Dr. Fell & Fr. Bergoglio

Jorge Bergoglio and a particular old ditty go together in my mind. Of all the nursery rhymes I treasured in childhood, the one I still recite—sotto voce and out of earshot of other grownups—is Tom Brown’s snub to Dr. Fell. “I do not like thee, Dr. Fell / The reason why I cannot tell. / But this I know, and know full well, / I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.”




This plucky little canticle of personal distaste was penned in imitation of a Martial epigram while Brown (d.1704) was a student at Christ Church, Oxford. A rambunctious undergraduate, he got into some kind of scrape and was sent to the dean—Dr. John Fell (d.1686), later Bishop of Oxford. Fell gave the upstart a chance to redeem himself. Brown would not be expelled—sent down, as they say over there—if he could successfully translate the epigrams of Martial. He had to capture both style and tone of the Latin originals.

Among the old Roman’s lines were these:

Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
Hoc tantum posso dicere, non amo te.

Brown took hold of it this way:

I do not like you, Sabidius, and I can’t say why;
all I can say is I don’t like you.

That translation provided a base for the later rhyme. Brown’s satirical verse was not included in any of the Mother Goose collections that were circulating from the 1700s. Happily, Robert Graves included it in his 1926 collection Less Familiar Nursery Rhymes. A late-comer to the canon, it has rarely been illustrated. But what it lacks in illustration, it maintains in utility.

The chant fires up when irritation rises before there is time to translate intuition into words. It ignites almost every time I read something about Bergoglio.



Charity is a theological virtue, not an emotional state. It requires me to love him which, after a fashion, I can honestly say I do. I want only good for the man himself. I wish him no harm, neither in this world nor the next. I would not consign him to hell, nor to a Calais-style migrant camp on the Italian periphery. Not even to a dingy flat in Mott Haven. Nonetheless, I am not obligated to like him.

Much as I dislike his leftism, I am even more disinclined toward his sanctimony and his demagogic pretenses to humility. His crafted merry-old-soul image is the most dishonest thing about him. Bergoglio is a hard-line autocrat who incarnates the pit-falls of papal absolutism.


Walter Crane. Illustration of Old King Cole (c.1870).

His modus operandi—willful and persistent misuse of power (e.g. hostile takeover of the Knights of Malta); canny refusal to answer the dubia; sidling embrace of abortion apostle Jeffrey Sachs or degraded Latin American honchos—is morally offensive. It offends on the very grounds a Christian conscience is formed. Good conscience entails humility before the objective truth of things. Francis turns conscience on its head by making it a matter of feelings, his own in particular.

If the reasoning in Amoris Laetitia tells us anything, it is that this pope is more antinomian than Catholic. His surreptitious connivance with Barack Obama’s imperious normalization of relations with Cuba told us the same thing. The message came again just this month with revelation of the papal hand in the pardon of FALN terrorist Oscar Lopez-Rivera. There are finer things than the rule of law, what Bergoglio dismisses as “the logical proceedings of formal democracy.”

His malice dropped all disguise when, on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, he took to the microphone to draw an inflammatory—and ignorant—analogy between the incoming president and Adolph Hitler.


Kate Greenaway. Nursery rhyme illustration.

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Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo—influential on the international left and celebrated for his triple status as Communist, Catholic, and gay—sees Francis as the source of “an alternative to the capitalisms of the developed countries.” He is the one who can “free the Church from excessive dogmatism.” In December, 2016, Sandro Magister recalled Vattimo’s address in Buenos Aires the previous year:

[In which] he upheld the cause of a new ‘communist and papal’ International, with Francis as its undisputed leader, in order to fight and win the “class war” of the 21st century. At Vattimo’s side sat a pleased Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, an Argentine and a close collaborator with Bergoglio at the Vatican.

Vattimo, in a 2014 interview with Argentina’s La Nación, claimed harmony between Christianity and Communism: “both in Christianity and in Communism there is a concern for the other, for the neighbor.” Precisely how those things have worked out for neighbors in countries that adopted that equation, is not his concern. Neither is Pius XI’s 1937 condemnation of Communism in his encyclical Divini Redemptoris.

It tells us something that Pope Francis is his man.