John L. Allen Jr.: Interested in Catholic reaction to Francis? Get off Twitter and into the trenches

(Crux) Saturday, Romans awoke to find a provocative image staring out from their neighborhood newsstands. On the cover of the latest issue of the magazine Millennium, published by the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, was a traditional depiction of St. Sebastian with arrows protruding from his body, but with the head of the pope, under the title, “The Enemies of Pope Francis: Here’s Who Wants to Force Him to Resign.”

This is hardly the first time an Italian publication has offered a run-down of the pontiff’s supposed enemies, both inside the Vatican and in the hierarchy, but the rhetoric this time was especially breathless.

The title on the inside of the piece was, “Too many enemies for a pope alone: Behold who’s plotting to force Francis to resign,” while a press release by editor Peter Gomez referred to a “true and real war” being waged against the pontiff by “powerful cardinals, screaming ex-Masons and politically connected opinion-makers.”

For the most part, the piece was a run-down of already well-documented episodes, such as Francis’s intervention with the Knights of Malta and the “Vatileaks 2.0” affair, with a Machiavellian undertone that they’re all expressions of subterranean opposition to the pope calculated to make his life so difficult that he eventually decides to walk away.

Perusing press treatments such as this one, or following Catholic discussion on social media, often it would be easy enough to conclude that opinion about Francis is indeed clustered into two opposing camps, each with fairly extreme positions – either a lusty “hosanna” to everything Francis says and does, or an equally emphatic “no” to everything he’s perceived to represent.

As fate would have it, at the same time the editors of Millennium were preparing their cover story, I was in Orlando, Florida, for an event called “The Convocation of Catholic Leaders,” bringing together almost 3,500 bishops, clergy, religious, and lay leaders, some of them from national-level Catholic organizations but most drawn from dioceses and parishes around the country.

In other words, this was about as representative a cross-section of mainstream, meat-and-potatoes, Mass-going Catholics as you’re likely to get in the United States. [More]