Ok, you won’t believe this but Pope Francis rang me last week. Pope: Hello, Is this the Bishop of Limerick, Ireland, Bishop Brendan Leahy?
Me: Who is this at 3am?
Pope: The Pope.
Me: Which one?
Pope: Pope Francis. Is this Bishop Brandan Leahy?
Me: In a few years, but it’s currently only Fr Brendan Lee your Holiness.
Pope: Ohh! So you’re only a priest then, not even a bishop?
Me: Ohh! So you’re only a Pope then, not even a …someone else? No, your Holiness.
Pope: okay then. Goodbye.
Me: Wait wait wait! Why were you ringing?
Pope: I was going to invite you to a seminar in the Vatican later in the year
Me: “Okay I’ll come”
Pope: I thought you were a Bishop Lee
Me: “Well then I must be a Bishop Lee.”
Pope: “No, I made a mistake”
Me: “How can you make a mistake? You’re infallible.”
Pope: “But you’re not a bishop!”
Me: “Yeah, but if anyone in the Church can fix that problem it’s you ! And we currently don’t have a bishop!”
Stay tuned. As Pope Francis notches up his fifth anniversary in the job I’ve heard a lot of criticism of him. The twist in the tale is that most has come from so-called “good Catholics”.
The most recent bout of “Catholic Pope-bashing” is in response to efforts by Pope Francis and the communist Chinese government to re-establish diplomatic ties for the first time since 1951, which probably includes a deal on the appointment of bishops.
I think the Pope is living up to his name - being frank. Christians make up less than three per cent of the world’s most populous country and their disgraceful persecution is well documented. It’s a country that has forcefully sterilised parents, horrendously firewalled the internet and even blocked the distribution of Bibles. It’s a bit hard to play ball if you can’t even get on the field. This is an opportunity for Christians to get on the field. Yes, the communists may appoint bishops that are unsavoury, but unsavoury bishops are sometimes appointed even in the free world. And besides, people can embrace the truth, even if their bishop is untrue, but they can’t if all access to the truth is blocked.
St John Paul II, one of the greatest Christian teachers of the last century, graduated from and lectured at the University of Lublin in Poland while Poland was under communist control. Pope Pius XI successfully negotiated freedom with the less than saintly and once leader of the Fascist Party, Benito Mussolini.
In the Bible, St Peter taught us to “honour the emperor” (1Pet 2:17) in a government that was persecuting the Church. St Paul taught us to pray for those in authority “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1Tim2:2).
The Chinese are industriousness and humble and I believe when the Chinese discover Jesus the whole world will discover Jesus. And I’m not just saying that because my name is Lee.
Pope Francis seems an unlikely hero? Look through the Bible – God likes unlikely heroes and likely heroes are rare.
It’s normal and acceptable for non-Catholics to question and criticise the Pope. But I think when we Catholics start thinking we’re “more Catholic than the Pope” we need to ask ourselves “Who am I to judge?”.