The Church’s pop culture moment

Why Rolling Stone profile important, disturbing
Bishop Conley in finish of run for vocations, Denver, 2011. Photo by Daniel Petty.

Bishop Conley on finish line of run for vocations, Denver, 2011. Photo by Daniel Petty.

The following comes from a Feb. 3 posting by Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska on the First things website.

On my coffee table, I have a book of classic rock posters—from The Who, to Led Zeppelin, to Nirvana, Metallica, and the Grateful Dead. The book was given to me by a brother bishop who knows that, in my earlier years, I listened to many of those bands.

I’m a Catholic bishop, entrusted with the responsibilities of Christ’s apostles. I’ve had the benefit of exposure to the richness of Western culture: to great literature, and poetry, and sacred music. But I’m not immune to the charms, and whimsy, and sometimes profound insight of American popular culture.

I also know that pop culture matters. And that our country’s political and social opinions come more often from the world of Lorne Michaels and Jon Stewart than from the staid pages of even the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. When I talk to young people about gay marriage, they’re more likely to cite Macklemore than Maureen Dowd.

This is why Marc Binelli’s profile of Pope Francis, the cover story of February’s Rolling Stone, is so troubling, and so important.

The profile is an exercise in standard revisionism, bent on demonstrating Francis’ break from the supposedly conservative Church of old. Light on facts, heavy on implication, half-truths and hearsay, the piece remakes Pope Francis as the quiet hero of the liberal left. It uses the scandals of Vatican finance and sexual abuse, coupled with tired tropes about Opus Dei and the Latin Mass, to craft Pope Benedict XVI as a miserly conservative plotter. Pope Francis is the foil: the reluctant, populist leader of a move to liberalize and desacralize the Catholic Church.

It doesn’t matter how much or how little is true. Certainly, the profile contains a great deal of untruth. Inconvenient facts, such as the affability of an Opus Dei source, or the theological orthodoxy of the Holy Father, are dismissed. The piece is unbalanced in its sourcing, and it draws unreasonable conclusions from carefully selected vignettes. Over the next few weeks, bright Catholics will discredit the factual inaccuracies in the article. But what matters most is that Rolling Stone and its collaborators are working to hijack the papacy of a loyal, though often unconventional, son of the Church.

The reason is simple. Sexual and social libertines have little interest in discrediting Christianity. They’re far more interested in refashioning it—in claiming Christ, and his vicar, as their supporters. The secularist social agenda is more palatable to impressionable young people if it complements, rather than competes with, the residual Christianity of their families. The enemy has no interest in eradicating Christianity if he can sublimate it to his own purposes.

The greatest trick of the devil isn’t convincing the world he doesn’t exist—it’s convincing the world that Jesus Christ is the champion of his causes.

Well-formed Catholics know that Pope Francis isn’t breaking new theological ground. His work on economics, for example, is in continuity with a point being made about justice since at least Leo XIII. His call for broader participation by laity, particularly women, was a point of great importance to Benedict XVI. And his expressions of charity and solidarity towards those afflicted with same-sex attraction is rooted in the Church’s best tradition. But the media has driven a wedge between Francis and his predecessors by focusing less on substance than method.

There’s much in Binelli’s essay to criticize. But the piece was effective. The profile, and many others like it, have re-crafted Francis’ public image in the annals of popular culture. He has become a rock star. But if we understand that, and are prepared for it, we have a good chance of using the Church’s pop culture moment, instead of becoming its victim….

To read the entire posting, click here.



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  1. Michael McDermott says:

    Pop Kulture is the opiate of the Bought and Paid for ‘free press’ and its Hollyweired Masters, just ask Former oscar winner hoffman about that one. SEE

    Moral Turpitude Need Not Apply to Larry Brinkin, Pervert, “Gay Rights Pioneer” Sentenced for Horrid Child Pornography
    by Maggie • January 27, 2014
    Larry Brinkin had a long career with San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission. He is considered a “gay rights pioneer,” and a champion for “equal rights” for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender “community.”

    This week Brinkin, 67, was convicted on two charges of possessing child pornography. Human Rights did not extend to children that he had a chance to exploit. Warning: some of the descriptions below are stomach-turning.

    …Larry Brinkin, “Gay Rights Pioneer”
    Knox explains Brinkin’s problem: his client had little “understanding” of the damage child pornography “inflicts,” but at the sentencing, of course, Brinkin’s “understanding” grew. So to be clear about what Brinkin did not understand was damaging…

    Brinkin will continue to receive his pension from the city of San Francisco, as he was retired at the time the crime was discovered, and, get this — he did not commit an “act of moral turpitude.”

    What does one have to do to commit an act of moral turpitude, generally defined as something that shocks the public conscience, is base, depraved, vile?

  2. Michael McDermott says:

    I saw this Misandrist at Santa Clara – and she is even creepier than the arcihval footage of Ernst Rohm or his protege’s like Himmler and the ‘SA” Homosex Terrorist Storm Troopers (including tranniez) who led an earlier ‘tolerance’ movement’… But then in an Age of Abomination, Tolerance Macht Frei.

    Transgender Activists, Professor to Challenge Law Enforcement at Jesuit Seattle Univ.
    February 4, 2014,By Matthew Archbold

    A law professor from the Jesuit Seattle University, whom one magazine called “America’s first openly transgender law professor,” will host an on-campus discussion with transgender activists next month, reports the News Tribune.
    Professor Dean Spade will present “Trans Liberation and the Carceral State: A Panel of National Transgender Activists,” which the News Tribune described this way:
    - See more at:

  3. Jeff Culbreath says:

    So … our very best bishops not only keep poster books of Led Zeppelin, Mettalica, Grateful Dead, etc., on their coffee tables, but share their enthusiasm for this depraved music genre and its creators with the faithful. I won’t allow this garbage in my house, or in my children’s ears. Should we ever have the good fortune of visiting this bishop, I would have to protect my children from the books on his coffee table.

    As for the Rolling Stone article, I wouldn’t be so hard on the writer. Even Vatican Insider was gushing over it.

    • Those who have to deal with the culture such as Bishops, and teach the young need to understand them.
      Bishop Conley teaches the truth.
      You can not quote anything in this article where the Bishop’s statements are wrong or confusing.
      The best attack you can do is state you do not like his former taste in music when he was a kid, or his coffee table book.

      Further his Archdiocese of Denver has one of the few web sites that prominently promote the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” on the home page.
      Does your Bishop’s Diocese web site prominently do that? (Check it out.)

      • Jeff Culbreath says:

        “The best attack”?? Who’s attacking? I stated that Bishop Conley is among our best bishops. I’d be delighted if he were mine. I simply noted that even our best bishops are apparently indifferent to the worst aspects of our rotting culture as represented in his coffee table book. Needing to understand the youth is no excuse. Should a bishop be googling porn to “understand the youth”?

    • The article did not say that he listens to this kind of music or even encourages listening to it. Bishop Conley studied under the late Dr. John Senior at the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. He has been exposed to and encourages the best in Western Civilization and Culture. What the good bishop is saying here is that we have to understand the overwhelming appeal of pop culture and its goal. The Church has to understand this before it can counter-act it effectively. I wonder half the time if people who comment here actually read the article they are commenting on. It seems most of the time they read the headline, look at the photo and then go uninformed ballistic on their pet theory.

  4. Jeff Culbreath says:

    Also, I don’t think Rolling Stone is ignoring the pope’s theological orthodoxy. It’s just that Pope Francis has made orthodoxy non-threatening. As the pope said recently in his message for World Communications Day: “Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.” So Pope Francis is orthodox, but he doesn’t claim that orthodoxy alone is valid or absolute. And that makes Rolling Stone happy.

    • Anything that confuses people makes Rolling Stone happy.

    • He is not orthodox if he claims that orthodoxy alone is valid. The Church teaches in absolutes. Heaven and hell are absolutes—one is for Christ, or He will vomit him out of His mouth!

  5. God forbid that we should have Bishops who understand the culture in which they work to gain souls for Christ. We should demand that all Bishops, upon taking office no longer listen to any music except Gregorian Chant, never under any condition tune to a tv station other than EWTN, and never talk to anyone who is not a solid Catholic about to be canonized for sainthood. We should also suspect any that do not use Latin as their everyday language for communicating to others. Any other “musts” that you can think of to ensure orthodoxy?

  6. Bishop Conley makes a great point: “Sexual and social libertines have little interest in discrediting Christianity. They’re far more interested in refashioning it—in claiming Christ, and his vicar, as their supporters.”

    We are losing the Kulturkampf. We must do our best to keep the Catholic faith.

  7. St. Christopher says:

    Actually, “Bishop Conley,” Pope Francis is different than his predecessors; how much different remains yet a question. Is it a question of style, or one of conviction? His several actions, most notably elevating men such as Cardinal Wuerl, and down-grading men such as Cardinal Burke, mean something, perhaps something sinister. Why even possibly sinister? Pope Francis appears to be the most out of touch of all popes with Catholic Tradition. Further, his largely liberal background in Latin American type Catholicism, leaves many questions as to even his basic understanding of what harm he has already done. For example, the Pope’s ham-handed near destruction of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate as a Traditional order may not have been fully understood by Francis (and that is the good explanation). Yes, it is wonderful that Pope Francis mentions the “Devil” but then so do many Latin writers who have no belief in the Catholic Faith. Many apologists for the Pope point to his articulation of some basic dogma here and there, while overlooking what Francis is actually do in the appointment of bishops and other administrative steps. (It will be telling, for example, by the bishop that is appointed for Chicago.) Pope Francis may simply not understand the importance of his actions, but that is vitally critical to know, as well. If Francis is a poor administrator, then the notoriously liberal curia will run the table on resurrecting the dead liberals of the 1960s and 1970s (and this appears to be happening). We need to pray for the Pope, because his performance to date has been more than troubling. Yes, yes, the Holy Ghost is there for the Pope, but in limited and defined ways. Although America’s largely awful bishops love to think it otherwise, not everything that the Pope, or bishops do, is “blessed” by the Holy Ghost. This nonsense of having a “sacred cover,” spans two generations of rupture with the Faith. Pope Francis may well be essentially as portrayed by the “Rolling Stone.” The Holy Ghost comes in when Francis realizes what he is doing, and takes the courageous steps necessary to change his direction, and that of the Church. Pray for the Pope.

  8. It is all about dividing and conquering. It’s about getting votes and changing society through the youth. It’s been going on for decades. President Clinton was a politician championed by pop culture for his sax and sex attitude. Now we have a pope who is being used to tear down the beliefs of Christian doctrine by questioning the judgement of others lifestyles. Yes he is misquoted, but will the ones that are the target of misinformation read the Truth.

  9. Michael McDermott says:

    Non-Negotiable Teachings = Pander or Perish in the New Persecution:

    “The Vatican blasted back at a UN-authored Rights of Children report, saying its criticism of the church’s stand on homosexuality is driven by critics of the church’s “non-negotiable” teachings…”

  10. Kenneth Fisher says:

    Pray, pray, and pray that the upcoming Synod that Pope Francis has called does not do further damage to the already ruptured Church!

    May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika!
    Viva Cristo Rey!
    God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
    Kenneth M. Fisher

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