My Washington Post Interview on Pope Francis

Cover Image for Today's Pope Francis Story (Courtesy of the Washington Post)

Cover Image for Today’s Pope Francis Story (Courtesy of the Washington Post)

In 2013, I wrote a post on my (now mostly-neglected) personal website entitled, It Doesn’t Take a Rigorist: Why All Catholics Should Be Concerned About Pope Francis. It was the first time I had spoken publicly about my concerns since his election.

I knew I was touching on something important, but I didn’t expect the reaction I got. Within days, I had agreed to interviews with NBC News and the New York Times. Lacking sufficient context, and with some evident bias, I felt that they failed to accurately portray my actual thoughts on the matter, which are far more nuanced. At the same time they were, I believed, essential conversation-starters. People were worried about the papacy, and it seemed the right time to bring those concerns into the open.

I got a lot more media requests in the following days. Radio stations in the US and Europe contacted me to go on air. CNN wanted me on live TV, and I got a similar request from KBS in South Korea. I don’t remember how many requests came in, but I turned them all down. It was never my intention or desire to become notorious for being critical of a Roman Pontiff. As it was, the amount of attention I got earned me more than a little heat. But I did what I set out to do. I helped break the ice. Let’s talk about this thing that’s bothering us like grownups, shall we?

A few months later, I decided I was done focusing so much on the problems of the papacy. It had become clear to me that it was important to people. I had received an enormous uptick in traffic and a lot of private correspondence. But what I was doing was inherently negative, and that didn’t sit well with me. Far better, I thought, to emphasize what’s good and right about the Church. Bad popes come and go, but the Church is eternal. 

And that’s why I started OnePeterFive.

We haven’t shied away from criticism, but it’s not our mainstay. There’s too much of that sort of thing on the Web, and mostly, it creates more heat than light. But with a papal visit to our shores immanent, a calvacade of bad news about papal appointees to the Synod flowing in steadily, and the Synod itself only a little over two weeks away, I decided to relent. When I received an interview request from the Washington Post, I accepted. Today, that interview was published. Here’s an excerpt:

When Steve Skojec heard that Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been elected pope, he got a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He can’t say why, exactly — though he follows Vatican politics closely, he didn’t know much about Francis then. But as he watched the new Catholic leader greet the crowds on his office television in Manassas, Va., he was filled with dread.

“I felt a discontinuity,” he said. “A disruption.”

At first, he didn’t want to make too big a deal of it. Though Skojec blogs regularly about Catholicism at the Web site he founded, OnePeterFive (tag line: Rebuilding Catholic culture. Restoring Catholic tradition.), he mostly avoided the subject. “I wanted to withhold judgement,” he said.

Six months later, he was ready to judge. What really turned Skojec against Francis was the pope’s October 2013 interview in the Jesuit magazine America. Buried in the transcript was a comment, by Francis, that the world’s biggest evils are youth unemployment and loneliness.

“That’s a jarring statement . . . when you’re on the front lines of the culture wars, looking at the death toll of abortion,” Skojec said. “There was definitely a sense that this could be trouble.”

As mainstream media accounts go, it’s a fair treatment. There are some missteps, some trimming of my comments to the point of losing the larger point I was trying to make, and some general errors. I’m not here to nitpick. I think Amanda Erickson, who doesn’t normally cover religion and self-identifies as a Catholic, did a better job than most. It certainly is a far cry from other coverage I’ve seen.

But having been burned before, I recorded our interview (with Erickson’s consent) so I had it for reference. And having read the piece, a number of friends and readers have asked me what was left on the cutting room floor. I reached out to Erickson about publishing the audio, and she agreed. “I wouldn’t mind at all.” She said. “We talked about a lot, it was a rich conversation.”

With that in mind, I’ve turned the audio into a podcast. It’s longish — I have a tendency to talk way too much when asked open-ended questions — but very candid, and, I hope, of interest to others trying to figure out what they think and feel about this papacy.

I’ll no doubt get more flack for this one, but I really don’t care. I was mostly alone in expressing my concerns back in 2013. That’s not the case anymore. I love my Catholic Faith, and these things matter too much not to talk about openly.

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