Monday, January 20, 2014

Emphasizing Personal 'Hobby Horses' Does Differentiate One Pope From Another

Suggested use for cappa magna when certain cardinals mount their pet hobby horse.

So I had this question.  I wondered why Pope Francis is generating such angst among the right with Evangelii Gaudium, especially over his economic observations, while Pope Benedict, who said virtually the same things in Caritas En Veritate was more or less ignored.  Why is Francis the darling of the left when he is absolutely on the same page as Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II in virtually all things Catholic? Is it just that he's emphasizing different teachings or is it that Francis is being marketed way differently in order to get the same messages out with a friendlier face.

Back when Caritas en Veritate was published I made it a point on this blog to give Benedict many kudos for his economic and social justice sections.  Benedict did not pull his punches.  These were powerful take downs of unfettered Western Capitalism. I was sure the right was going to go off the deep end on these sections but about all that happened was George Weigel's red pen/gold pen column in First Things.  There was no outburst from Rush Limbaugh and only fulsome praise from William Donohue. There were some nice reviews from some progressives but nothing like Francis got for EG.  I was thinking that maybe I was reading a very different translation of Benedict's encyclical or something.  With the reaction to Francis's words I'm seriously thinking this very different reaction is about PR Machines.  Francis has Greg Burke and Benedict had some junior monsignor with a cheap cell phone camera.

But there might also be a bit more to it than just PR.  The following is an excerpt from a piece by Patrick J Deneen for the American Conservative.  He has some interesting observations about this very situation between two popes, same words, vastly different reactions.  In the process he makes an extremely valuable point.  Pope Francis sees the excesses of capitalism as another example of the excesses of individualism which lead directly to the sexual excesses which occupied so much of Benedict's and JPII's papacies. When writers try to separate these concerns as unique from the others, the totality of Catholic moral reasoning is shredded---it's the whole 'seamless garment argument' of Cardinal Bernardin.

....These commentators all but come and out say: we embrace Catholic teaching when it concerns itself with “faith and morals”—when it denounces abortion, opposes gay marriage, and urges personal charity. This is the Catholicism that has been acceptable in polite conversation. This is a stripped-down Catholicism that doesn’t challenge fundamental articles of economic faith.

And it turns out that this version of Catholicism is a useful tool. It is precisely this portion of Catholicism that is acceptable to those who control the right narrative because it doesn’t truly endanger what’s most important to those who steer the Republic: maintaining an economic system premised upon limitless extraction, fostering of endless desires, and creating a widening gap between winners and losers that is papered over by mantras about favoring equality of opportunity. A massive funding apparatus supports conservative Catholic causes supporting a host of causes—so long as they focus exclusively on issues touching on human sexuality, whether abortion, gay  marriage, or religious liberty (which, to be frank, is intimately bound up in its current form with concerns about abortion). It turns out that these funds are a good investment: “faith and morals” allow us to assume the moral high ground and preoccupy the social conservatives while we laugh all the way to the bank bailout.....

.....In the past several months, when discussing Pope Francis, the left press has at every opportunity advanced a “narrative of rupture,” claiming that Francis essentially is repudiating nearly everything that Popes JPII and Benedict XVI stood for. The left press and commentariat has celebrated Francis as the anti-Benedict following his  impromptu airplane interview (“who am I to judge?”) and lengthy interview with the Jesuit magazine America. However, in these more recent reactions to Francis by the right press and commentariat, we witness extensive agreement by many Catholics regarding the “narrative of rupture,” wishing for the good old days of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

But there has been no rupture—neither the one wished for by the left nor feared by the right. Pope Francis has been entirely consistent with those previous two Popes who are today alternatively hated or loved, for Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke with equal force and power against the depredations of capitalism. (JPII in the encyclical Centesimus Annus and Benedict XVI in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate.)  But these encyclicals—more authoritative than an Apostolic Exhortation—did not provoke the same reaction as Francis’s critiques of capitalism. This is because the dominant narrative about John Paul II and Benedict XVI had them pegged them as, well, Republicans. For the left, they were old conservatives who obsessed with sexual matters; for the right, solid traditionalists who cared about Catholicism’s core moral teachings. Both largely ignored their social and economic teachings, so focused were they on their emphasis on “faith and morals.” All overlooked that, for Catholics, economics is a branch of moral philosophy.

I think Patrick Deneen has some good points and the rest of his article is certainly worth reading.  Where I disagree with Deneen is in emphasis, because a what a leader or teacher chooses to emphasize does condition their followers and students over all perceptions about the man doing the teaching or leading.  The real difference between Pope Francis and his two predecessors is all about emphasis--in both words and actions.  For whatever the reasons, Pope Francis is not emphasizing personal sexual morality to anywhere near the same extent as his predecessors, and in comparison to Benedict, this includes clerical sexual abuse.  When it comes to sex and sexual morality, Pope Francis is, although he says 'non judgmental', more indifferent than anything else.  He is way more motivated by economic and social injustice.  Poverty and immigration issues are very real to him. They are as real to him as 'sexual complimentarity' and fixed gender roles were to JPII, and gay sexual morality was to Pope Benedict. Each of these popes had their hobby horses, as do we all.  The difference is most of us don't have a global audience in which we can ride our personal hobby horses, challenging whole populations, or making very specific ones very miserable.
I personally am excited about Pope Franicis' particular hobby horse because I'm all on board with a 'church for the poor' and examining the center from the margins.  And yet, I am very leery of Francis' indifference to certain aspects of his predecessors hobby horses.  A great deal of global social injustice is rooted in fixed gender roles and the treatment of women.  Francis is going to have a very difficult time maintaining credibility if he does nothing about changing the unequal relationship between men and women in Catholicism itself.  Francis is also not going to be able to ignore the multiple questions the GLBTIQ populations raise about traditional Catholic sexual morality.  While I seriously doubt I will ever hear Francis equate gay marriage with the ultimate threat to civilization, I also don't expect to hear...well, much of anything actually, unless the Synod on the Family winds up being more than just another attempt to change the PR surrounding Catholic teaching.  

As for clerical sexual abuse, Francis seems content to let this be the hobby horse of others.  Men like Boston's Cardinal O'Malley and Malta's Bishop Scicluna will be given the lead in this area.  I fully expect to see both these names on the commission Francis has created to proffer advice on certain aspects of the crisis.  Unfortunately, none of those aspects include the foundation of the priesthood itself and how that might have contributed to both the abuse and it's cover up.  I suspect when it comes to the priesthood Francis is hardly indifferent and that means there will be no change.  That one decision will undercut the long term prospects for any real lasting reform in the Church and for me, that is a hobby horse that won't rock.



  1. I too have noticed the difference in reaction and the similarity of teaching (B16 v. Francis). I agree it is perhaps a matter of emphasis, but it's also where each papacy positions the Curial apparatus. For instance, Miss Burke was able to ride the cultural warrior crusade with abandon during the entire papacy of B16. With Francis, he is out in the cold. What worries the right and excites the left in the Church these days is that Francis seems to be navigating these levels of Church governance to a more truly evangelical stance. (NOT Weigel's Catholic evangelism, however!)

  2. Talking of sexual abuse, how is this for cynicism ?

    Victims ? What victims ? The Church cares nothing for those harmed by its clergy & religious: they can go FOADIAF (look it upon the urbandictionary site); it's interested in the important things, like having all that diplomatic representation Christ & His Apostles insisted it must have.

    "When it comes to sex and sexual morality, Pope Francis is, although he
    says 'non judgmental', more indifferent than anything else. He is way
    more motivated by economic and social injustice."

    ## No wonder he doesn't care a pin for the victims of paedophilia.

  3. What's evangelical about it, for crying out loud ? I don't have the book, but I've read abstracts, and it looks like the same tired old neo-Catholic stuff. There's nothing evangelical about it that I can see.

  4. I agree completely which is why I specifically used the term indifference. While I can't say Francis is singular in his indifference to certain issues, I can he has to pick up his game and look at the pieces of the Vatican puzzle that don't interest him. However, I have my doubts this will happen. Some of those pieces lead to other pieces that I just don't think he wants to put together.

    You got my subtext bang on with this: "He seems incapable of realising that objecting to one evil while
    ignoring another is not rejecting evil in favour of good, but rejecting
    one evil in favour of a different one. This is crazy, and insanely bad
    ethics." I have to say though, I don't think Pope Benedict was any better at this than Francis is---maybe none of us are.

  5. I'm not sure I understand your question. What book? What I'm referring to is Francis's wanted the Church to be less "self-referential" and more focused on service and attending to the marginalized.

  6. Sorry - I took for granted that the phrase "evangelical Catholicism" in connection w/ George Weigel was a ref. to his book of that name:

    which in turned is commented on here:

    Interview with GW:

    A review of the book from a Protestant POV:

    Another review of it:

    - I hope that explains things.

  7. Thanks. The reason I'm being rather hard on the Pope, is that the Church's claims for his position don't leave much room for the Pope to be excused in the way one of us "average" Catholics might be. Which is also why I've been so hard on the hierarchy. the CC makes very exalted claims, which have ethical implications, so it can't be treated as though it were a purely human organisation, like the teaching profession, or the politicians. It insists that it is infallible its moral teaching - so the supreme earthly teacher can't be given the leeway less privileged mortals can. It appeals to God as its Guarantor & Foundation, so it has to be tested by His Righteous Will, and not by that of anything in the world.

    I find it very hard not to get the impression that the institutional Church wants the advantages that come with the privileges it has been granted, but has a lot of difficulty in remembering that, according to Biblical theology - even if not according to the pre-Christian Roman outlook - where there is grace & privilege, there is responsibility as well; & that comes of the NT Church's being in covenant with God as His People. My guess is that the CC is too Roman in its outlook, & not sufficiently Biblical. Who could be more privileged and full of grace than Christ ? That is why He Alone could be the Crucified Redeemer & Saviour. His graces exposed Him to the Cross - they did not protect Him from it. But the Roman outlook wants the glory of the Crucified Christ, w/o having to suffer crucifixion. This is a version of Peter's mistake in Matthew 16 - & it's one that all of us are exposed to, as you point out.

  8. I've said for years the Catholic Church is too Roman and not mystical enough. I also completely agree that too many of our exalted leaders have completely lost sight of the responsibility issue that goes with their privileged status.

    'Get thee behind me Satan' should be the one and only motto of any pope.

    I can't tell you how sick to death I am of those who keep comparing clerical abuse and cover up with any other secular group. Uhmmm, sorry, but no other secular group claims to function 'in persona Christi'. There is an inherent unearned trust bond Catholics give inidividual priests which is not extended to any other group. The betrayal is more egregious and the damage to abuse survivors greater.