"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Myths of Pope Francis' First Year

A useful article about 10 myths regarding Pope Francis' first year.   Here are two that might be most of interest:

Myth #3: That Pope Francis is a Marxist.

The release of Evangelii Gaudium brought a fresh wave of furor about Pope Francis, but this time from a new source: economists and political theorists who identified certain passages as displaying Marxist sympathies, notably §202, where the Pope says: “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”
Again, Pope Francis himself addressed this concern in the December 14 La Stampa interview. In response to a question about whether he gets upset that people call him a Marxist, he said: “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
Beyond his light-hearted response is a deeper reality about the principles of Catholic social thought. Catholic social thought has consistently maintained its opposition to two basic extremes: Marxism and unfettered capitalism. Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus eloquently encapsulates this fundamental stance, then urges the faithful to a renewal of society by a renewal of culture, recognizing that the issues of justice in the field of economics will not be resolvable until man is considered as more than an economic object. The economic passages in Evangelii Gaudium, while not developed into a complete social doctrine, merely continue a line of thinking familiar to the Church for many decades. While one might be dissatisfied with the brevity of his remarks in Evangelii Gaudium, one could hardly call them innovative....

Myth #9: That Pope Francis changed Church teaching on homosexuality.

This old chestnut takes its origin from Pope Francis’ impromptu press conference on the flight home from Brazil on July 28, 2013. The headline-making phrase was this: “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?” This little nugget, reduced to a banner-friendly five-word slogan (Who am I to judge?), has been written up in almost every major newspaper in the Western world, and regularly appears on protest signs for Catholic activists pressing for the normalization of homosexuality in the Church.
Here again we might detect the heady aroma of wishful thinking. In 2010, Bergoglio famously made enemies with the government in Argentina over their same-sex marriage policies, declaring what the Huffington Post called a “war of God” against the legalization of same-sex unions. Shortly after Pope Francis’ election, this history was appearing all over the Internet as a stick to beat the Vatican with, that even as the cardinals courageously chose a South American pope (+10 diversity points), they still chose one who held to Church teaching on homosexuality (-100 diversity points).
Nor does the actual context of Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge” statement suggest a radical change in perspective from his earlier stance: the quotation comes in response to a question about a priest accused of a notorious gay lifestyle and the supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican. Pope Francis’ tactful and pastoral response was to affirm the humanity and call to holiness of all people, including those who identify as gay, while criticizing the reification of homosexuality as a political and social ideology. The sentences that immediately precede the famous one provide useful context: “I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good.” In other words, love the sinner but hate the sin. That sounds familiar.


I have noted before that Americans, and particularly American journalists, who are largely agnostic or atheist in orientation, fail to understand Pope Francis because they measure him against essentially political frames of reference.   He's left, or he's right; he's pro-this or anti-that.   But Francis isn't a political figure, and Catholicism isn't a political doctrine.   The time horizon of politics is infinitessimal compared to the time horizon of the Church.   Elections come and go; issues push to the forefront and then recede; things that are crimes in one century become "rights" in the next.   But the time horizon of the Church is eternity.   What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?   That's the question the Church concerns itself with.   And, for the most part, it's a question that American "intellectuals" just can't seem to get their minds around.

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