Francis and Benedict are on the Same Page

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.

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  • Puspasari

    You’re right! Benedict and Francis are on the same page. They may have different personalities, Benedict is an introvert, while Francis, like JP2, is an extrovert person, they have a very different papacy styles, but their teachings are basically the same.

  • James H, London


    This has been a very Chestertonian time. When someone is criticised by one mob for not being one way, and by another for not being the opposite, it’s generally a very good sign.

  • Scott

    None of this squares with the purveyors of the prosperity gospel. It is a butt ugly heresy that is taking down a lot of so called Christians.

  • Dan C

    The body of faith in the Church is huge. Huge.

    We can start withh the four Gospels. In order for some Catholics to be at peace, they must be homogenized, but really they cannot.

    Benedict, who I love, looked at the Gospels and read, largely, Matthew and John, and his books reflect that. Quite frankly, he didn’t get Luke, a very different Gospel, written for the poor and reads that way. This is not a fault of Benedict, for only one man can experience God in so many ways. We will see in Francis focuses on Luke, but I suspect he understands the Christ who is manifest in the poor.

    Francis is in continuity with the Church, he differs from B16 and from JP2. I disagree that he is in continuity with both, but he is of the same Church and is likely to be very different. JP2 was very different and B16 was very very different than JP2.

    On the whole, I am highly sympathetic to his approach so far, care little for red shoes and such, and am delighted with a Gospel preached from the throne of Peter that so often mentions the poor. Even so, he has been on the job for a week and will be judged by much more than this week.

    Homogeneity is not a requirement for our faith. It is a requirement for belonging to the Bible Protestant Church at the end of the road, however the tremendous diversity of Saints demonstrates a diversity of faith expression and experiences of Christ.

    Really, get over it and let’s see what Francis is about.

    • Dustin

      You mention JP2 and B16. I feel, rather, that Francis is shaping up to be the Pope of Populorum Progressio. There’s an encyclical to strike terror into the neo-con heart.

  • Sean P. Dailey

    This is what you get when people can’t tell the difference between a Pope’s style and his beliefs.

    One thing: “One insightful person was explaining that advocacy for the poor is satanic.”


    • Scott W.

      Ayn Rand Catholicism?

    • Stu

      It’s like Colonel Flagg. He tells them he is with the CID so that they think he is with the CIA. Quite logical….I think.

  • Vickie

    Yes every one is trying to get their spin on things early. Just yesterday at AP (or Reuters) I forget which there was this Editorial masquerading as news comparing our emeritus Pope with Pope Francis about how remote the former and out of touch and wore red shoes and how the later gets out among people. But commenters set the story straight with facts: that Pope Benedict did mingle with the people, ride in an open car and lived simply while Cardinal. His social encyclical were explicit in teaching about justice for the poor. He just put an emphasis on Beauty. I am sure that his successor will feed the poor with more than just bread.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    I don’t understand all the red-shoes hate. They weren’t a symbol of extravagance by Benedict; they were a symbol that the pope stands on the blood of Christ and the martyrs, especially Peter.

    That said, I don’t see a big problem with Francis or JPII (the only popes in quite some time not to wear them , by the way) choosing not to wear the red shoes. They have their own reasons, and they should be respected. That’s a pretty good encapsulation of all of Francis’ practices: he has his reasons, and we should respect and try to understand them.

    But that doesn’t make the shoes or other symbols a bad thing.

    • Vickie

      Thanks Andy, I had never heard that about the symbolism of the red shoes. I thought maybe that he just liked shoes. So?….. i mean I am an orchid addict; that doesn’t mean that I wallow in extravagance otherwise.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        Also, the “Prada shoes” are a myth. They were made by an Italian cobbler.

  • EMS

    I was flabbergasted when I started reading comments about red shoes. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even realize the pope wore red shoes – I just don’t notice things like that – never mind what it supposedly means. After 12 years in Catholic schools, I can honestly say I never heard red shoes mentioned. And that is not because the nuns were dressed in pantsuits. I’m 61; I grew up attending Mass daily in church because that’s how the school day started. The convent was attached to the school and the church, and I sometimes was allowed to help out in the convent. The nuns in full habits were a joyful group, clearly in love with the Church and God. But somehow, red shoes seemed to have missed their attention, and I very much doubt that red shoes would be mentioned by them today. But I’m certain that Pope Francis’ love for the Eucharistic and for God’s children would be.

  • John

    I think what we see playing out in the media is some contrasts between B16 & F1. The media loves compare and contrast exercises. There’s usually some drama there. There are going to be those “commentators”, who are hoping for something that any reasonable person would expect from a man chosen to lead the Catholic Church. You just can’t expect the whole institution to flip on a dime, because you want it that way. A good friend of mine, who is involved in a same sex marriage, was hoping above hope that this Pope would speak to his issue. As someone who would like nothing more than to be accepted by his church, I guess I can’t blame him. But, that is hope…not, reality.

    With that said, I think there are definitely differences between the two men. F1 has, so far, demonstrated a lean to social justice through the choice of the name, his presentation and his attire. B16, I feel, was more “old school” from attire, overall presentation and choices of issues to pursue. Much more stoic man. I don’t think B16 did a great job of managing the internals of the Church, and feel that there may be some folks that have had power for far too long. And, I don’t believe he handled the sex abuse scandal appropriately.

    But, with that said, we all have things that are more important to us, and will pursue them as we see fit. I think it’s flawed to think that a Pope is any different. I think many of us feel that Francis, just through past performance will speak more to social justice. NOT that he doesn’t fulfill the duties, or speak towards, church doctrine.

  • Obpoet

    I think there is a C to E between them.

  • Luke

    To say Pope Benedict didn’t “get” the Gospel of Luke is risible. In fact, in God and the World he does state that John is his favorite Gospel followed closely by…….. wait for it ……. Luke. The Benedict bashing is getting ridiculous.

  • TMLutas

    The more philosophies that can be reconciled with the Church the better. Part of the problem with the social teaching is that, objectively, some purveyors of it get the economics the decide to use to implement the social teaching wrong. That error on their part has nothing to do with the deposit of faith and there is no obligation to follow them into the same error. The Church also does this occasionally with physics where a similar editing needs to take place. This editing process is different from being a cafeteria Catholic because there is a total acceptance of Christ’s message, just a rejection of flawed implementation methodologies that others have managed to latch on and falsely say that it is Christ’s message.

    To tell the difference between the two is admittedly tricky, especially if things are in early stages and a bit disorganized and inchoate. It would probably be helpful to organize some talking shops to explore and expand on conservative visions of social justice and the superiority of a hand up to a hand out in Catholic social justice terms as well as expositions on how government heavy style efforts have been poor carriers for Catholic social justice principles.

    I think that in the end what the Church is condemning is a world empty of Christ, empty of love. Economics of any stripe without love and compassion is pitiless and ugly. There is as little love and compassion there as there is inherently to a scalpel. What introduces love and compassion is a non-economic process.