Whether Francis or his critics are right won't just determine whether he ends up as a hero or a tragic figure for Catholics--it will determine whether he's a hero or a gambler who's betraying both his church and his civilization into the hands of its enemies.
In his position at the Times, Douthat is an essentially, if covertly, evangelistic writer, and he is most convincing when his tone is irenic, funny, and self-deprecating, and when he is willing to trade small, stubborn differences for broader agreements—when, in other words, he most closely resembles Francis. Both hope to win a soul or two, and both come across as willing, given their surroundings, to make a few compromises in the winning.
It is high-minded cultural criticism, concise, rhetorically agile, lit up by Douthat’s love for the Roman Catholic Church. In some respects it goes to the root of the discontent that drives all three books; in others it is a simple sour mash, applying to Pope Francis insinuative caricatures like the ones he applied to Gabby ...
Douthat’s own position is traditionalist-cum-literalist: Any relaxing of the Catholic teaching on marriage — one man, one woman, one time — means that core teachings can be changed; if core teachings can be changed, the Catholic Church is no longer the Catholic Church; and if the church is not the church, all hope is lost. From this fixed position, he slyly derides other positions, especially the liberal outlook.
New York Times editorialist Douthat believes Pope Francis is one of the most consequential Roman Catholic leaders ever. His own ambiguous demurrals notwithstanding, Francis is trying hard to change the church ... If the church under Francis comes to allow communion to civil divorcées, does it undermine its sine qua non basis in Christ’s explicit teaching? That question animates Douthat’s book, which is an absorbing chapter, not just in the pope’s but in the church’s life story.