I’m seeing an increasing number of people who are worried that a dichotomy and opposition is being manufactured by the Father of Lies, working both through the press and through various sectarians, to the effect that “liberal” Francis is somehow going to be the antithesis of “conservative” Benedict. It’s crude and ridiculous, of course. But we are a crude and ridiculous people here in America, so that stuff plays.
In this fantasy world, Benedict (who was the author of Caritas in Veritate, recall) is supposed to have cared nothing for “social justice” while Francis is all about social justice.
Yeah. About that. Here’s the thing: Francis is not somebody who threatens the legacy of Benedict. Francis is somebody who threatens the legacy of neoconservatives and libertarians who are convinced they can, like George Weigel, just snip up the Church’s social teaching like Thomas Jefferson editing the New Testament. As Daniel Nichols, astutely notes, here are just two quotes from Francis that are already proving deeply threatening, not to Caritas In Veritate, but to the people described in Dale Ahlquist’s classic little essay, “The Trouble with Catholic Social Teaching“:
“When you pick up a volume of the social teaching of the Church you are amazed at what it condemns. For example, it condemns economic liberalism. Everyone thinks that the Church is against Communism, but it is as opposed to that system as it is to the savage economic liberalism which exists today. That is not Christian either and we cannot accept it. We have to search for equality of opportunities and rights, to fight for social benefits, a dignified retirement, holidays, rest, freedom for trade unions. All of these issues create social justice. There should be no have-nots and I want to emphasise that the worst wretchedness is not to be able to earn your bread, not to have the dignity of work.”
He also said, just the other day:
“And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!”
That last line in particular has caused some shrieks of panic, as well as head-patting condescension to the Pope over on FB. One insightful person was explaining that advocacy for the poor is satanic. Another mini-conclave convened to explain at great length that the hope for the poor lies in the rich, not in a pope (or presumably, a Messiah) who identifies with the poor and joins them in their poverty. Good to know. And that whole anti-war thing? Yeah. The total opposite of John “No more War. Never again war!” Paul II and Benedict, who coolly explained “Preventive War is not in the catechism” to the Americans led by Michael Novak who came to explain to the Pope his duty to support our glorious war in Iraq ten years ago.
Don’t buy the banana oil. There is remarkable continuity from JPII, through Benedict, to Francis. There is, however, going to be a bumpy road ahead for those trying to baptize Randian economics and the neoconservative devotion to war as the health of the state. The spin machines will have to go into overtime to try to square that circle.