Change scares people — even mere words suggesting the possibility of change. That may be why many Catholic traditionalists have been alarmed by the words of the recently installed Pope Francis, whose seemingly tolerant statements about gays, the poor and even faith itself have won him widespread admiration, even though he has given no indication that he plans to alter church doctrine on those, or any issues.
So what is it about Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 76-year-old Argentinian who was elevated to the papacy on March 13, that bothers conservative Catholics so deeply?
“He is calling every single one of us to love our neighbor as ourselves, which is a really hard thing to do,” said devout Cathloic Mary Ellen Barringer of Silver Spring, Maryland, in an interview with the Washington Post. “Maybe Pope Francis is calling me to love someone whose views I don’t like.”
She told the Post that she misses the previous pope, Bendedict, “desperately.” Pope Bendict took a hard line on traditional Catholic teachings regarding such issues as abortion and same sex marriage.
Pope Francis has made remarks indicating his belief that the church is too focused on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and contraception, saying that “it is not necessary” for Catholics to discuss those issues as often as many of them do.
Instead, the new pope has placed his focus on economic issues, particularly on elevating the status of poor and unemployed people.
In September he declared that “the world has become an idolator of this god called money.” He blasted the global economy itself, saying that high unemployment was “a world choice, of an economic system that brings about this tragedy.”
"I'm very disturbed by these off-the-cuff, informal remarks," said Christopher Ferrara, a columnist for the conservative Catholic newspaper, The Remnant. "In one sense, there's no harm because church teaching has not been changed, but in the other sense there is tremendous harm because not everyone understands church teaching.”
Despite the conservative backlash, Pope Francis’s statements have not hurt his standing among American Catholics. In fact, he is wildly popular.
A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month showed 89 percent of American Catholics holding a “favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of their new leader, while only four percent viewed him unfavorably.
SOURCES: Washington Post, NBC News (2) (3)