Pope Francis Affirms there is “Dictatorship of Relativism”

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We are still getting to know Pope Francis, studying his actions and his words as we try to gauge the man and what sort of papacy we might expect of him, where his stylistic differences with his predecessors end and the substantial differences (or similarities) kick in. I expect a couple of heads will explode upon reading this in his remarks, today, to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See:

After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.

But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.

Somewhere, Notre Dame’s Richard McBrien has to be frustrated. It was McBrien, doing the pundit thing on some cable news channel in 2005, who suggested Joseph Ratzinger would “never” be elected pope because he was too polarizing, as demonstrated in his last homily as Cardinal Ratzinger, an exhortation to the world, and his fellow conclave-bound Cardinals, in which he said:

We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

That “dictatorship of relativism” line — which was spot-on, by the way — was hugely unpopular in some quarters, when Benedict uttered it, and resoundingly criticized as too “hard-line”, too insensitive to the notion that there are separate truths and personal realities, and that all most of them are equally valid (not the icky rad-trad ones). McBrien declared that in uttering those words, Ratzinger had blown any chance he might have had, of being pope.

And here is Pope Francis validating the phrase and the thought behind it. O Heavy Sigh and Facepalms, for some, today! O Light Sighs of agreement from others!

It’s a little amusing, I admit, but I expect the sighing will continue, on all sides, in turn — and in alternating measure — for quite a while, as I’m still convinced that Pope Francis is going to challenge all of us to let go of any of our comfortable notions — any idol of an idea held on to too dearly — in order to cling more dearly, more vulnerably, more tenderly and tenaciously, to Christ Jesus, alone.

Like the ditty goes, “I’m loving’ it!”

UPDATE: Writes John Allen:

. . .anyone who saw [Francis'] election as a repudiation of the broad philosophical and theological outlook of Benedict XVI probably has another think coming.

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Karen LH

    “Comfortable” … yes. I don’t think Francis is going to be a comfortable Pope. I keep thinking: “prophet”.

  • http://ktcatspost.blogspot.com/ K T Cat

    I loved the phrase when Pope Benedict said it and my heart is warmed to see Pope Francis keep on with it. Poverty is a marker of behavior as much as anything else and behavior should be guided by objective morality informed by truth. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  • http://truthseeker-lamont.blogspot.com Lamont

    I think it is important to point out that just because someone is a moral relativist does not mean that he or she cannot have strongly held moral values. A moral relativist believes that any society can create and enforce whatever moral laws it needs to function and survive. So if some people feel the need for a right to abortion, pornography, divorce, contraception, same sex marriage, etc. in order to pursue life and happiness as they see it, without the inconvenience and unpleasantness of having to deal with criticism and restrictions from those who disagree with them, then they also believe it is their right to silence their critics by any means necessary to achieve their goals.

    A nation that no longer respects Divine Law nor Natural Law is a nation in which there is no basis for any consensus as to what constitutes a good life or a good person. So it is that in a relativistic society there is no basis for any agreement between left and right, progressive and conservative, or secular and religious. There is only power politics and the principle that in a relativistic society might makes right.

    Contrary to the popular mythology, relativism does not produce pluralistic societies in which different people can all get along. In reality in produces totalitarian societies in which those in power impose their values on everyone else. Benedict and Frances are in complete agreement on the danger that relativism poses for the Catholic Church in particular and for western civilization in general.

  • http://arlinghaus.typepad.com bearing

    My mind is blown by the application of the idea of St. Francis, who became one of the poor, who ministered to the poor, who embraced their poverty…. to the spiritually poor.

    There is deep paradox here.

  • KM

    No matter who the Pope is…Divine Wisdom and TRUTH will always emanate from the Church via the Holy Spirit! And it is precisely this that they “don’t get.”

  • kmk

    This is great news. Thanks for keeping us informed, Elizabeth.

    Lamont, well said, thank you as well.

  • YouGoAnchoress

    I love the nod to his “much-loved predecessor.” Another great expression of unity!

  • Birthday girl

    Mother Teresa said it long ago. She said she never saw a society more poor than the rich countries of the West. And she said that spiritual poverty is far more horrible than material poverty. We here in America have that in piles.

  • Lauren (LPatter)

    LOVING it. Both/And Catholicism at its best. I am SURE JPII and BXVI approve. He is a rock star. Rock on rocking the world, Pope Francis!

    (And thanks, Anchoress, for keeping us updated with great insights to boot!)

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  • Advocate

    Pope Francis cites Pope Benedict: The hermeneutic of continuity in action. Grazie, Papa!

  • Marv

    Ah yes, Anchoress, “dictatorship of relativism” is that like defending Rudy Gulianni and being an apologist for his pro-abortion and pro-gay stands – at least when he was heir apparent to the Republican nomination and thought to be able to win the election?



    “Dictatorship of republican relativism” = We must put our Republicanism above our Catholicism.

    Wow, waited a long time for a chance to do that, did you? Happily I’ve evolved. You can trace the trajectory of my evolution pretty clearly if you go all the way through my archives. Heck I’m not a member of any political party, anymore. How’s your evolution, going on the mercy front? All of that said, if you want to rehash my argument, it was that having a “pro-life” president (as we did with W) did nothing to end abortion and never could, so it was more important to elect a president who would be a trustworthy enough constitutionalist to appoint a SCOTUS justice who would do the right thing. That’s still a valid argument, and a fair-minded person would understand that my end result was to bring about something wholly within church teaching: the end of abortion. But whatever. You keep hating, if you like it. -admin]

  • Yae

    When Papa Francis spoke of poverty and of being poor, I understood what he meant. I understood that not only is there great suffering in the poor, who have no fresh water or food, but I reflected also on myself and my lack of charity and richness in proclaiming Christ to my neighbor, thus his use of the word poor clarified for me, my lack of faith and my own spiritual poverty.
    I hope to grow rich in mercy, rich in faith, and rich in hope. I pray for the grace to follow more faithfully the examples that have been set forth by our new Holy Father and those of his precious predecessors.
    Let us rejoice then as we strive to walk the royal road! Let us all pray for tomorrow, Saturday, will be a day of hope and joy since Papa Francis will meet with Papa Benedict! A very happy thought indeed!

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    No matter how little money I may have, I am not poor because I have faith and love for my fellow humans and that ability to love and care and hope is wealth beyond measure. I have high hopes for this Pope and must admit, he had me at one smile from him! So humble, so sincere, so much what we need in a spiritual leader.

  • Chris-2-4

    “anyone who saw [Francis'] election as a repudiation of the broad philosophical and theological outlook of Benedict XVI probably has another think coming.”


  • Clare Krishan

    I’ve been engaged in edit-combat on wikipedia all afternoon, trying to get the story behind the Pallottine martyrs to “stick”
    (and having it redacted into oblivion over and over and over again, — if at first you don’t success, try, try again right a la Romans 3 – suffering produces perseverance which produces character — I’m patient 70 times 7 is the standard the Lord set, right?) and connect it to the for some increíble perseverence and for many asombroso character of our new Holy Father – one of the brutally murdered priests, Fr Alberto Kelly, was his spiritual director. To this day, the crime has never been solved. Also as a British citizen I have a heightened awareness of the equilibrado balancing act of discretion involved in his episcopal work in the 80s, when CHile and Argentine almost went to war, until Pope JPII stopped the two military dictators from mutually assured destruction, see here
    (if its still there, check the version history if not)
    Pls pray for him: the huge undeveloped oil reserves of the Antarctic oceans are still subject to powerful special interests seeking to exploit them. Cardinal Chaputs remarks on Iraq aren’t just poignant, they’re very prescient for our role in avoiding a repeat of the misery of pursuing narrow national interests at the expense of truth, justice and peace.

  • Clare Krishan

    More on 5 martyred Pallottine Fathers whose cause for beatification has been opened and promoted by then Cardinal Bergoglio now Pope Francis

  • Victor

    It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God, and His Holiness Pope Francis also continued saying that the opposite is also true: It is not possible to establish true links with God while ignoring other people but there is no true peace without truth so what is “Truth” many of U>S (usual sinners) are asking NOW!

    Anchoress! Long story short, I agree with His Holiness when he says in so many words that we Christians should try to all become like Saint Francis but that seems impossible for human being who believe that GOD (God Old Dad) wants each “ONE” of His Children to be happy all the time.

    There’s times when I start to believe that His Children are really not of this world and that we are simply here to learn how to use our “Words” and long story short, we Adam and Eve children of GOD really do have a chance to become perfect also like GOD after we die for Eternity if only we humans succeed to learn to do GOD’s WILL but “IT” is not that easy when many of U>S don’t know where to look “IT” UP http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s27GtfEeGnw NOW.

    Worst of all what do we do when we find out that all our problems have been caused by http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_tfgNlzh5s crazy men, while woman continue to suffer at their hands NOW?

    Then again there are some woman and men who work together and convince U>S (usual sinners) to go after http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRjEdjKTx3M who are The Rich which can cause a panic with these rich people who are not all that bad are they NOW?

    I better close by thinking positive and say that I believe that we’re all “ONE” Day closer to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtPKI43TEiE “ONE Day” knowing GOD’s Plan!


  • Yae

    I am passing this wonderful link along since I think the pictures posted are a wonderful testimony to Divine Providence and the joy and holy humor that comes with it. I hope those who take time to check them out will be rewarded with a smile and a lighter spring in their step.

  • Clare Krishan

    Thank you for this Yae – the various pundits in their bubbles around our Holy Father made me chuckle – until I imagined my own tendency to “pontificate” and was humbled!

  • Clare Krishan

    Anchoress my comment re:Wikipedia edits is on hold for moderation – are the URLs “excess to requirements” ?