A key question about Pope Francis has always been how long he can keep his good PR flowing while refusing the doctrinal changes many want—and whether that will buy him space to win people over to a more enduring faith. A story from the NYT suggests that he hasn’t run out of tricks yet. Across the country lay Catholics inspired by Francis’ words on simplicity and humility are pushing back against extravagant spending:
In Newark, laypeople have expressed unhappiness about a planned $500,000 expansion, with three fireplaces and an indoor pool, of a weekend home used by Archbishop John J. Myers. In the Camden, N.J., diocese,questions have been raised about Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan’s purchase of a 7,000-square-foot, $500,000 house. In West Virginia, local Catholics cited Francis’ humble lifestyle in questioning what they viewed as excessive spending by the Wheeling-Charleston diocese. And, most significantly, last week the pope accepted the resignation of a German bishop who had spent $43 million renovating his house and other church buildings.
Resentment towards clerical luxury and church wealth has long poisoned the Catholic brand. On the local level, it is consistently one of the top reasons for lay disillusionment with the Church. The force of Francis’ example has helped turned this resentment towards something constructive. By legitimizing criticism of decadence, and showing priests and Bishops how to live more simply, Francis has captured one of the biggest PR nightmares for the Church and turned it towards the Church’s own good. Francis is not only making strides towards forming a more simple clergy. He is keeping the good PR times rolling just a little longer. Just how long he can keep this up until he has his own “Good Friday” moment—well, we’ll be watching.