Nonetheless the pleasure with which it was received in some quarters presented rightbloggers with an opportunity to discuss Catholic theology and its relationship with American conservatism, which is always good for a laugh.
The Pope’s freewheeling remarks in an on-flight discussion were piquant but non-committal; for example, he gave a we’ll-see answer on communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics. On gays (so long as they were not part of a “gay lobby” — he’s still against that), Francis leaned on the sunny, sinner-not-the-sin approach to doctrine: “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…”
A number of Catholic bigwigs pointed out that this was no big change. Nonetheless the gay stuff worried some of the brethren.
At WorldNetDaily, Scott Lively complained that the Pope “GAVE GROUND ON ‘GAYS.” While “clearly, Pope Francis is NOT endorsing homosexual conduct as so many in the liberal media have dishonestly claimed,” said Lively, Francis failed by using the term “‘a gay person'” instead of “‘a person who struggles with homosexual temptation,’ or ‘a person who defines himself as homosexual,'” which “is on its face a major concession to sexual-orientation theory when used by a church leader about Christians… it implies a softening of church policy that those with a deep-seated homosexual identity, even if celibate, are unfit for the priesthood.” Clearly the Pontiff needs to get his anti-gay-theology straight. Isn’t Ratzinger supposed to be keeping tabs on him?
“‘Who am I to judge?’ Pope Francis refuses to condemn gay priests and says their sins should be forgiven and forgotten,” headlined neiman at Say Anything and guess what, he didn’t mean it positively. “This Pope and the Roman Catholic Church is clearly apostate as a religious organism and virtually all of the organized Christian Church is also apostate; that is, having abandoned the faith once delivered, they are of another faith,” said neiman. “This is the End Times, the true Church is under attack as God told us would happen at this time in history.”
Rod Dreher, who left the Catholic Church for Eastern Orthodoxy some years back but retains a lively concern that other species of Christians might weaken in their moral fervor, was cautiously optimistic at first — “That’s not the same thing as saying that homosexuality is morally licit… I don’t understand why the media are making such a big deal over it…” But then he read up on it and became alarmed: “I have a feeling that Church liberals who cited ‘the spirit of Vatican II’ as license to throw off all theological, moral, and ecclesial discipline, are going to come roaring back under this papacy.”
Fortunately Dreher was able to repurpose some of his fear as wrath against the Main Stream Media, which must have been more comfortable for him. His target in this case was Time magazine, which let gay Protestant bishop Gene Robinson talk about Francis’ comments. Dreher didn’t blame Robinson, but “what I do blame is the editorial leadership at Time magazine, for seeking out the opinion of a leader in a failing church staggering toward demographic extinction, asking him to tell the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world how to do his job like a grown-up.” And then the Washington Post allowed another Protestant to talk, one who “prides himself on his theological progressivism, especially on gay issues… He gets no apparent challenge from Quinn, though there is an avalanche of data to belie these feelgood assertions by the rector. Come on, Washington Post, practice some damn journalism!” Scott Lively can’t do it all by himself!
Also mad at the press was Lauren Elk at NewsBusters. “Huffington Post – as usual – was probably the worst, its front page headline emblazoned with the ludicrous statement: ‘POPE OK WITH GAYS.'” It is not okay! Also: “CBS joined in, too, when Gayle King claimed on ‘This Morning’ that Pope Francis was ‘offering a hand of friendship to gay priests.'” Like he’d even touch them!
“Many liberal elites don’t even have the basic good will that Pope Francis referred to as a requisite for acceptance,” fist-shook Mark Judge at The Daily Caller; “trashing Christianity is just too valuable a tool to gain and maintain status in their social circles, and to actually read Chesterton, or C.S. Lewis, with an open mind and heart would be a betrayal of their own secular faith. Bill Maher will never be bothered to read Mere Christianity. So if good will is required, you can instantly eliminate about half the population.” (Actually we imagine the percentage of Catholics who have actually read Chesterton and Lewis is much lower than 50 percent; maybe The Sound of Music would be a better metric.)
Striking a more measured pose was Ross Douthat at the New York Times. “I have a little more sympathy than usual for the media reaction,” sniffed Douthat. “…such a tonal difference, from ‘the miseries of the Church'” — previous Pope Benedict’s description of homosexuals — “to ‘who am I to judge,’ on a fraught, high-profile topic is surely newsworthy…”
But Douthat didn’t want the Pope giving them too much encouragement. Referring to other Papal comments on forgiveness (“St. Peter committed one of the greatest sins, denying Christ, and yet they made him pope. Think about that”), Douthat said, “Now Francis did specifically exempt crimes against children from his call for a forgiveness that also forgets. But the danger facing the church in the future is not an exact replay of the sex abuse scandal. Rather, it’s a perpetuation of a model of church governance in which any scandal — sexual, financial, you name it — is met with forgiveness but not with penance, with apologies but not accountability.”
Cue Peter O’Toole in The Ruling Class: You have forgotten how to punish, my noble Lords! While Douthat acknowledged Francis’ apparent toughness on child-rapists, whose previous lenient treatment was for the Church “a disaster in part for very worldly reasons,” he seemed concerned that the Church wouldn’t as readily go after non-pedophile sinners. The godless world might not see the crimes there, but God/Douthat does.
But in a follow-up, Douthat suggested there was one benefit at least to the Pope’s tone that was tactical. Maybe it’d be good for American conservatism, he suggested, if Francis’ happy-clappy threw a scare into them. He cited R.R. Reno, who had noticed that in America “religiosity now strongly correlates with partisan loyalty,” and worried that “religion, especially orthodox Christianity, may end up implicated in the inevitable failures and corruptions of the Republican party.”
Those of us who remember the Moral Majority may wonder where Reno’s been all these years, but Douthat was sold: “if Pope Francis’s public profile continues to come across as more ‘liberal’ than [John Paul II’s and Benedict’s],” he said, “it might actually play a helpful role in complicating the ‘partisan captivity’ scenario that Reno sketches out.”
This is a glorious switcheroo: Where once upon a time Ronald Reagan tightened up with Pope John Paul II every chance he got, we now have a leading conservative trying to inoculate conservatives from Papal cooties.
Elizabeth Scalia, on the other hand, thought Francis was doing jiujitsu. “Don’t Tell the Press: Pope Francis Is Using Them,” she wrote at First Things. Though “nothing Francis actually said about homosexuality was new,” she said, what was remarkable was that “a pope is teaching the Christian faith, and the press is accurately quoting him, in blazing headlines that everyone will read.”
Never mind that “the secular press will do as much as they can to frame a pope’s words in ways that suit a preferred narrative,” said Scalia — they’re pagans, what do you expect? Francis, she said, had cleverly done as Sun Tzu advised in that famous theological treatise The Art of War — “take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions” — and was thus sneaking the One True Faith into the MSM. “At Gethsemane, imperfect Peter was told to sheath his sword,” concluded Scalia. “He learned that a long battle requires stealth, patience, and a willingness to take the long view.”
So lighten up, Douthat, Francis knows who the real enemy is — the Main Satan Media — and, as Scalia further explained at her own The Anchoress blog, had “neutralized the power of the media narrative,” and “set whatever ‘gay lobby’ exists in the church on notice that while he has no intention of acting as gay-priest-witch-hunter, he won’t tolerate a bloc acting against the interests of the church.” This Pope is kicking ass! “Francis is no fool,” she added. “He’s a man from South America who went against the Liberation Theology people in his own society, and paid a price for it.” Presumably Francis could have been Pope even sooner if it wasn’t for the opposition of the Pedro Arrupe lobby.
Indeed, Scalia thought Francis was working in even more mysterious ways than this: “I know some people are up in arms because he hasn’t used the word ‘abortion’ yet,” she said, but “…I think he’s going another route. When he jumps out of a jeep to kiss a deformed man, or asks — as he did in Rio — to be given a chance to meet and bless a ‘defective’ baby, it says everything the pro-life movement could possibly want him to say: God loves his creation; all life matters.” And the New York Times still doesn’t know what hit it!
At National Review Kathryn J. Lopez, who has been following the Pope closely — see for example this post on how, while Americans “drown in rhetoric about a ‘war on women’ Catholics and others are supposedly engaged in,” Francis was extolling the primacy of the Virgin Mary, touché — said “it’s hard to see anything he said this morning about homosexuality as a rift, but rather part of and consistent with a broader, all-encompassing renewal,” and that the Pope “seemed… to be talking about men who are priests, not seminary candidates.” After they die off, there’ll be no one left to be merciful to.
Also at National Review, Michael Potemra was put in mind of Jerry Falwell. “I remember back in the old days, Jerry Falwell used to interrupt his speeches against homosexuality with the statement, Don’t get me wrong, I love the homosexuals. The secular culture would roll its collective eyes, and think, What a lying creep Falwell is.” Damned secular culture! But Potemra “believed that he was sincere. He was either a) telling the literal truth, that he loved the gays, or b) saying what he was trying to make literally true (i.e., to the extent that, in the depths of his heart, he didn’t actually love the gays, he knew that this was a fault in him, that God wanted him to love the gays and that he needed to do better on this).” See, it was all a horrible misunderstanding.
“So along comes Pope Francis,” continued Potemra, “making the exact same basic point as Falwell and Ratzinger — but saying it in a way that breaks through the hostility that’s out there against the Christian message.” Maybe he’s a better liar?
Meanwhile another world leader was letting the world know how he felt about gay people — Vladimir Putin has been signing laws codifying Russia’s hostility toward them, including one that would subject gay visitors during the upcoming Winter Olympics to arrest. You won’t find many rightbloggers wondering over the meaning Putin’s words or actions, though, in part because they are very, very clear, and in part because they reflect their own.
And as for Christian values generally, it’s all well and good to talk about them from an anti-gay perspective, but many of what those of us raised in the faith were taught as its key precepts don’t have a natural rightblogger constituency. If you really bought all that Jesus stuff about helping the poor, for example, you probably wouldn’t be trying so hard to cut food stamps. Besides, everyone knows the Republican Party is heading toward a “libertarian populist” phase, in which the Good Book will be tossed over for Atlas Shrugged — or at least merged with it as a sort of New New Testament, in which the God of Love gives way to something a little easier to sell to the base.
Update 11 p.m.: Transposed a name, then fixed it. See if you can guess which!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 4, 2013