New pope, old question: Can you appreciate and object at the same time?

As the kind of Catholic typically categorized as lapsed — meaning I don't consider myself Catholic despite a rigorous childhood regime of Mass and rosaries — I object strenuously to the church's positions involving sexuality.

And yet I still appreciate the best of what the Catholic Church does, most notably its work to educate and help the disadvantaged, and I appreciate the clergy and laypeople who make that happen. Without them, Chicago and many other places would be materially and spiritually poorer.

When I express my bifurcated view to certain friends, they react the way Courtney's friends did, confused and dismayed.

But many so-called practicing American Catholics — most, in fact — have mastered the art of holding two thoughts at once about the church.

As the cardinals headed to Rome, a New York Times/CBS poll showed that a majority of American Catholics wanted a younger, more liberal pope, one who would approve of artificial birth control, married priests and female priests.

And surprise: Almost two-thirds of those surveyed approved of gay marriage. That's more than in the general population.

Meanwhile, 8 in 10 said they think it's possible to disagree with the pope on such issues and still be a good Catholic.

Such numbers make it tempting to call the pope irrelevant and to view the election of a new one as little more than an HBO drama destined to win an Emmy for best costumes.

But the pope still matters, even in societies that don't strictly follow his edicts. He sets a tone in the world's most powerful church. That church's doctrine still shapes societies. Think Obamacare and contraception.

Pope Francis, a conservative, will give many Catholics plenty to disagree with, but his tone may improve the church's standing in the world. He is known as humble, frugal, humorous and he has dedicated his life to improving the lives of poor people.

You can think he's wrong on some matters but still appreciate that.

Is it possible to simultaneously appreciate and object?

The day it's not is the day the Catholic Church gets a whole lot smaller.

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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