Catholics Do What?

Why We Don’t Let the Neighbors Tell Us How to Raise The Kids

My dear fellow Catholics. My brothers and sisters.

We are, in fact, in a rather unique family, are we not?

Huge. Dysfunctional. Multitalented. Holy. Scandalous. Disappointing. Inspiring.

It’s much like any other family, plus or minus about a billion members.

We have our quirks and our shortcomings, our saints and our sinners. We are imperfect and wonderfully weird and, first and foremost, we are universal.

That’s unbelievably ambitious, by the way, for God to cobble something together from so many disparate and diverse members and call it holy and apostolic. If nothing else convinces you of the divinity behind the longevity of Catholicism, let it be this: that we haven’t all killed each other yet.

And so now we have the internet. The 24/7 news cycle. The entire world up in each other’s business in a way previously unfathomable to mankind. And there are pros and cons to this never-ending glut of information to process. I would offer as a giant con the seemingly global disability to process well, at least for 99% of the literate populace. We’re very good at emoting and reacting. We’re less adept at reasoning and reflecting.

Each era has its own challenges and triumphs. We live in the Information Age, for better or worse, and so we must learn what (and whether) to do with the information that is assaulting our eyeballs and our eardrums at literally every waking moment. Do we process it all? Filter it out? React to everything that moves us?

Social media complicates this further, because everyone has a platform and, therefore, the right to exercise it. It’s the great equalizer, making would-be journalists and talking heads of us all.

But remember, not all sources of information are created equal. And not everyone with a loud microphone and a robust Twitter following has the capacity to speak thoughtfully and thoroughly on a given issue.

My biggest complaint with the Francis papacy, 2 years in, is the reaction of seemingly well-formed and practicing Catholics to the Things He Says Which Are Outrageous.

Let me back up and preface what is about to be said; it is true that this Holy Father of ours is not the most eloquent speaker. It is true that he speaks his heart readily, and that he uses culturally-hamstrung idioms and analogies. He is not an intellectual (and I don’t think he would take offense at my saying so) and he is not a philosopher. His mind has not been sharpened by 40 years of rigorous theological study and debate, and his worldview was most decidedly not formed by the Western/European experience.

But he is the Pope. He is the Successor of Peter, chosen by his brother cardinals under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead the Church now, today, in the year 2015. Not in the year 2012 or 1987 or 1334. He’s here for us, right now. Just as each of us were handpicked to live in such a time as this.

And if I don’t agree with everything that comes out of his mouth (and I don’t) and if some of what I read in his writings makes me squirm (and it does), there’s one thing for certain: I’m sure as hell not going to let someone from outside the family tell me what I should think about it.

Now, there’s nothing stopping my next door neighbor, my barista, or the lady at our local grocery store from commenting on how I’m raising my kids, how closely spaced they are, or what kinds of trash I’m serving up at the dinner table, but freedom of speech is not the same thing as rightful authority.

See what I’m saying?

Yes, the guy at Starbucks can comment on my mewling pack of toddlers and advise me to put a stranglehold on the flow of progeny issuing forth from our marital union, but I’m not about to invite him into our bedroom to pour over my NFP charts and help us decide if and when the time is right for another kid.

He can comment away all he likes, but I don’t have to (and sure as hell shouldn’t, in fact) listen.

Similarly, CNN, MSNBC, the AP, America magazine, your token crackpot SSPX blogger, and all the rest are very, very free to comment on every thing the Pope says and does, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and what you, as a Catholic, SIMPLY MUST DO ABOUT IT.

But you know better than to be getting your family business from the guy at the post office, don’t you?

You’re not really going to let someone outside the family – and as is often the case, utterly opposed to the very existence of the family – tell you your family business, are you?

Misquotable or not, Pope Francis is our Pope. He’s our father. He’s also a figure of contradiction and amusement and confusion and excitement and all the other adjectives for the rest of the world, looking on in wonder/disgust/mild curiosity. So yes, he will be in the news. And yes, all the things he says will be analyzed and dissected and translated and represented to you, the consumer, to ingest.

But it’s your responsibility to monitor the quality.

I can’t expect to have a well-formed opinion of or appreciation for the Pope if all I read about him comes through the secular media who simultaneously reviles the Catholic Church and desperately wants to see her fall into ruin. I can’t seriously hope to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him on my little old heart if, instead of reading his encyclicals and his homilies, all I know of him is filtered through a Buzzfeed article or Rachel Maddow’s stimulating commentary.

Come on.

Would you let someone talk about your biological father that way? Would you give them that same authority over your opinion of him?

I thought not.

It’s an imperfect analogy, because yes, the Pope is a very public figure. But remember this: we have a responsibility before God to answer for the information we take in, be it in the form of entertainment or “news.” We’re not just open trash receptacles, and words and ideas have consequences. So don’t let someone who doesn’t have your – or your family’s – best interests at heart be the one to tell you your family business.

Your mama raised you better than that.


(Some resources I do heartily endorse for your Papal reading pleasure:)

Catholic News Agency

Vatican Information Service

Vatican Radio

Aci Prensa (Espanol)

Eye of the Tiber


  • Loveisneverdefeated

    yeah….i also feel like the mainstream media is turning him into who they want him to be…someone who will change the church to be more like them…so they twist his words…but he’s the pope….he should know that…u know? like why doesn’t he know? ! but it does open up conversation….which is kind of good….i think….i dunno……AND that rabbit picture is awesome ( but only because you are part of the family!:))

  • Karyn

    The only place I read about his interview was on a Catholic site and the quote you posted on your facebook page – and I’m still disheartened by it. I guess because I have been likened to a rabbit on more than one occasion. And because “responsible parenthood” is usually translated into the “acceptable” two children if, and only if, you have enough money to provide every material wish of their heart. But no, I’m not going to bash our Holy Father to “outsiders”. I just wish I felt more supported by him 🙁

    • Molly Walter

      Remember that section 10 in Humanae Vitae is actually called “Responsible Parenthood” (personally I think he was referencing that exact passage, not just making a trivial sentence).

      A few weeks ago he was just saying ““Every family is a cell of society, but large families are richer and more vital cells.” My unintentionally-small-family-heart about broke when I read that, that he said in an official speech that bigger families are richer and more vital than mine.

      I am very sorry people have used that phrase against you, truly.

    • Annery

      I felt the sting on the large family comment too Molly! Even as I know the truth of it and the beauty of large families, it still hurt to feel less vital, less vibrant.

  • Becky

    I could be wrong and I’m not Catholic but I actually took it as more of a volley towards the full quiver movement. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s basically making every effort to have as many children as humanly possible. Charting is done with the explicit purpose to figure out when a woman is fertile and then to make efforts to ensure a pregnancy. I’m not clear on what the actual teaching is on breast feeding but I do know this is also a set that tends to lean “BabyWise” with the associated extended waits between nursing sessions and pressure to get the baby to not nurse during the night which would jumpstart fertility in most women. I also have the impression that there isn’t a lot of discussion about what the woman wants, what the family feels prepared for or if it’s even really medically advisable. While the NFP philosophy would leans towards you being welcoming to children and assume that providence will provide, it’s a much healthier and more global approach that allows for personal discernment.

  • Martha

    Even reading what he actually says from good Catholic sources, his comments are still so often inappropriate, inaccurate, and sometimes, offensive, to anyone trying to be faithful in modern Western society.

    But I still agree with your sentiment – I will grouse about the Pope all I want to my husband or close Catholic friends, but I won’t let anyone else say anything about him. He may be annoying as all get out, inaccurate, too loose in the tongue for my liking – but he’s mine, so all y’all outsiders just hush.

  • Tia

    I’m not Catholic but I find it interesting that so many fairly orthodox Catholics are disheartened by what he says, when i even as an outsider I can tell he doesn’t plan to actually change doctrine. He actually seems pretty strategic. He leads with the message of love and acceptance — “who am I to judge?” etc.— to draw people in, but when he’s in the in-circle he makes pretty straightforward statements confirming the Church’s stances. My guess is he’s trying to get people in the door first and start changing behavior later. Because, look: If you don’t accept the basic premises of Catholicism, trying to be sold upfront on something countercultural like NFP, or even the notion that ninety-X% of people in America are probably living in a state of mortal sin, is a lot harder than selling them on the promise of salvation, mercy and love. If people do see the latter’s effects in their lives, then they may start to pay attention to the other things the Church says that may seem crazy, inconvenient and downright difficult from the outside. I think the “oh noes, poor man misspoke again” meme that’s going around is actually giving the Pope too little credit.

    I also think the “like rabbits” and “responsible parenthood” comments weren’t intended to knock large families, but instead to strengthen the notion that sometimes having a small family or avoiding pregnancy is the choice that God wants. I think that there are a lot of faithful Catholics who maybe feel judged because they only have two kids or three kids, but he’s basically saying that the decision-making process they used to come to that place can be just as valid as the one used by bigger families. So people shouldn’t jump to the conclusion their family size is small because they use BCP or want to maintain their semi-annual St. Moritz ski vacation or fit in a Prius. I think it’s also a concession to the realities of a modern post-industrial society. In an agricultural setting, children are easier to support economically and raise to adulthood. Modern society makes each child a greater economic burden. We may want that to change, but it’s not immoral for parents to consider the current state of the world and be reluctant to add children they know they cannot support.

    I agree though that he isn’t as eloquent, clear and precise in his wording as Benedict XVI.

    • Ellen Johnson

      I agree with Tia that the comments weren’t meant to be anti-big family, rather, anti-the notion that Catholics must have large families. And I choose to think that something must have been lost in translation or he must have misspoke about the woman on her 8th c-section. I don’t think he would reference a real person like that. Call me naive, but I’m not going to hold it against the Holy Father. Furthermore, as someone who has c-sections, I appreciated his words! My husband and I have to be more conservative in our practice of NFP because of the c-sections and that’s hard, but we take my health and my future fertility seriously. I hope to have several more children, God willing, so I need the time to recover and build my strength and health to hopefully make it possible to grow our family. We’re not being selfish, we’re being prudent. And as is the case with everyone, only God knows the plans He has for our family, we’re just along for the ride and trying to listen for His directions. 🙂

    • Tia

      good luck on your journey! We don’t know the details of the conversation with the woman. Perhaps she really was irresponsible. Or maybe the Pope really was making some inferences about her situation that weren’t the most charitable — he’s a person and he’s prone to generalization and assumptions like the rest of us. I do think having large numbers of women who have 8 c-sections is a bad idea, given the elevated risk of complications. But that’s more an indication that the overall first or elective c-section rate needs to change, not that specific women are being irresponsible. Rather it’s the medical culture, which views the uterus as a “one and done” organ that is being irresponsible.

  • heidi adams

    I read his full transcript. I wonder what he thinks about couples that trust in God, not trying to get pregnant but not trying to avoid it either. His full comment gave me the sense that he may feel that is irresponsible even without extreme circumstances…perhaps we are all called to NFP and intentional planning…I don’t know…it is alot to ponder…

    • Tia

      Again, not Catholic, but nothing the Pope said was official, right? So presumably people are free to follow their conscience on this one within the confines of existing doctrine. I find it hard to believe there is anything intrinsically immoral about just letting the kids come when they come. Humans have been around for 100+ thousand years, yet we only figured out how our fertility worked this century.

  • Ellen Willson

    I found this article really helpful, written by a Filapina woman, suggesting that maybe the misunderstanding comes from who he was addressing.

    I’m one of those Catholics from a big, by worldly standards, family who is facing the reality of maybe only being able to have one child due to low fertility. I have faced judgement on all sides, but the one place i feel loved and valued is in my church. I am glad we have a pope who is a bit of a loose cannon and challenges is from all angles.

    • Jenny

      I loved that piece Ellen! And agreed, he’s loose and fast and confounding and wonderfully Christlike. I miss Benedict as an intellectual, but I love Papa Francesco’s pastoral heart.

  • Nicole Cox

    Great points. I get annoyed at times about the careless wording he uses, but far more annoyed with other faithful Carholics slamming him about it, rather than explaining what he’s trying to get across.

  • walking dot photography

    Great post! I do get annoyed at both people constantly misquoting him or getting fired up about something he’s said without actually reading exactly what he said. :p Will have to check out those sources you linked!

  • Ari Mack

    You are right. I love our Pope. And it’s frustrating when people mis-quote or mis-understand him, when Catholics or non-Catholics jump to conclusions. For one, we’re usually reading a TRANSLATION. And for two, we are often reading what the media says about what he said, not what he ACTUALLY said. In this day and age, we have many resources at our fingertips to read up ourselves. His strength may not be in public speaking, but I believe he speaks from the heart and off the cuff and very pastorally. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before the media turns on him and realize, he is actually a practicing Catholic. Until then, I think he does a great job of sparking conversation and attracting people to the church.

  • Nama M

    Thank you for your article. I personally love Pope Francis. To see someone out there living the Gospel is so refreshing to me: reaching out to the poor and isolated, seeking ways to improve the poor’s life, kissing the disfigured man, he lives Matthew 25 in the way he goes about his days. I have to admit I don’t listen to much mainstream media anymore, there seems to be a goal to have their stories be as controversial as possible in order to garner more attention (and thus more money). When I do turn on the news, I tend to listen to Catholic media which has a steady supply of Pope Francis’ adventures, what he actually said and the difference he is making with his life.

    I am blessed to be close friends with several religious. A while back one of the Sisters made a comment, intended as a joke, that didn’t sit well with me. I brooded over it for a bit, talked with my husband about it and I felt myself distancing from her. I didn’t see how someone representing God to the world could say those words, no matter how they were intended. It hit me one day that I was being completely unfair. She was not perfect, no Sister is perfect, no priest, missionary or laymen is perfect. Our God is the only true perfection. The rest of us are all imperfect, humans with flaws, trying to do our best to live our lives and hopefully for us Christians, to show God’s perfect love to the world. And that to me is what Pope Francis does well. I don’t love everything he says, but his actions speak louder and his love shines through.

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