State of the Union

What Is Pope Francis Saying to the Right?

Faithful Catholics are deeply confused about what the pope is up to. As our spiritual father, he deserves our deep respect and the benefit of the doubt. When he says things that make us uncomfortable, we ought to be open to the likelihood that he’s saying something true that we’ve overlooked, maybe even presenting a truth we have tried to hide from. (Think of how disquieting some of Christ’s words are in the Gospels.) If even after reflection and prayer we feel sure that he’s wrong—as popes in their personal statements and human decisions have often been wrong in the past—we ought to remember Noah, and not act like scornful sons. We ought to greet papal mistakes with solemn sadness, earnest prayer, and respectful attempts at correction. It is in that spirit that I wish to comment on Pope Francis’s recent interview.

The pope’s most controversial statements seem to arise from a single motive: He doesn’t like “right-wing” Catholics, and wants to make it clear to all the world that he’s not one of them.

Up to a point, I see what he means. From what I have read, in Argentina, a swath of the folks who fought for the Latin Mass also supported the right-wing dictators down there—which means they winked at torture and murder, but their consciences proved too tender to countenance altar girls. I have met this kind of smug zealot up here in the U.S.—the guy you meet at the coffee hour who starts off with pro-life talk, then finds a way to assert that most abortionists are Jewish … and pretty soon he’s pressing on you poorly printed pamphlets that “prove” the Holocaust never happened. I used to argue with people like this, but it led nowhere. (Although I learned how to have some fun with them by “proving” that World War II was also a myth, and that all its “casualties” had really been abducted to serve as slaves in the Zionist tin mines on the Moon.)

I finally had to accept the cold fact that some people are not sincerely mistaken, or even deluded, but rather of evil intent, with wicked hearts and culpable motives. In fact, they’re the kind of “evil company” St. Paul tells us to flee. Likewise, I learned to scorn folks who reject religious liberty, who joke about burning heretics or who condemn the American founding because so many Founders were Freemasons. (They don’t, I notice, denounce the nation of Spain, which was founded by Arian Visigoths.) Some right-wing Catholics embrace a hardline agenda because they feel weak and irrelevant, and prefer magnificent fantasies of wielding power over their neighbors to the slow grunt work of evangelizing. Read More…

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