The subtext

The image above is a meme that has been floating around Facebook. My question is very simple: Why does this image exist?

Think about why this juxtaposition of images was  fabricated. What purpose did it serve to find these two images, resize them, and set them in visual apposition? Is this not precisely the invitation to draw unflattering comparisons between the good Francis and that awful Benedict about which Elizabeth Scalia recently warned? Like Elizabeth, “I find myself objecting strenuously when I see people trying to use Francis’ simple tastes as a kind of hammer against his predecessors. ‘See,’ they imply, ‘he’s a good, humble pope who is united to the poor, not like all of those other wasteful, pampered popes who didn’t care about the poor, before him.’ They would pretend that before this month, the poor weren’t on the church’s radar, or the pope’s. To what purpose? Well, mostly to warp a narrative and foment the easiest sort of hate, which is hate rooted in empty cynicism and ignorance.”

Another example just began to circulate: This image of Francis hugging a child. I have no objection to Francis hugging children or saying Mass for prisoners, and so on. To the extent that Francis is lauded for his actions, to the extent he is succeeding as an evangelist because of temporarily-fawning media coverage: Wonderful. Some people, however,  are very clearly using praise of Francis as a cudgel with which to attack Benedict—or at least, to attack a strawman that we are supposed to believe is Benedict. Francis hugs children, unlike that mean old Benedict (oh, except Benedict did that). Francis visited young prisoners, unlike that mean old Benedict (oh, except Benedict did that too). And so on.

I am discomfited by all this, and it has nothing to do with my lingering doubts about Francis, who I think—I hope—would be unhappy to be used in this manner, much as (some reports suggest), he was used in the 2005 conclave. In a homily just this weekend, we were told that with Francis, we are seeing a springtime in the church. Well, just hold on: If Spring is now starting, what are you implying the “Winter” to have been? I agree that the Church has been in a long winter following the council, one from which (in great part thanks to our somewhat-misnamed pope emeritus: In hindsight, we should call him Benedictio, not Benedictus) we are perhaps starting to emerge. But is that what was meant? Is that what the congregation would have understood? We follow Christ—not Paul or Appollos, 1 Cor 1:12, and not Benedict or Francis. Yet the outright contempt in which Benedict seems to be held in some quarters, and the commandeering of Francis as a vehicle for that contempt, is disgraceful.

Ave Benedictus Magnus! Non modo Benedictus sed quoque Benedictio.