Pope Francis, your honeymoon with the Western press is over.
Of course, media accolades and praise were never his motivation. In fact, he's directly warned against the cult of celebrity that is in danger of missing the point: the Gospel of Christ he teaches.
But when Rolling Stone put him on their cover earlier this year, the piece inside was actually a secularist libertine warning: Don't disappoint us. Don't be another one of those guys reading from the Catechism.
And now the pope, the Holy See, will be appearing before a United Nations committee on torture. The appearance is voluntary on the part of the Holy See and normal for anyone who has signed the Convention Against Torture. And yet there is a disturbing ideological push on the U.N.'s part where Francis and the Catholic Church are concerned.
Earlier this year the U.N.'s Committee on the Rights of the Child made accusations against Pope Francis based on misunderstanding, ignorance and politics, which undermine the credibility of the U.N. and betray its agenda. In 2003, the Boston Globe did the world -- and the Church -- a service when it exposed the depths of a culture where priests were moved around instead of turned over to authorities when they committed crimes. The U.N. bases its accusations on that culture, one that no longer exists, as independent audits make clear. The time and money and screening and training that the Catholic Church puts into protecting children today have made it a different world than the one the U.N. insists exists.
Further, the accusations from the U.N. made it clear that there is a reason evidence doesn't matter, because there's a campaign at work: Church teaching on the complementarity nature of women and men -- that we are made by God with an inherent dignity and a difference that makes sense and is ordered for love and procreation -- is its problem. And this is the danger of secularism today. Cloaked in rhetorical tolerance, a tyrannical streak is a temptation.
Much of the media coverage of this torture show trial to come makes accusations that are stuck in the past, ignoring what works today, missing what's right in front of the world's eyes.
But don't miss who the pope is and what he has been doing. Embracing, admonishing, renewing, reforming. Embracing the Gospels, encountering Christ Himself so that he might share God's merciful love with anyone within the sound of his voice, or who can see his tender invitation. In his daily homilies and many addresses, he admonishes sinners -- himself, all of us -- and in a very direct way, those who work for the Holy See or in the Church and most certainly who are priests. You must act like fathers if you are called "Father"! Protect your children, help your family flourish.
It made headlines in recent days when Pope Francis asked forgiveness from victims of abuse. To think this is isolated is to miss his papacy entirely. He's being advised by Cardinal O'Malley of Boston, among others, who has been a healing pastor for a deeply scarred and scandalized people. Pope Francis has brought in lay people, abuse victims and independent consultants for further reform work and guidance. And the big picture of most everything Pope Francis is doing and saying is integral to authentic renewal.
Scandal happens when there is no relationship with God, he has said. Anyone -- and dear heavens, a priest or anyone trusted with the care and teaching of children -- who perverts that relationship or overlooks evil (and illness) is most obviously not living the Gospel, but has rejected it. Priests who committed gravely evil acts were not being Catholics, were most clearly not being the tender fathers so many of the holy men I know in the priesthood today are -- shepherding their flock in true relationship with Christ, knowing their own need for God's strength and protection, welcoming others to Him.
Everything Pope Francis has been doing since he was elected pontiff points to real Christianity. And it's not simply being nice and good. It's a radical self-surrender to a self-giving, sacrificial love for others out of the love of God.
Our hearts yearn for love and peace and this is what the Church exists to bring to people. It would be torture to live without that joy, to not see and hear proposals about the way to live it. Mercifully even the U.N. doesn't have the power to kill conscience.