Here in the United States, Catholics and other people of goodwill are eagerly awaiting Pope Francis’ arrival from Cuba this week. Considering how thoroughly he has seized the imagination of individuals around the world, it’s difficult to believe that he has only served as Pope for a mere two years.
Oddly enough, though, individuals who believe that Francis is fundamentally changing the doctrine of the Catholic Church have not been paying close attention to his statements. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that such individuals did not pay close attention to the statements of his predecessor Pope Benedict, or of prior pontiffs.
That’s because, even though he has dramatically modified the tone and style of the papacy, he has not deviated from traditional Church doctrine. Indeed, “the visible differences in style and personality between Francis and Benedict XVI mask a deeper theological and ideological continuity.”
But those who support this point of view must nevertheless acknowledge the critical importance of style and personality in today’s global culture. And they might well pause and think critically about the value of any doctrine that is not presented in a manner that wins over the hearts and minds of its audience.
In other words, Benedict supporters who complain that the current Pope is being praised for expressing positions that don’t vary from his predecessor’s positions may be missing a crucial point. It’s not that style may be more important than substance; rather, it’s that substance may be ineffective without style.