In The Idol of Our Age, Daniel J. Mahoney devotes a chapter to “Pope Francis’ Humanitarian Version of Catholic Social Teaching.” Mahoney’s subtitle—How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity—sets the tone of his appraisal of Francis. A careful writer and a courteous man, he is concerned to give due weight to both the consistencies and inconsistencies of Francis’ relation to traditional Catholic teaching:
We need a “hermeneutic of continuity” that forthrightly confronts Francis’ ample continuities and equally amble discontinuities with the great tradition that preceded him. We owe the pope both respect and the full exercise of the arts of intelligence.
Assertions of respect for the papal office thread through the text, a careful hemstitch joining obeisance to critique:
“We owe this pope our respect and our judgment, but . . . .”
“Pope Francis is admirably critical of abortion and population control . . .but . . . .”
Evangelli Gaudi “draws on the work and insight of Francis’ great predecessors . . . but . . . .”
“Pope Francis has important and interesting things to say about sin, relativism, and divine mercy . . . but . . . .”
“He is at his best when he thinks and writes in continuity with the full weight of Christian wisdom . . . but . . . .”
Dyads pile up. It is a courtly convention to assure us that Mahoney is no flame thrower. Be advised, Reader, that the author is a judicious scholar mindful of manners due the dignity of the papal office. Nevertheless, the heap of buts signals severe discrepancy between soothing precedent and disquieting intent.
When “the arts of intelligence” are applied to the actions of an office holder who distorts his office, it is reasonable—even mandatory—to withhold respect from him. An office confers authority. How that authority is used determines the degree of respect held out to the officeholder. Respect is earned through right use of authority. It is forfeited by misuse. Deference toward a man who disfigures his office is a species of complicity in the disfigurement. (Consider Yeats’ question. It applies here: “How do we know the dancer from the dance?”)
Mahoney’s politesse is the requisite stance of a distinguished faculty member in a Catholic institution (Assumption College, Worcester, MA). It is also a deflection from the fact that this pope’s “ample continuities,” all scrupulously observed, are carriers of rupture and contradiction. Protective coloration, they camouflage intent, disguise fracture, and conceal political ideology under stripes of synthetic piety.
It is a devious tactic—the old Fabian approach. Francis is waging, by degrees, a war of indirection and attrition against the very civilization that honors and sustains the papacy. Francis brings to the Chair of Peter a ruinous cunning that lulls the credulous to accept his reduction of the Great Commission to a left-wing policy mandate.
Put simply, Jorge Bergoglio knows how to boil a frog.
It is difficult to determine what else he knows that is of significance. Francis’ Christmas hymn to fraternity was an embarrassment of politicized porridge and theological incoherence. It goes from bad:
What is the universal message of Christmas? It is that God is a good Father and we are all brothers and sisters.
I want to mention, too, all those peoples that experience ideological, cultural and economic forms of colonization and see their freedom and identity compromised, as well as those suffering from hunger and the lack of educational and health care services.
Reference to colonization is code for sins of the West, a hint that migrants flooding toward the West are simply claiming their due. These “pilgrims” herald a new dawn of fraternity between competing religions and national interests. The lion will lie down with the lamb on the Korean Peninsula, in Africa, the Ukraine, the Middle East. It’s easy. All you need is love.
Even the most besotted papalist should spot the rot in this:
May this blessed season allow Venezuela once more to recover social harmony and enable all the members of society to work fraternally for the country’s development . . . .
Social harmony? Absence of it is the engine of Venezuela’s tragedy? Not hyperinflation and the starvation economy created by the same anti-market “social justice” nostrums that socialist dictators admire? Monica Showalter responded to the delusional tenor of the Christmas address:
Venezuela became a hellhole in no small part because of the heavy permeation of the social fabric by Liberation Theology . . . I recall that back in the Hugo Chávez heyday, when the country was beginning its road to servitude, the Maryknoll magazines were full of praise for the Chavista government, even when it was starting to get obvious that the social fabric was unraveling. . . Remember when Chávez announced on the radio that it was OK for the poor to steal, based on biblical doctrine?
That last refers to a 2000 “Hello, President” talk by Chávez in which he declared people were “allowed to steal if you’re hungry.” Venezuelans wasted no time accepting this unofficial invitation to crime.
Earlier this month, Venezuelan bishops issued a statement that Nicolás Maduro’s new, contested presidential term is “morally unacceptable” because “his government has caused a human and social deterioration in people and in the wealth of the nation.” Mary Anastasia O’Grady reported that within hours of the swearing in of opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, he was recognized by the U.S. and some 20 other democracies, 11 of them in Latin America. Others advised Maduro to leave the country.
Rightly calling Maduro “an international symbol of human rights abuse,” O’Grady adds: “The tyrant isn’t entirely alone. Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Hezbollah stand with him.” Still, Francis refuses to censure Maduro. He prefers the role of mediator—as if it were possible to split the difference between despotism and freedom, economic collapse and solvency, cruelty and the common good. Or between good and evil.
Negating his own emphasis on fraternity, the pope stonewalls his brother bishops in Venezuela. He will not join his voice to theirs in calling tyranny to account. Calculated neutrality toward the source of Venezuela’s desperation suggests that Francis’ insistence on impartial mediation covers a preference for Maduro.
Francis’s Urbi et Orbi message appealed to the child Jesus to “bring relief to the beloved land of Ukraine “ and to . . “ the inhabitants of beloved Nicaragua.” “May the child Jesus allow the beloved and beleaguered country of Syria to . . . find fraternity.” “May the little child whom we contemplate today . . . watch over all the children of the world.”
These milksop pieties mimic charitable empathy but lack its substance—the spiritual dignity that resides in political intelligence and in truth-telling. Francis would have Catholics binge on syrup while he travels the world flattering global anti-market forces poised to create more Cubas, more Venezuelas, more poverty and desolation.
The child in the manger grew into a Man Who bled out on a Roman cross. Here in the shadow of that cross, it is to Him we send our prayers. Francis’ infantilizing sentimentality contributes nothing to the welfare of nations. It serves only to impair understanding—of the Incarnation no less than of governments.
Addendum: A look at the Vatican-approved logo for the upcoming papal trip to Morocco appears in The Federalist.