I have one friend on Facebook who is a Pentecostal preacher and one who is an Episcopal priest. Neither man is happy with the present bishop of Rome, albeit for different reasons that I think are illuminating.
Recently, my Pentecostal friend posted a link to a YouTube video in which a man purporting to be an ex-rabbi gave a rambling explanation of why, according to the Torah, Francis is the anti-Christ.
“I disagree with one issue he brings up,” wrote the Pentecostal. “I believe the Pope is the false prophet rather than anti-Christ, but just a minor technicality and one that is based on personal revelation rather than any corporal doctrine.”
In a nice display of symmetry, on the same day the Episcopal priest posted a link to a story about Francis’ recent condemnation of same-sex marriage and wrote, “Same as the old pope?”
I think about these reactions whenever I read an article like this one, which exists to point out the seemingly hoary truism that the pope is indeed Catholic (there’s a splendid e-book with a similar title for sale, cheap, if you’re into being well-informed and sexy).
What my Pentecostal friend gets that my Episcopal friend is only gradually realizing is that Francis is indeed “same as the old pope,” in the sense that every pope is the same: the chief advocate and promoter of the Catholic Church and its doctrines, which have remained pretty much consistent on sexuality for a long, long time.
The Pentecostal understands that it’s the job, not the man, that’s important, which is why he says what people in the mechanic preacher tradition of Protestantism have been saying since Thomas Muntzer’s ill-fated attempt to catch cannon balls in the sleeves of his robe: the pope is the anti-Christ, the false prophet, the Whore of Babylon, Gargamel, whatever.
The fact that people on both “the left” and “the right” are continuously baffled that the pope is acting like popes have always acted is a testament the power of a good narrative, not to anything radically different in this pope from his recent predecessors.