Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What the Pope Said

These days, whenever a Pope says anything not concerning God, Jesus or the Virgin Mary, I habitually begin to worry. In his recent papal ‘mission statement’ entitled “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis has caused a number of people around the world to worry and opened a great deal of argument over what he was “really” saying. American right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh said the Pope was sounding like a Marxist, left-wing pundits have hailed him as the “OccuPope”. Some have worried that the Pope is calling for a world government by saying, “If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just a few.” Others are positively ecstatic that major changes are on the way with the Pope saying, “Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed.” Along the same lines he wrote, “I do not want a church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.” On the left, many still frowned at his insistence that abortion is wrong and that women cannot be priests, though some did still see some hope in his calling for a greater role for women which, given what changes have already taken place, would be hard to define as anything but ordination since that is really all that is still denied them. Calls for a greater decentralization of the church was met with a more positive reaction all around (even the Protestants and Orthodox liked that part) as well as the Pope saying that the papacy itself might need to be reevaluated.

This is not the first time I have addressed this document, short and limited though that might have been, but I do have a problem with it and it is a problem that is quite common in papal documents of recent decades. First, however, I feel that I must defend, to some extent, some of the backlash over this which has upset some people. Mostly this has involved Catholics becoming upset with people on the political “right” for calling the Pope a Marxist or a socialist. I will defend them only in as much as anytime any Pope decides to address economics and economic policies it should be expected that there will be some controversy. A simple perusal of the internet will show left-wing outlets generally cheering the Pope for this document while right-wing outlets are critical of it or arguing that the Pope didn’t mean what everyone on the left thinks he meant. That gets to the root of my most basic problem with the document and much of what has come out of the Vatican in modern times. That is that, even while Pope Francis is often quite precise in his criticisms, on the whole it is so frustratingly vague as to be open to a wide variety of “interpretation”. For example, in decrying “inequality in society” the Pope writes, “This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root.” Well, pray tell Holy Father, what exactly do you mean by “socioeconomic system”? He speaks of “unjust social structures” without specifying what these social structures are or what should replace them. What is the “more efficient way” of the world interacting that is needed or being called for here?

He calls for the rich to help the poor but more than just calling for generosity he insists that governments must be involved in this. For myself, I found this rather at odds with his views on the Catholic Church itself. He seemed to be calling for a decentralization of the church but for greater centralization in government. In general, decentralization came about in governments because of a distrust of politicians whereas, in the Catholic Church, greater centralization was deemed only natural since the Pope was the Successor of St Peter and the one granted the gift of infallibility. This has been a bit difficult for your humble correspondent to wrap his damaged mind around. For example, in the United States, certainly since the Johnson administration, the government has taxed the rich and “given to the poor” in social programs more than ever before and yet poverty levels have only gone up. The Pope also calls on governments to provide all people with education and healthcare. Well, the U.S. is working on the healthcare bit right now (and being sued by the Catholic bishops over it) and as for education, again, the U.S. is spending more on education than ever before but with no improvement.

It is at times like these that I really miss the Papal States. After all, if the Pope still had an actual country to rule, with subjects to tax and an economy to regulate, we could see papal pronouncements put into effect. The Pope could actually lead by example. As it is now, with only Vatican City under his personal rule, I am told that comparisons to other (“real”) countries do not count. I was most vociferously told this when I pointed out that while Catholic bishops across Europe and North America decry border enforcement and efforts to control immigration, slipping into the Vatican without a ticket will lead to an altercation with a very large Swiss fellow holding a boarding pike. One cannot compare Vatican City to a “real” country. For example, the Pope condemns “unbridled consumerism”. Many news reports have translated that as “unbridled capitalism” and that could (or should) cause some confusion since I know of no place on earth where “unbridled capitalism” exists just as I have never known of a country on earth that ever practiced pure, total communism (though Pol Pot gave it a darn good try). However, again, that raises some questions which are left unanswered. How is consumerism to be bridled? How is a government to control what or how much people consume without infringing on their individual freedom which, lately anyway, the Catholic Church has upheld as something to be defended? We are given no explanation, no alternative model.

Historically, the Catholic Church has been a bit more specific as to the ideal “socioeconomic” system (if I can use that word even though I’m not sure what it means exactly and am unsure anyone else does either) but there is no consensus as to what exactly that was or if it was ever even really put into effect anywhere to be tried. Most agree that it involved some sort of revival of something like the guild system of the Middle Ages but, call it what you will, it became rather unpopular in the second half of the last century because so many who adopted it (or claimed to because, again, there is no consensus) were what most people today would label as “fascists” (Dollfuss, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar etc). Right or wrong that is the perception and so, especially since perception is reality more and more these days, it is mostly not talked about. You can put out statistics about what actually happened in those countries (unemployment levels dropping and trains running on time) but it won’t do much good because once the “f-word” is mentioned, all rational discussion grinds to an immediate halt. It seems quite a dilemma. If a pope is going to roll up his sleeves and get involved in critiquing economic policies, surely he should have a clearly defined alternative to offer or at least more specifics as to what exactly is good and what exactly is bad so that people are not just left arguing over what he “really” meant? After all, it would not be the first time that a papal foray into politics ended up not turning out so well. For example, when Pope Leo XIII called on French Catholics to embrace the republic, he did so while claiming to be a monarchist and insisting that French royalists could restore the monarchy democratically by playing ball with the republic. In hindsight, however, most took it as a papal blessing on republicanism and the effective end of the royalists as a political force in France.

Of course, gone are the days when popes defended Christian monarchy. The last time the Church actually defended an officially Catholic monarchy was in the final days of the Kingdom of Italy and that was a case of ‘too little, too late’ after decades of demonizing it at worst and ignoring it at best up until 1929. A republic took over and the Lateran Treaty started to be amended very quickly. Popes stopped having coronations, democracy is what Pope Francis speaks for (as did his immediate predecessors) and along with it multiculturalism and inter-religious dialogue are the new watchwords. In the few officially Catholic monarchies that remain, one would be led to believe that the Pope would not find much to admire about them. The Prince of Liechtenstein is rather well known around the world for his advocacy of less government and fewer regulations and the Prince of Monaco rules over a country with the greatest concentration of those terrible rich people in the whole world. Something else I noticed was the number of people rushing to point out, because of all the coverage of this in the American media, that this was not directed at the United States and Americans should stop thinking it is ‘all about them’. Which is true, though as best as I can recall, the United States was the only country mentioned by name in the document. So, there’s that.

I also could not help but noticing, in my perusal of the internet and what people were saying about this in the major publications and news sources in preparation for this was that everyone on the political left seemed overjoyed by it with just a few negative types mentioning that the Pope should practice what he preaches and have the Church start paying taxes and selling off the contents of the Vatican Museum (which I rather hate to mention for fear that he just might do it) while those on the political right were either opposed to what the Pope said, confused by it or were trying to defend it by basically saying he didn’t mean what everything thinks he meant. As I have said before, that alone should cause reasonable people to think a little harder. I have never known any religious leader who has had to have so many people rush out to interpret for everyone else what he “really” meant every time a statement or quote comes out. It is, however, quite difficult these days, especially when dealing with modern Christianity, to determine what is a “moral issue” and what is not, because, so many on both sides claim that every issue is related to every other issue and, in the end, it is all about morality any way you look at it. Border enforcement is a moral issue, healthcare is a moral issue, the debt is a moral issue, national security is a moral issue, foreign aid is a moral issue and so on. I will not try to categorize what the Pope said (I’ve made enough enemies already) but I will point out just a few statistics. In this papal mission statement the word “inequality” is mentioned ten times. The word “Heaven” is also mentioned ten times though eight of those were in quoting someone else. The Pope used the word “economy” twelve times and the word “economic” nineteen times. He used the word consumer or consumerism a total of eleven times while mentioning “marriage” three times and “abortion” only once.

Of course, I have not read every papal document from every pope in history and I know of no one who has, however, this struck me overall as being a very worldly document from a man who in this same document said, “God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!” And it is not as though this was a document intended to address some specific worldly problem (such as those of Pope Leo XIII on trade unions) but was released as a mission statement for the papacy of Francis yet it dwells (not entirely by any means) so much with the affairs of this world and not simply with spiritual matters but with economic ones. People who do not give to the poor are stealing from the poor, wealthy countries of the northern hemisphere are not doing enough to help the poorer countries of the southern hemisphere and so on. Which seems odd, to me at least, coming from the Pope but which, no matter how laudable, is rendered rather useless, again, by the total lack of specifics on what exactly to do about it. Is this really what the modern papacy has been reduced to, telling countries how to spend their money?

True, he mentioned a “more efficient way of interacting” for the countries of the world, but gave no clue as to what this way was or what vehicle could bring it about. Is it the United Nations? Is it some new international organization or global forum? We are not told. If I am seen as dwelling too excessively on this point it is only because of what I have witnessed firsthand. In the United States of America, for example, it is the Democrats, currently President Obama, who speak the most about inequality and social injustice and the need for the rich to “pay their fair share” and for the need for government to provide healthcare to all people. It is the Republicans who would say that less government regulation is the answer to these problems, that social welfare is being taken advantage of by fraudsters and that over taxing and regulating businesses (and the rich) only create more unemployment and thus more poor people for the Pope to embrace. In the last election, President Obama campaigned on providing “universal healthcare” and the U.S. Catholic bishops came out also in favor of “universal healthcare”. If you were to read the fine print you would see that the bishops did not officially endorse the plan of the President but they did call for universal healthcare and he was the only candidate promising to deliver it. Related or not, most American Catholics voted for Obama and the healthcare plan that was then passed directly attacked the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church such as in funding for abortion-inducing drugs and artificial birth control. So, vague calls for nice sounding things can have disastrous consequences when one ignores the details.

The specifically spiritual aspects of this document are ones that I cannot imagine anyone having a problem with, the political and economic aspects some people do have a problem with and they have not been bashful in voicing them or at least expressing confusion. My main point here is that this is to be expected. What stands out though is the reaction to this and I have been rather amazed at how hyper-sensitive many people have been to any disagreement with or even questions concerning Pope Francis. These people are told they are putting self interest before God (or as the Pope says, making an idol of money), that they have to choose between obedience to God (as represented by the Pope) or their own judgment on political or economic matters. It seems rather odd when it all springs from a document in which the Pope calls for, “Social dialogue as a contribution to peace, Dialogue between faith, reason and science, Ecumenical dialogue, Relations with Judaism, Interreligious dialogue and Social dialogue in a context of religious freedom”. That is an awful lot of “dialogue” going on in a document people react to challenges or questions over with ‘you worship your money, have turned your back on God and you’re going to Hell’ -or more subtle words to that effect. It seems a stretch to hold personal obedience to the Pope who talks about doing away with outdated customs, going out into the world and interacting and “dialoguing” with everyone to then react so harshly to those who disagree with the Pope on certain points. The Pope himself wrote, “Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy.” and that, “The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion.” He goes on to speak about Episcopal gatherings and the like but what exactly the papal conversion entails I cannot say as it is not expressed.

Given all of that, I am not the least bit surprised by the reaction this document has produced. It is critical of a great deal, inside the Catholic Church and outside of it yet rather vague when it comes to details, solutions or specific changes and that, it seems to me, is a sound recipe for controversy and confusion. This is something to be taken seriously because, for anyone who is a Catholic certainly, obedience to the Pope is not supposed to be an optional extra (assuming that is not included in the aspects of the papacy that need “conversion”). Traditionally, the teaching of the Catholic Church has been that obedience to the Pope is a necessary requirement for salvation and whether what he says falls under the (again, at this point rather vague) guidelines of what constitutes an infallible statement or not, what he says is supposed to carry immense weight and be taken very seriously. Given that, and given that what constitutes a “moral issue” is expanding into areas such as international relations and income inequality, the Church needs to take care to be just as specific about its pronouncements on those issues as it is on things like the sacraments, sin and salvation. Critics should calm down and read the document and ponder it before leaping to conclusions (the Pope also criticizes debt and dependency -which is usually left out) and at the same time, supporters of the Pope should not immediately jump on those who disagree with or question it. The Pope said he wanted a church that was “bruised, hurting and dirty”. Don’t be afraid of the “dirt” that comes from a little bit of debate.

Additional Note: One of the “danger” signs Catholics should have been alerted to about the Second Vatican Council was how it was so highly praised in the liberal, leftist, secularist elite media. Ever since then, people have been trying to explain away the guitars, altar girls and “clown masses” as being the result of “misinterpretation”. In all the research I did before writing this, I could not help but notice that the more leftist and the more traditionally anti-Catholic and anti-Christian in general the news source was, the more in love they were with Pope Francis. If Church documents and papal statements being misinterpreted is a problem, let me give this warning that what I heard, over and over again, based on this as well as the papal record so far is that politicians shouldn’t be denied communion for voting for abortion, that homosexuality is okay, free markets are terrible things and socialism is the answer because the rich are doomed to hell anyway because Jesus said so. That has been much of the take away from this and anytime there is a papal document that someone like former Obama White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe, Democrat Representative Keith Ellison (a Muslim) or Catholics like Ed Schultz and Michael Moore praise with such gusto -you might want to rethink your position.


  1. I have to disagree with you strongly on this one, MM. While I am a monarchist, I am not a capitalist. My main problem with capitalism is it weakens the state.
    Personally, I think Francis was very correct: there is way too much income inequality between the rich and poor, due to tax breaks and subsidies. Don't misinterpret that: I am NOT a commie, a socialist, or a Marxist. At all. But the previous statement is true: the rich pay very little in taxes, which means the state has less $, and the poor suffer. So I'm defiantly with Pope Francis on this one.

    1. A) Nowhere above did I say anything about being a capitalist.
      B) I don't know where you're coming from but in the United States the rich pay the vast majority of taxes. About half the population pay almost no taxes at all. Now, if you are really, really rich you can hire experts to find legal ways to avoid paying taxes (which is why the richest people I know -probably the richest in the whole state- are Democrats who don't care how much their rates go up because they don't pay them anyway, which only means the tax code should be simplified, not that those who are the most productive are squeezed even further.

  2. A. O I know, but Francis did, and I'm saying I am agreeing with his statement.
    B. I should have said companies. That is really what I meant. I hear many Ayn-Rand followers say that the corporations pay 35% in taxes, but that is a de jure. The de facto tax rate is much lower. I am aware that 53% of people pay no income tax, yes, but that is out of necessity. I grew up in a relatively (I say that because compared to a 3rd world country, everyone is wealthy) poor community, with many working 2 full time jobs, and sacrificing their educational and profession goals to make ends meet. Any system that allows people to become enthralled to rent and payments is, in my view, unjust. As such, I have to support the Catholic Patriarch on this.

    1. Corporations really pay no taxes at all, and they never will. Raise their taxes and they raise their prices, people buy less and the economy goes down. America has around the second highest corporate tax rate in the world and that's partly why there is little industry in America. It's actually cheaper to move to Asia and ship your products overseas. I've lived in an area where most people are below the poverty line and even when there was a recent boom in the economy all the new businesses had to import workers because the locals would rather do nothing and collect welfare than get a job. It's not helping them and not helping the economy.

  3. 'Critical' and 'vague' - this is an aspect of Pope Francis', if-possible-never-have-an-unpublished-thought, approach to 'being' St Peter, that is wounding the Faithful and cheering on other side. 'What the Pope said'...what the Pope didn't say would be a much more charitable topic. When he wears the red shoes representing the Blood of the Martyrs, I might believe the 'humility' self-proclaimation. Who, from the first day on the balcony, doubted the 'ambition', even before he said it.

    p.s. we need a new dictionary - Pope Francis speak. "conversion' = become more worldly. 'worship' - when directed at the Faithful = idolatry; when directed at the unfaithful = who am I to judge?

    p.s.s. Fill in the blank: Pinpointing [.................] beliefs is difficult, as [it] appears philosophical in nature and ideologically complex.

    Answer: The Satanic Temple’s...


    Tread carefully, Pope Francis. You are supposed to crush the head of the serpent, not the sheep.

  4. Good point about Vatican II- have you read the documents of the council? I had heard all the usual about them being 'ambiguous', 'open to misinterpretation,' etc. but really they are much worse than many acknowledge. On matters of the nature of the Church, ecumenism, religious liberty and many other points there are blatant contradictions of previous Catholic teaching. And then of course it is disturbing that the next project was changing the rites of all the sacraments, especially the rites of consecration of bishops and ordination of priests. Pius XII had much research done into the matter of which parts of the traditional rites of ordination/consecration were necessary for validity, and issued a document settling the question in 1947. But only 20 or so years later, the rites were altered. Go figure. It is not surprising that liberals and leftists liked the council and its fruits. I think conservatives at the council made a grave mistake by trying to patch up the documents, making them sound more Catholic. That just confused people more. They should have just rejected the misleading texts outright.

    1. Any time councils or popes contradict their predecessors it causes problems. I also do not think everything is always so "misunderstood" as is claimed. There is a great deal that is vague and confusing but what I mean is that even if you think everyone is misunderstanding these things then there is a failure in the most basic level of communication. I also have a hard time dealing with the fact that someone like Lefebvre is excommunicated for disobedience (fine) while all the Canadian bishops who flatly refused to uphold Paul VI's birth control encyclical are not (inconsistent). I also have a really, really big problem with Catholic politicians being excommunicated for opposing desegregation while not one (*not one*) have been excommunicated for actively supporting abortion. On a broader front I suppose I cannot understand how income inequality can even be on the radar when millions of innocents are being massacred.

  5. I'm curious as to what your thoughts on sedevacantist Traditionalist Catholics are, MadMonarchist. Have you ever come across things like Restoration Radio and listened to what they have to say?

    1. I'm quite sympathetic with traditionalist Catholics in general but I cannot see how the sedevacantists have a leg to stand on. Every pope has been validly elected and you cannot just shrug them off because you judge them to be unsatisfactory. In a way, it would be easier if it was as simple as that, but I cannot see how one can reject the Pope and still claim to be Catholic. That being said, as time goes on, it is increasingly hard for any Catholic, I would think, to not be somewhat conflicted as to identity given how much the Church has done in recent times that has contradicted centuries of previous teaching and tradition. It's a tough situation.

      I say, be a Christian like those of that original Church that existed in the original Roman Empire, before the schism, before Protestantism and populism and modernism. Try to get back to that and, I think, you'd be in good shape.

  6. Mad Monarchist I found a small post on the 'Top 10 Pretenders in Europe'. It is, quite obviously, about the top ten pretenders to thrones in Europe! It may have some new information, or at least shed a way to describe these monarchs briefly to people.


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