“Ok, I have had it.” Father Larry Richards wrote on his Facebook page on Oct 28. There followed the first strong words of a defense of the Pope that reached a high point yesterday (Nov. 9).
Father Richards is the Erie, Pa., priest who first gained national attention for his inspiring talks on confession. Anyone who saw him at a men’s conference in the past several years saw what I did: A talk from Father Richards would fill the confessional lines, often with men who haven’t been to confession in years – or decades – and often late into the night.
In October, he took a stand for Pope Francis with his Facebook audience:
“If you are one of those who will not love and respect our Holy Father because he does not think like you please unfriend yourself from my page. I do not want to continue to read the slander of people who call themselves Catholic and spit on the Chair of Peter. As the saints have said ‘Where there is Peter there is the Church.’ You do not have to agree with Pope Francis but you must love and respect him. I will die to defend him.”
On Sunday, he posted his bulletin entry on the same subject.
“We need to make sure that we support Pope Francis and respect him and obey him,” he said. “I know that he is driving some people crazy because they say that he is confusing some people because he seems to accept people who are in serious sin, and thus he is sending mixed messages to the faithful.”
But he compared Francis’ approach to the what Jesus did.
Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery: “Does anyone condemn you? Then neither do I. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Pope Francis distinguished homosexuals from pressure groups and said: “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?”
Neither okays the sin, wrote Father Larry, but both “meet people where they are so they can be set free from their sin.”
As the media has sought to divide Catholics over the Pope, the sign of the Church’s unity, others besides Father Larry have come to the defense of the Pope as well.
The most unlikely defender might be Michael Voris, the YouTube critic of Catholics of the left and right. In a March Vortex episode titled, “It always comes back to the Pope,” he denounces the “very dangerous game” of attacking the Pope and quotes the maxim “Without the papacy, there is no Church.”
The most recent defender is Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has been controversial reassigned from Rome’s high canonical court. Cardinal Burke is known for speaking his mind on a variety of issues: Sheryl Crow, Notre Dame, Randall Terry and the family synod. He told Aleteia “I don’t ever put myself in opposition to the successor of St. Peter,” and warned of those who want to co-opt Francis’ reputation for their own agendas.
My personal favorite papal defense came in the Rolling Stone cover story about Pope Francis by Robert Binelli. The reporter desperately searched for angry conservatives. “I figured if any group would express a distinct lack of enthusiasm about their new Jesuit pope, it would be Opus Dei,” he says. Oops. He describes Father John Wauck in Rome as “a trim, cheery 50-year-old” who “displays a Midwestern eagerness to please” and “does not seem all that conservative for a member of Opus Dei – at one point, he asks excitedly if I’ve read Eminent Hipsters, the new memoir by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan.” He throws all the supposedly divisive Pope Francis quotes at Wauck, and Wauck endorses each one.
But back to Father Richards. Like Father Wauck, he called on his flock not just to defend the Pope, but to imitate him.
Catholics must imitate Jesus and Francis and “love people back to Him, and when they know that they are loved by Him – and us – then they will respond in love and then obey him out of love,” he wrote.
“Before God gives the Ten Commandments, he first sets them free from their slavery,” he wrote. Likewise, “Before we tell people all the rules that they must follow we need to first tell them about the love of God.”
He called on Catholics to pray daily for the Pope, refuse to participate in “gossip or slander or detraction about him” and then to “publicly stand up for him.”
Father Richard concludes:
“He is Peter and upon this Rock Jesus Christ has promised to build and protect His Church. If we are Catholics, true Catholics, then we believe Jesus when He tells us that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, and this promise is made on Peter and his successors. He is not infallible in everything that he says — but he is to be obeyed.”
“Let us show that we are sons and daughters of the True Church and always find ourselves in the Ship of Peter, for as St. Ambrose said: Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia (where there is Peter, there is the Church)!”