Sorting Out Francis Illusions

by Ken Briggs

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You can't blame Pope Francis for having a "shadow" side. Carl Jung, the depth psychologist most embraced by Christians, said we all have this other dimension that corresponds on an unconscious level to our everyday awareness.

The mistake is that much of the public has been led to believe Francis is an exception. That he is a monolithic vessel of simple virtue without the shrewd, unflattering aspects of personality that most of us find stirring within ourselves, only dimly understood. As St. Paul memorably told it, he did what he didn't want to do and didn't do what he intended to.

As a human being, Francis cannot be assumed to escape these darker, inscrutable instincts any more than the rest of us. I'd submit that his secret meeting with Kim Davis is an example of that very thing.

From all appearances, Francis' visit was minutely designed to show him at his best for what he genuinely does, that is, to shine the light of mercy and good will toward the whole of humanity, an endeavor made more urgent by the deepening disfavor in which the church has sunk. The first breech in this strategy was his canonization of Junipero Serra, the agent of Spanish imperial designs who subjected natives of southern California, but this was largely obscured by its timing at the end of the day in a flurry of other news-making events and smothered in part by a swarm of bishops with whom he was meeting anyway.

But the Davis occasion was entirely hidden. It hinted at Francis' deep convictions that contradict the impression that gays are okay with him ("who am I to judge?"). Why not be upfront, explaining that the doctrine, as reinforced by no-nonsense John Paul II in 1978, proclaims that gays and lesbians who don't engage in sexual activity pass muster in Catholic theology but as soon as they act on those impulses they're in trouble city. And make a distinction between sticking up for those who in good conscience oppose same sex marriage and self-willed public officials who serve neither the church or the state by violating the law they are sworn to uphold? The military expects people to obey orders but also provides for those who conscientiously object?

It's explained that he didn't well grasp the legalities or the philosophy behind legitimate exception. That only goes so far. Another suggestion is more troubling, that he sought to have it both ways, create the public image of tolerance while egging on the foes of same sex couples. That such honesty would have marred the visit's message of conciliation and openness, that it would have let rain fall on his own parade. At any rate, there was a crack in the veneer of uniform peace and good cheer, themes that he carried out genuinely and effectively. But, of course, it wasn't all of Francis, no more than a carefully manicured campaign is all there is to a skilled politician.

That popes have flaws is something Francis has himself allowed. His biography reveals his own life to have had ups and downs not only in understanding his vocation but in behaving toward fellow priests and his Catholic flock. Though now sometimes hailed as a champion of liberation theology, for example, the record shows quite the opposite, an Argentinian churchman who kept that movement at arms length, refusing to join its ranks.

Maybe this incident will muddy the waters for the better, popping the balloon of unreflective euphoria in favor of a more balanced, Jungian evaluation of a hugely likeable, loving pope who cannot be reduced to surface appearances or actions. Once introduced, lapses in trust tend to linger.


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