NRO: Pope Francis Enters His Third Year of Scolding Introverts

At NRO, Nicholas Frankovich, a deputy managing editor, has some sharp comments on Pope Francis as he begins the third year of his pontificate. You can sense the frustration in his commentary, along with his hope.

There is a lot to chew over in this piece.   Some people are going to hate this while others should avoid precipitous high fives.  THINK as you read.

Pope Francis Enters His Third Year of Scolding Introverts

He preaches mercy for everyone except them, when the Church needs them more than ever.

‘I want the Church to go out into the streets,” Pope Francis told a cheering crowd gathered for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July 2013, four months after he was elected pope. “¡Hágan lío!” he exhorted them, in the spirit of creative destruction: Make a mess! Take care, he added, not to become “closed in on” yourselves. [It is interesting that, by contrast, Benedict XVI all through his writings, before and after becoming Pope, explores the theme of “self-sufficiency”.  But he does it in an entirely different way.] On other occasions, he has urged priests to leave “the stale air of closed rooms” and has characterized traditional Catholics as “self-absorbed.” An extrovert, Francis attaches a positive moral value to extroversion — and, as if it followed by some logical necessity, a negative moral value to extroversion’s complement, introversion.

“Pope Francis has said that he does not want a church that is introverted,” Monsignor M. Francis Mannion, describing the pope’s “achievements,” explained bluntly last July in an article for the Catholic News Agency. Two weeks later in the Los Angeles Times, an admiring Amy Hubbard included in her list of lessons that we should take from Francis: “Do not be an introvert. That’s just putrid.”

“This is no century for introverts,” Kathleen Parker remarked on the occasion of Francis’s elevation to the papacy two years ago today. In our age, yes, “introversion — along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” as Susan Cain writes in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. To “disappointment” and “pathology” we should add, if we follow Pope Francis on this question, “character flaw” and “moral failing.”

More grandly than any other figure on the world stage today, Francis, entering the third year of his pontificate, exemplifies what Cain calls “the Extrovert Ideal”:

We like to believe that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual — the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” . . . Talkative people, for example, are rated as smarter, better-looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends. Velocity of speech counts as well as volume: we rank fast talkers as more competent and likable than slow ones. The same dynamics apply in groups, where research shows that the voluble are considered smarter than the reticent — even though there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas.

In fairness to Pope Francis, we should remember that, though he is quick to chastise introverts, they have been quick to reciprocate. The primary reason that he disappoints many Catholics who delight in cultivating their interior life is not that he leans left in his politics and theology but that he’s shallow or at least presents himself as such. He has little apparent interest in the life of the mind. He lacks the patience to think slowly. Cain quotes a venture capitalist telling her, “I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas.” Bingo.

Francis tends to speak in platitudes, sometimes strung together rhetorically when they don’t cohere logically. Consider more closely his “Make a mess” speech at World Youth Day in 2013:

I want the Church to go out into the streets. I want us to defend ourselves against all worldliness, opposition to progress, from what is comfortable, from what is clericalism, from all that means being closed in on ourselves. Parishes, schools, institutions are made in order to go out. . . . If they do not do this, they become a non-governmental organization, and the Church must not be an NGO.

What a brain-bruising knot of contradictions: Go out into the streets — that is, the world — to defend yourself against worldliness. Church institutions must go out into the world! Many already do, such as Catholic Relief Services, arguably the Church’s premier NGO. If other Church institutions don’t do likewise, they’ll become NGOs. They must not become NGOs!

In the original Spanish, [NB] the key word in Francis’s phrase “what is comfortable” is “instalación,” derived from medieval Latin. A “stall” was a fixed place, and “installation” was, and remains, an ecclesiastical term for the assignment of a prelate to his place — of a bishop, for example, to his “cathedra,” or “chair.” A bishop should be stable, like a tree, rooted in the soil of his diocese. Episcopal “absenteeism” (a bishop’s failure to reside in the diocese where he has his chair) was once common, but the Church has condemned it since the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Francis himself has disparaged “airport bishops,” although in doing so he seems to contradict his message that the Church’s missionary (Latin: “sent out”) or apostolic (Greek: “sent out”) character is preeminent. [I wonder if a distinction must be made between the mission call of clerics and of lay people.]

The word “missionary,” of course, is now associated with colonialism and has fallen out of fashion. And “apostolic” sounds churchy and formal. In contemporary Catholicism, the new word for the Extrovert Ideal is “evangelical,” as in “the New Evangelization.” You know the drill: Leave the fortress and sally forth into town. Drop that sourpuss, Counter-Reformation stance contra mundum. Engage the world with a smile. Let’s dialogue.

That’s the music, from circa 1965, to which the lyrics of the New Evangelization have been set. The term originated during the pontificate of John Paul II, and Benedict XVI formally recognized the concept in 2010, when he created the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. Benedict charged it with “the specific task of promoting a renewed evangelization in countries where the first proclamation of the faith already resounded, and where Churches are present of ancient foundation, but which are going through a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God.’” It was a serious objective nobly articulated.

In the Francis era, sadly, the New Evangelization is sometimes made to sound like a program for shaming introverted Catholics into leaving their conversation with the Lord so they can go help in the kitchen. [And here is a serious concern – one of my most serious concerns, even fears…] Concern with liturgy, for example, the public prayer of the Church, is dismissed as “the Church . . . being obsessed with itself.”  [For the thousandth time, unless we have a revitalization of our sacred liturgical worship, no initiative we undertake in the Church will bear lasting fruits.  A revitalization of our worship is a good in itself and needs no further justification.  However, if we want any sort of New Evangelization to work, we had better find our knees again, and silence, and the transforming, unsettling encounter with mystery which is found only in sacred liturgy.]

Martha, Martha.

Remember, Mary chose “the better part” and “the one thing necessary.” Jesus’ teaching in Bethany stands in obvious creative tension, however, with his instruction to his disciples to go forth, teach all nations, and baptize them. All Christians are called to contribute to the Great Commission, but the nature of the contribution will vary from individual to individual, as the body of Christ has many members, each with a different function. “Are all apostles?” Saint Paul asks rhetorically (1 Cor. 12:29).


In our drive to conform to the Extrovert Ideal, the spiritual fruits of their labor have become invisible to us, inaudible, unintelligible. Godspeed to Pope Francis in his mission to draw people to the Church — but not in his attempt to discourage those who are only laboring to keep the oil burning in the sanctuary lamp. [Good image, and situated well.  The sanctuary is the place we need to revitalize before we can hit the streets.] The flame is guttering.

I am going to turn on the moderation queue and let some of your comments pile up before releasing them.  That way you are engaging the material first, rather than reacting to each other first.

Also, you will want to read the whole piece before jumping in.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. acroat says:

    The Love of Christ Urges us on…some are urged to stay home and care for of an infirm husband. If I left him to go out and evangelize other, I would be neglecting my vocation and that would be putrid!

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