The Quandary of the Two Pope Francises

pope che IIThe December 2016 issue of Quadrant includes my reflection (“Pope Francis’s Version of Catholic Wisdom“) on the Pontiff’s contribution to Catholic social and political reflection. I write as both a Catholic and a student of political philosophy, one who respects the person and office of the Pope, but who is troubled by Pope Francis’s increasing tendency to conflate Catholic wisdom with a left-leaning secular humanitarianism. I took my bearing from the most considered reflections of the Pope (his encyclical on ecological matters, his repeated evocations of Divine mercy, his apostolic letters on the joy of the gospel and on human and divine love, as well as his thought-provoking speeches to the European parliament and to the American Congress). I found much in Francis that is in continuity with his great predecessors (much more than many of his critics acknowledge).  But I also find much that smacks of the bien-pensant and politically correct. Still, the balance in these official documents and speeches tilts towards sobriety, thoughtfulness and fidelity to the great tradition of Catholic wisdom. 

The same cannot be said if one pays attention to the interviews and off-the-cuff remarks by the Pope that have come to dominate the public impression of his pontificate. He got off to a bad start when he told journalists on his return from the World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013 “who am I to judge?” the activities and motives of homosexual Catholics who attempt to remain in communion with Christ and his Church. He should have anticipated that his remarks would be used at the service of moral relativism and by those who attempt to undermine traditional marriage in the name of open-ended “love” and “marriage equality.” Recently, returning from another World Youth Day in Kracow, Poland, the Pope made the fantastic and disturbing claim that “Catholic violence” is just as much a problem as “Islamic violence”—and this right after the brutal assassination of Father Jacques Hammel by Islamist terrorists in a church in northern France.  The only example of “Catholic violence” that Pope Francis could come up with was that of a baptized young man who had killed his girlfriend for clearly non-religious reasons or motives.

The Pope further insisted that every religion has its “fundamentalists,” Islam no more than others. This is morally obtuse and at odds with all the evidence. And the Pope claimed, with no supporting arguments and many leftist clichés, that Islamic terrorists commit heinous acts of violence in response to poverty and social injustice. Capitalism, and the “god of money,” were the ultimate source of terrorism in the modern world. These sorts of haphazard claims, clearly more ideological than Christian, make it harder to respect a Pope whose more considered reflections deserve our attention and respect.

This colossal failure of practical reasoning is typical of Francis’s off-the cuff-remarks. He displays a remarkable lack of rhetorical discipline, which can only undermine the integrity of his pontificate and of the papacy more generally. Recently, in an interview with the leftist Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, he claimed that it is the Communists today who “think like Christians.” He ignored the Church’s principled and long-standing opposition to every form of totalitarianism. Communists are said by Francis to have a special Christ-like concern for the poor. The Pope is silent about the tens of millions of ordinary workers and peasants who perished at the hands of ideological regimes of the Communist type in the 20th century. Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the Pope has no understanding of Communist theory and practice, that he associates Communists exclusively with those activists and intellectuals imprisoned or killed by the military government during the “dirty war” in Argentina during the 1970’s. In a word, his vision is remarkably parochial and blind to the greatest evil of the twentieth century, a totalitarianisms inspired by viciously anti-Christian ideology.

Subscribers can read Daniel J. Mahoney’s further thoughts on Pope Francis in our  just-released December issue by clicking here.
Non-subscribers should follow this link to gain immediate access 

Francis has obviously not reflected in a serious way on Pope John Paul II’s deeply personal experience with ideological tyranny in its Nazi and Communist forms. And just the other day, he spoke about how he was “grieving” for the dead tyrant of Cuba, a man who turned that fabled island into an island prison and persecuted the Catholic Church for many decades (even outlawing Christmas for thirty years). We Christians are obliged to pray for our enemies, but we are also required to know whom they are and to vigorously oppose those who threaten liberty and human dignity and the fundamentals of political civilization. No pope should confuse a tyrant—especially one who was at the same time ideological and megalomaniacal—with a statesmen deserving of our respect. The Pope’s comments on Communism and Castro do not honor the truth or contribute to intellectual and moral clarity or seriousness.

The Pope also freely “psychologizes” those who remain faithful to the Latin Mass. They are said to be “rigid,” suffering from some form of Pharasaism. No mercy or understanding is directed at their quarter. These ill-considered remarks are an implicit assault on his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who aimed during his short pontificate to restore greater dignity—and beauty—to the Catholic liturgy. Is he, too, to be subjected to these reductive and insulting categories?

When Cardinal Burke and three other Cardinals issue a “dubia” requesting clarification on the ambiguities created by a famous footnote in Amoris Laetitia (does the Church still stand with Christ in affirming the indissolubility of marriage and in repudiating “situational ethics”), the Pope remains silent even as he criticizes the “legalism” of those who dare request doctrinal and moral clarity. Some left-wing ultramontanists have gone even further, arguing that the four should be deprived of the cardinalite, even accusing them of “heresy” and “apostasy” for remaining faithful to age-old Catholic teaching. None of this is good for the unity of the Church and could point to schism down the line.

I do not believe we are obliged to honor or imitate the defects in practical reasoning that characterize the Pope’s all-too-numerous off-the cuff-remarks. As Ross Douthat has written recently in the New York Times, his “winks” and “nods” about Communion for the divorced and the remarried have no authoritative status as Catholic teaching. My hope is that the Pope learns some rhetorical discipline and ceases to distress faithful Catholics with ill-considered judgments that properly belong to the prudence of faithful laymen (citizens and statesman) informed by what the Church used to call “right reason.”

In my article in Quadrant‘s December issue, I have chosen to analyze those statements and writings of Pope Francis that deserve serious attention from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This is Francis at his most serious.  Here he speaks not as a political commentator, activist, or amateur psychologist, but as the guardian of a Christian wisdom which at its best “knows the truth about man.” This Francis is the subject of my article. I purposefully steered clear of what I am tempted to call the “other Francis.”

19 thoughts on “The Quandary of the Two Pope Francises

  • pgang says:

    Has the Carholic church learned so little from Luther?

    • Jody says:

      As Clint Eastwood said in his film “Gran Torino”…”why should I take any notice of a 27 year old virgin in a frock?” Transpose the age up some decades and you have the issue in a nut-shell.

    • ken.harris@exemail.com.au says:

      Quadrant Online (15 October 2016) has an interesting article on Luther by Christopher Dawson.

      For an different view I put in the comments section several passages from AJP Taylor’s book, ‘The Course of German History’.

      It may be of interest.

    • ken.harris@exemail.com.au says:

      Sorry pgang

      My comment to you attached itself to Jody’s comment below.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    I am not so much bothered whether the pope wears a dress or a kilt but his South American Liberation Theology seems so unhelpful. His pronouncements off-the-cuff are on much the same level as those of little Eva Peron, fanciful.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    Not having read yet Daniel J. Mahoney’s article in the December edition of Quadrant, he is extremely kind and generous to Pope Francis in this article. The Pope has squandered all rights to such benign attitude towards him long ago. The fact that he displays traits of a genuine Catholic leader as intimated by Mahoney does not absolve him from the condemnation he so richly deserved for the lack of steadfastly and vigorously defending Christianity against the brutal onslaught directed at it from many quartets. Considering all his grave errors detailed in this article is more than sufficient to stamp him as the most dangerous enemy of Christianity since the time of pre-christian Rome. Christ warned us repeatedly of the false prophets to come, he is surely one of those.

    • johnjfryan@optusnet.com.au says:

      Bill Martin, I am a practising Catholic and have been so for all of my 40 years. I find your remarks about the pope highly accurate. To paraphrase a recent response by some people of the left in the USA after the election, “He is not my pope.” His most egregious fault is not to call out the great threat that Islam presents to the Christian world. He is a product of the order that he belongs to, the Jesuits, who have now become little more than shills for the progressive left. No cause of the left, abortion, unchecked migration from the third world, gay rights, transgender rights, global warming, anti-free market distributionism, etc, cannot be found on the Jesuits’ ejournal, Eureka Street. Few articles are founded in the perspective of traditional, biblical Christianity or Catholic theology, unless it coincidentally fits the author’s viewpoint. I agree with you that he is a danger to the faith.

      • Warty says:

        Indeed, and I add my voice to both yours and Bill’s, Patrick. We are living in critical times, to say the least, and it may sound dramatic in this current clime, but I have seen the forces of darkness increase in intensity, to quite an extraordinary degree, in a matter of just a handful of years.
        Discussions about religion do not fare particularly well in this publication, but should the Church go under, then the whole of Western Civilisation is endangered too (it already is). Whether Catholic or Protestant, and I was brought up as an Anglican, they have common cause in finding a way of countering the influences of political correctness is all its manifestations.
        We read an article yesterday: ‘teach em green, raise em stupid’, which gave us a fetch of just how far down the Neo Marxist track we have gone in our schools, and yet we hear similar sentiments coming out of the mouth of Pope Francis, and one has to wonder: things do not always happen by accident. I think we are in a spot of trouble here, and so I thank Daniel Mahoney’s contribution towards the good.

  • kingkate@hotmail.com says:

    I don’t think he is a significant threat to the faith. Most of what he is written is based on previous Popes and St Thomas Acquinas. That said his Amoris Laetitia needs to be clarified. It is impossible for Catholics who are in irregular relationships to go to communion.
    At this point in time yes the church needs strong popes. However it is the culture that is the greatest threat to the church, followed by little teaching of the faith in Catholic schools. Pope Francis does have his strong points. Often though what he says is either censored by the media and/or is given little context. Sure he waffles on without getting to the point. However he has come out clearly against abortion, is opposed to women priests, gay marriage, trans-genderism etc. Catholics need to trust that Pope Francis is there for a reason. The world is turning increasingly anti-Christian and a more rigid pope may have quickened this shift. Even if Benedict had remained pope, I don’t believe the World/Church would be any different. The shift began some decades ago and is working its way through generations where the majority of people now do not believe in objective truths, morality, including a large proportion of Catholics. Benedict attempted to reverse it but I don’t think he even made a dent.

    • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

      “The world is turning increasingly anti-Christian and a more rigid pope may have quickened this shift.” With respect, this suggests that appeasement of the enemy is a more effective weapon than holding firm and counterattacking when necessary. The majority of western leaders are practising the same folly towards Islam and losing the battle big time. Trump is showing them all how it’s done.

    • PT says:

      John Paul II (now St John Paul II) was of the caliber of Reagan, Thatcher and his heroic countryman, Lech Wallenca. He also had the Queen’s commitment to duty. Which is why he remained in the saddle – it wasn’t a “job” but a calling, a lifelong burden! He, with the first three, brought down the evil of communism (which Francis’s “liberation theology” makes excuses for). They did it because a) they believed it to be wrong, and said so, and b) outlined an alternative. The former Pope was true to the ancient message of the Church, even as he sought to reunite it (remember his visit to Cantebury Cathederal – the then Archbishop recognised him as the Senior Bishop, but women’s ordination in America and elsewhere ended any reunification). Is the present Pope of the same caliber as John Paul II? Perhaps it’s too much to ask!

      • kingkate@hotmail.com says:

        Mmmm I am not quite sure that St John Paul II would be all that comfortable being compared to Reagan. On communism yes they were on the same track. But on economics the two are very much opposed. St John Paul II is similar to Pope Francis in terms of social justice ie world aid, globalisation, capitalist greed etc. St John Paul II was scathing of wealthy Western economies which did not and still does not share its wealth with the Third World.

    • Warty says:

      Just in relation to your comment about a ‘rigid Pope’. In these times . . . echoing the words of the one who sits upon the shoulder, whispering in your ear, is indeed dancing with the devil. I may sound just a tad old fashioned, speaking in biblical metaphor, but one still has to adhere to one’s principles; find a way of conveying them more lucidly, even in a more modern idiom, if necessary, but not to compromise on one’s stance. If you look at what is happening to the church in Sweden, then you’ll see total capitulation in play.

      • kingkate@hotmail.com says:

        Pope Francis has not said anything heretical. He is not promoting anything heretical. When you look at European countries, say Holland, where Mass-going Catholics now represent 1% of the population, you need to look at the reasons it got that way. It’s not because of Pope Francis. What does a Pope do when over half of Catholics do not understand or have discarded the real meaning of marriage (let alone an authentic Catholic marriage which is on an higher level again) – that is they practice contraception, see nothing wrong with divorce, adultery, gay marriage etc? In my own experience when you start saying to these people, which are often your friends, that contraception is immoral, they will laugh in your face. What is fascinating is that many of them came from large families and if their parents had their beliefs they wouldn’t exist. Whatever pope you have it’s not going to change the present mind set. The effects of this mindset might – widespread unhappiness (I think there is plenty of evidence of that) or some sort of catastrophe. The alternative is that the Church needs to produce new missionaries which start afresh in setting up authentic Catholic schools. Most “Catholic” schools now are not Catholic schools. They’re glorified public schools.

  • pgang says:

    It is shameful that anyone should be excluded from communion. I will never understand these catholic ideas.

    • lloveday says:

      Anyone? An unrepentant, proud-of-it, child rapist and murderer, non-Catholic to boot, should be allowed communion? And it is shameful that he be excluded?
      Oh my God!

  • lloveday says:

    Quote: Here he speaks not as a political commentator, activist, or amateur psychologist, but as the guardian of a Christian wisdom which at its best “knows the truth about man.”
    I suspect that “here he speaks” through the words of his speech/document writer(s), and that “the Pope’s all-too-numerous off-the cuff-remarks” are the true measure of his opinion.
    Similarly to Patrick James “He is not my pope”, but I have taken it a step further and I no longer attend Mass.

  • PT says:

    The “Johnny come lately” moan about the Argentinean Junta is the confirmation. He did nothing to impeed the dirty war. That’s the best you can say for this Jesuit (the first raised to the Papacy). Is this conflating of serious communist tyrants, like Castro, and disturbed nutters like Chavez, with some of the “coffeeshop radicals” the Junta “disappeared” part of his guilt trip?

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