Thursday, December 5, 2013

Obama and Pope Francis

Lots being written about Pope Francis by people on the political right. Adam Shaw from FOX News has a typical piece.
Pope Francis is undergoing a popularity surge comparable to the way Barack Obama was greeted by the world in 2008. And just as President Obama has been a disappointment for America, Pope Francis will prove a disaster for the Catholic Church.
This used to be typical of the left to compare popes to politicians. It is about the man. It is about the surge. It is not about the Holy Spirit leading the church. The comparison is always made to a person the audience is not going to like.

Does it ring true? The big difference is that Pope Francis is not young and inexperienced. He has been the head of  a large diocese for a long time. The other difference is Obama created his hope/change image while he was campaigning to become president. Pope Francis was already pope when he burst onto the scene. So he has no need to impress the public. He has no need to impress anyone but God.

Update: Turns out Mark Shea has written something on this same article.
My fellow Catholics should be suspicious when bastions of anti-Catholicism in the left-wing media are in love with him.
Much is being made of his ‘compassion’ and ‘humility,’ but kissing babies and hugging the sick is nothing new. Every pope in recent memory has done the same, yet only now are the media paying attention. Benedict XVI and John Paul II refused to kowtow to the liberal agenda, and so such displays of tenderness were under-covered.
Lets not get carried away here. Pope Francis does have a new and refreshing style. I loved Pope Benedict and I thought he did have a grandfatherly warmth that the media mostly missed but Pope Francis has something he never did. It is a kind of charm. He likes to say things in a shocking way but it is not just shocking. It is funny. It engages people and makes them think.
But Francis is beating a retreat for the Catholic Church, and making sure its controversial doctrines are whispered, not yelled – no wonder the New York Times is in love.
I agree with not yelled. I would not say whispered. We don't want to start with morality. Pope Benedict actually believed this. He wanted to focus on Catholicism as a great Yes rather than focusing on what Catholicism requires you to say No to. Pope Francis is taking that to a new level. 
Just like President Obama loved apologizing for America, Pope Francis likes to apologize for the Catholic Church, thinking that the Church is at its best when it is passive and not offending anyone’s sensibilities.
In his interviews with those in the left-wing media he seeks to impress, Francis has said that the Church needs to stop being ‘obsessed’ with abortion and gay marriage, and instead of seeking to convert people, “we need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.”
He does not call for the church to be passive at all. He does acknowledge that sometimes the church is a pain. It seems to be harping on a few issues. Maybe that is because of the media or because society is only listening when she talks about sex. Still it is a perception out there. Pope Francis mocks it from time to time. It is not like Catholics have never been over the top on the abortion and gay marriage issues. I would like to see those positions defended and defended well but they should not be the defining teaching of the church.
This softly-softly approach of not making a fuss has been tried before, and failed. The Second Vatican Council of the 1960’s aimed to “open the windows” of the Church to the modern world by doing just this.

The result was the Catholic version of New Coke. Across the West where the effects were felt, seminaries and convents emptied, church attendance plummeted, and adherence to Church doctrine diminished.
The Second Vatican Council was an ecumenical council. Since when do Catholics declare ecumenical councils to be misguided? They are guided by the Holy Spirit. The council was a response to modernism. An attempt to restate Catholicism in a positive way. So much dogma came about as a response to heresy. This is what we don't believe. The ideas being rejected were not even that relevant anymore. Nobody cared about the doctrines of justification or Christology.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI worked hard to turn this trend around, but now Pope Francis wants the bad old days to resume.
Proof of this is Francis’ aforementioned statement of the Church being obsessed with controversial issues and the need to rebalance by talking about it less.
That Francis didn’t see that this would be translated into headlines of “Pope tells Catholics to shut up about things that offend Sandra Fluke” by every left-wing media outlet shows a terrifying naivety.
John Paul and Benedict did not run away from Vatican II. Pope Francis has actually indicated his interpretation of the council is the same as that of Pope Benedict. So there is no real change there.

Then there is the matter of how his statement will be reported. I do think Pope Francis has learned some things in the last few months about that. For example, in his document on the Joy of Evangelism he actually included some strong pro-life language. It didn't really fit but he knew from experience that if he didn't the media would read between the lines that he is somehow pro-choice. So there are some learnings there.

Still the idea that a pope's message should be controlled by how the media is likely to frame it seems wrong. He says what he says. If it gives left wing people some quotes they are likely to abuse that is not a good reason to say nothing. In fact, many of the quotes should make conservatives rethink some things. Not on abortion but on economics and immigration.
Nor do his comments reflect reality.
For years, the majority of priests didn't dare cover controversial topics in their homilies in fear of getting angry letters from pick-and-choose Catholics outraged that their pastor dared to say something out of line with the Democratic Party.
Most parishioners therefore haven’t heard the Church’s argument on controversial topics. Consequently, usage of contraception is only slightly lower in Catholics than in the general population, and support of gay marriage is actually higher in Catholics than the general population. Perhaps talking about it even less isn’t the answer?
This is true. It is not the fault of the last few popes. They have taught on these subjects repeatedly. Local priests and bishops have been slow to follow suit. Why? Part of it is because they have been doing exactly what Pope Francis says we should not do. That is remaining focused on what people inside the church are thinking about you.

Focusing on what people outside the church think does not mean simply parroting whatever ideas are fashionable. That is not going to impress anyone. What will impress them is authentic Christianity. A Christianity that is about love and forgiveness first and about doctrines and morals second. Second does not mean not at all. It all still needs to be explained. The truth is there is no conflict between the two. Someone who goes out and talks about the love of Jesus will want to know how to answer basic questions about Catholicism. They are also going to feel very uncomfortable about areas where they don't embrace church teaching. It is one thing to live a contradiction privately. It is quite another to explain it to someone else.

In trying to please the media and the modern world, Francis mistakes their glee for respect. Just like Obama thought he’d won over Putin by promising a reset, Francis thinks by talking vacuously about the poor, he will be respected. And it is vacuous -- the pontiff recently asked why it’s news that the stock market drops but not when an old person dies. When your leader is asking, “Why isn’t the newspaper a laundry list of obituaries?” you know you elected the wrong guy.
I don't think that question is vacuous at all. No he is not suggesting there is no answer. The question just causes us to reflect on the importance we place on money and the importance we place on human life. Part of the answer is sheer numbers but is part of the answer also that we don't care about the same things God cares about? I can see why an economic conservative would not want to reflect on that question.

What effect is this having? For all we’re being told about how ‘disenfranchised’ Catholics are being brought back by Francis ‘reaching out,’ a recent Pew Research study showed that in America, the number of people who identify as Catholic has actually decreased.  Lesson: rubbing the egos of Church-hating left-wingers doesn’t make more Catholics, it just makes the Church less respected.
Read the article. It says Pope Francis has increased mass attendance in many places around the world but not in the US. So why does an insignificant drop in the US trump the gains everywhere else? I don't think this data should be a motivating factor for popes but it is good news rather than bad news.
Francis not only panders to enemies and professional grievance mongers, but also attacks his allies. Just as Obama snubs Britain and Israel, Pope Francis swipes at practicing Catholics.
So not only has he insulted, and severely damaged the work of, pro-life and pro-marriage groups with his comments, he has also gone on the attack, dismissing Catholics who attend the older rites in Latin as ‘ideologizing’ and being guilty of ‘exploitation.’ Apparently “Who am I to judge?” doesn’t apply here.
He is not taking swipes. He is being a pastor. If a pastor can't point out the dangers of a certain spirituality then what good is he? A pope is not a cheerleader. He is a shepherd. Sometime a shepherd has to keep the sheep from stampeding  over a cliff. Catholics can get too focused on liturgy or too focused on one political issue.

On world matters, Francis’ statements are embarrassing. About communism, a destructive ideology that slaughtered millions of Catholics, he said:
“Learning about it through a courageous and honest person was helpful. I realized…an aspect of the social, which I then found in the social doctrine of the Church."
There is an economic system known as communism. In South America it is not as closely associated with the USSR as it is in the US. In South America right wing regimes are just as likely to to slaughter Catholics as communist ones. 
Not such kind words for the free market, however. In his recent apostolic exhortation he slammed unfettered capitalism, calling it ‘a new tyranny.’
Apart from the fact that there is no major nation practicing unfettered capitalism (like Obama, Francis loves attacking straw men) there is more real tyranny in socialist cesspools like Francis’ home of Argentina than in places where capitalism is predominant.
In the document he rejects the free market and calls for governments to overhaul financial systems so they attack inequality. In doing so he shows himself painfully misguided on economics, failing to see that free markets have consistently lifted the poor out of poverty, while socialism merely entrenches them in it, or kills them outright.
It is precisely Pope Francis' experience with the poor in Argentina that makes him suspicious  of too much emphasis on free markets and not enough concern for the poor. This is just complaining that the pope does not agree with you. But that is precisely where church teaching can be helpful. It can allow us to take seriously ideas we would not have considered from any other source.
Like Obama, Francis is unable to see the problems that are really endangering his people. Like Obama he mistakes the faithful for the enemy, the enemy for his friend, condescension for respect, socialism for justice and capitalism for tyranny.
As a Catholic, I do hope Francis’ papacy is a successful one, but from his first months he seems hell-bent on a path to undo the great work of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and to repeat critical mistakes of the past.
In terms of socioeconomic thinking John Paul and Benedict were both left of certainly the American center. The papacy is not about enemies and friends. It is about Jesus. It is not about right and left. It is about right and wrong. The church is not really moving. It is changing style. It is emphasizing things the Republicans are not going to like as much. That is all good.

Obedience is only meaningful when we would not do it anyway. What matters more, your faith or your politics? That question was launched at Catholic democrats for years. Now it might be launched at Catholic republicans just as much. I don't think the democrats are going to be more comfortable. They will still have huge problems trying to keep one foot in the church and another foot in the party. Just now Republicans will be feeling some of the same pain.

Society is becoming less and less tolerant of Catholicism. More and more Catholics are going to be forced to choose between their party and their church. That is likely to be a good thing. Pope Francis means there might be more liberals that end up choosing the church. That would be a very good thing if that happens.

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