks that the Church is more than Blue, or Red. We all carry those tensions, don't we? Abortion may make a person uncomfortable. That same individual may not have a problem with the death penalty. At the most basic level, they both end a life. The difference has to do with what we think are valid reasons for either.

It's that, and it's more. Pope Francis is reminding us that life isn't--to add a different duality--black or white. He said, "Who am I to judge?" His statements are the most pastoral we've heard from a Pope in memory. Francis knows he's a sinner. As the Pope he's been speaking as an adult to adults. What do adults know? We know that in life, there is a lot of grey. And really, since that is the case, "who are we to judge."


I think the author is right. Americans (in and out of the Media) do indeed look for simplistic binary classifications. But we also confuse public activity with private conviction (which most visibly dominates our political dialogue). What makes Pope Francis unique is his view of the big picture. He questions whether the Church's focus toward narrow goals is leaving moral and spiritual voids in the lives of faithful Catholics while simultaneously serving as hopeless barriers to lapsed Catholics.


My take on Pope Francis as a faithful Catholic and regular Mass attending, Praying Liturgy of the Hours in the Morning & Evening - and involved in the life of my parish... is not so much "liberal" specifically but more "a huge breath of fresh air".

I am a non practicing Catholic. And it was John XXIII that ignited my interest at age 7 when he became pope and I attended catechism. At fourteen my biblical scholarly endeavors were cut short by y fathers total disdain for organized religion. But in October 1978 when John Paul II became pope my interest was rekindled. Now I am siding with the Leadership Conference on Women Religious and believe after reading ZEALOT by Resa Aslan I am on the right path.
semper Fidelis

This is excellent, Trent......thank you very much for adding it in your missive, which I so look forward to each week. Camosy nails it. In the U.S. we are especially susceptible to labeling everything quickly and moving on (what the great Alexis de Tocqueville saw as our "ceaseless agitation"). Pope Francis' gift of communicating and connecting, places his papacy smack dab into society. How refreshing indeed.

The notion of a Liberal Catholic is absurd to me. Catholicism is not a buffet, you cannot choose what you do and do not wish to partake in and believe. If you are suspicious of Eucharistic adoration, you are not a Catholic, plain and simple. Why would there be any question as to whether the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, would do this?