Many conservative Catholics struggle to get a handle on Pope Francis, who since taking office last year warned against an "obsessive" concern with culture war issues, such as abortion and gay marriage; encouraged discussion of church teaching on things like contraception and divorce; and asked, regarding gay men and lesbians who profess religious faith, "Who am I to judge?," the USA Today website reports today (November 2, 2014).
Conservative reaction ranges from open dismay over Francis' direction to the more common conviction that it's not the pope promoting liberalization, but a news media that reports his frequent off-the-cuff remarks out of context for a public with little grounding in Catholicism.
Rev. Paul Sullins -- a priest who teaches sociology at the Catholic University of America -- says that for some conservatives the problem starts at the top: "Their feeling is, 'We're out here on the front lines in the culture wars -- fighting abortion, gay marriage. It seemed Benedict had our back, and Francis doesn't.'"
America's 78 million Catholics form the nation's largest religious denomination. Some yearn for a simpler time -- like 2012. "When the pope says, 'Don't judge,' I don't agree with that," says Mick O'Connell, a 68-year-old Catholic from Philadelphia standing outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. "It's his job to judge right from wrong."