With every week that passes, Pope Francis finds another way to throw his lovin’ arms around the Church’s enemies. And to alienate, insult, and humiliate faithful Catholics who dissent from his left-friendly views.
This week’s example? Pope Francis held a private audience with a blushing transgender bride (or groom? Who knows). The resulting headlines will be devastating news for, say, Catholic priests who are preparing for the real possibility of facing prison time when they refuse to “marry” future LGBT couples. The head of the American LGBT organization Dignity USA, on the other hand, is thrilled. “For the pope to meet with a transgender man about to be married,” she beams, “and for that meeting to result in this man feeling more hopeful about his place in the church, shows a concern for those at the very margins of our church.” Pope Francis' many leftist actions speak louder than his occasional--and often ambiguous--conservative words. His behavior exhibits a leftist hallmark: Though he vaguely condemns the ideas of violence and intolerance, he never seems to consider that some of those on the “very margins” of the church might be its enemies, waiting for an opportunity to infiltrate and attack.
Surrounded by Would-Be Persecutors, Christians Want Much More than Orthodoxy from the Pope; They Want a Shepherd.
Oftentimes when people talk about how “liberal” Pope Francis is, they’re assessing to what extent he is willing to depart from orthodoxy. But when it comes to the political clout he so loves to wield, it’s much more relevant to discuss how willing he is to depart from—or even to condemn—the policies and practices that protect human dignity, freedom, and flourishing at a time when these things are under considerable threat from every side. I don’t lose much sleep over his orthodoxy; I do think it’s fair game to critique his politics. Catholics believe the pope is divinely protected from preaching heresy ex cathedra; we don’t believe he’s divinely protected from being an ass.
When it comes to weighing in on urgent, real-world affairs, orthodox intentions never guarantee much. Christians believe the Bible is God’s revealed Truth. But if I walked in on a man mercilessly beating his wife, no one would respect me for choosing that moment to recite Colossians 3:18. (“Wives, be submissive to your husbands....”) No. They would call me an ass, even if the words I spoke were Divine. Just so, at this moment in history, when Christians stare down the barrel of the locked and loaded secular state on one side, and the Islamic State on the other, and leftist elites demand our religious liberty, our cringing submission to the media-wielding LGBT movement, and the rampant entry of unskilled voters and radical Islamists into Western welfare systems, it’s not the time to quote Church teachings—however orthodox—in a way that echoes the rhetoric of these movements.
So set aside our recondite disputes about the pontiff’s orthodoxy. Millions of Christians who find themselves surrounded by enemies emboldened by the Holy Father deserve better. In fact, when he opens up his mouth and plays the Church into its enemies’ hands, rushing to defend his orthodoxy is only a way of changing the subject. Instead, we should defend the Church itself against the elephant in the room: Pope Francis, the leftist.
The Orphan Church
I suppose I can understand why some conservatives hesitate to question a pope. In America, we Catholics know we can’t always rely on local bishops for support when times get tough. When it came to countering the leftward lunge our culture took in the 1960’s, many bishops held their tongues and stuffed the moral statements of the Vatican down the memory hole. When corrupt politicians placed our nation’s educational and charitable institutions under the top-down rule of the secular state, bishops busily helped the process along by lining Catholic schools and charities up for government funding, often ignoring the warnings of popes. When news reached us of the brutal beheadings of Christians in Iraq, bishops took the occasion to scold us for the “Islamophobia” that was “on the rise” among us. When the LGBT movement arose and made explicit its desire to legally punish Christians for their beliefs, bishops provided them a venue to promote their cause; the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City. When leftists worked to flood our welfare system with illegal immigrant voters—to guarantee the eternal reign of the Democratic Party—bishops eagerly blessed the effort, and smeared their own flocks as “xenophobic” “bigots” for dissenting.
In other words, Abp. Timothy Dolan was quite correct to tell an interviewer that he and other Christian leaders responded to the anti-Christian, anti-Western Sexual Revolution by telling their increasingly hated flocks to simply “become more and more like everybody else.” And when it comes to religious liberty and the abortion mandate? Dolan also wasn’t far wrong to say that bishops have been some of the “biggest cheerleaders” for a government takeover of healthcare since as far back as 1919—and still would be, but for the fact that, “first of all,” Obamacare “isn't comprehensive” enough, in part “because it's excluding the undocumented immigrant [emphasis added].”
If many of our fathers in the US have been neglectful parents, some of the orphaned faithful have only grown more street-smart as a result. Like Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue,” our fathers’ effort to cast the church in a warm and fuzzy liberal light has only made us tougher. While bishops laid their swords at the feet of power-politics, many of the greatest soldiers on the front lines of the culture wars have been laypeople, low-ranking clerics, and nuns. (Judie Brown of the American Life League, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things, and Mother Angelica of the Eternal Word Television Network to name a few.) And these people often got more grief than guidance from their bishops.
But over the years, we’ve held at least one card that no left-leaning Catholic could outplay without risking his seat at the table: We held the Pope Card. When misguided Catholics sought to undermine the Liturgy, sell our parishes and schools for 30 pieces of government silver, or teach “free love” in catechism classes, they often had the backing of the local Chancery Office. And let’s not forget that many of these nefarious plots were couched in “orthodoxy.” (Anyone should know by now how easy it is to bend Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching to leftist ends). We, on the other hand, could back our resistance with current papal statements—which were often more than orthodox; they were savvy, timely, and truly pastoral.
We didn’t always win, but when we lost, nine times out of ten we could at least proclaim that the other player cheated. Mother Angelica could even broadcast her disapproval of leftist bishops on her TV show, to the delight of downtrodden American Pope-lovers everywhere.
A Wolf in Shepherd’s Clothing
Now, with a leftist Pope playing new-sheriff-in-town in no uncertain terms, the sleeper cells of leftist and “illiberal Catholic” snakes who’ve infiltrated the Church over the decades no longer need to bide their time at the “margins.” In fact, they’ve come out of the woodwork, hurling every clever insult they’ve been contemplating in the years when conservative Catholics could still hide behind the papal skirt. We are accused of hating the poor, because we don’t support the welfare state as do our bishops--and now our pope. Of being, to quote Pope Francis, “racist and xenophobic,” for standing against the cynical use of millions of illegal immigrants as an ethnic voting bloc for the Party of Death. Of being irresponsible, because--unlike our pope--we refuse to get in bed with a pro-infanticide president in the name of fighting climate change. Of heretical Americanism, for anything short of wishing for the swift destruction of the American Republic. And, of course, we aren’t loving the LGBT community like Jesus would—and like Pope Francis does. …One is tempted to ask Pope Francis: “Who are you to judge?”
As Maureen Mullarkey has argued, Pope Francis doesn’t make a secret of his leftist approach to evangelism. Neither should we. When it comes to the great civilizational struggles between the Christian West and its enemies, Pope Francis simply leans leftward. Citing just one example in many, Mullarkey was right to point out the obvious: “He is preparing to lend [the “Green” Movement] the magisterial weight of an encyclical. Yet, when innocents are slaughtered in Paris by the same forces that are shedding Christian blood in the Middle East, the most he can muster is a hashtag, #PrayersforParis.” More than that: He's joined his considerable clout to the cause of no-questions-asked Muslim immigration into Europe, a cause that often operates by slandering frightened Christian—and even Jewish!—dissenters as “Neo-Nazis” and “extremists.” After so many “FU”s from the papal Twitter page, it’s high time Christian conservatives click the “unfollow” button, reluctantly accept Pope Francis for what he is, and commence the uphill battle of the Christian life, only with one more enemy claiming the higher ground—in this case, Vatican Hill.
Shepherding Ourselves; a Silver Lining
As the old Logic 101 cliché has it: The argument from authority is the weakest form of argument. If we play our cards right, it will do conservative Christians good to be weaned off of the Pope Card. After all, some of the greatest threats to civilization can be linked to the increasingly authoritarian assumptions in our political discourse, when top-down solutions from on high are the only solutions granted a hearing, and the highly educated specialist can laugh at the “stupidity of the American voter” as he quietly constructs a mandate that affects an entire country. Also greatly troubling is our growing tendency to blindly follow and defend our subcultural leaders wherever they may lead. Think Lena Dunham. Jesse Jackson. Barack Obama … If we’re honest, we can add to that list of demagogues the names of not a few American Bishops—some perfectly “orthodox”—whose flocks continued to adore them even as they led the Church right up to the precipice of persecution.
We don’t have to add Pope Francis to that list. Faced with an enemy force that already includes all too many of our American church leaders, we need heavier weaponry than “Daddy says so” arguments. Any morality or politics worth their salt will be accessible and communicable to the whole of our free society, including people who don’t necessarily belong to the small club of those who are conversant in encyclicals and the finer points of Catholic theology. In fact, learning to ground our beliefs in the universal principles of Natural Law, and not just in subcultural assumptions, might just be what saves us.
OTHER CANDID REPORTS:
FROM THE CANDID BLOG: