#TrollSoHard Pastoring

#TrollSoHard Pastoring July 17, 2014

In the magnificent cathedral, the Honorable and Right Reverend, the elect favorite of the fashionable world, appears before an elect company and preaches with emotion upon the text he himself choose: ‘God hath chosen the base things of the world, and the things that are despised.’ 

And nobody laughs.”

– Soren Kierkegaard

Here we go again. Pope Francis gave another interview. A bunch of people are unhappy that the Pope gives interviews, particularly conservative Catholics. But here’s a few points I would like to make.

First, there seems to be something strange as to how everyone is behaving as though a Pope’s comments being badly phrased / misinterpreted / taken out of context is an entirely new phenomenon attributable to Francis. In the Benedict era, a friend of mine in France who originally started out as a political blogger is now mostly known as a religious blogger because he spent so much time criticizing the media for talking out of their own behind in re: the Supreme Pontiff. In the minds of many conservative Catholics, the difference in evaluation seems to be that 100% of the Benedict Misperception is the fault of the media because Benedict is perfect and free of all sin original and actual and the media hate the Church, whereas the Francis Misperception is Francis’s fault because (take your pick) he is an imbecile who cannot string words together OR a closet Episcopalian who is sending out smoke signals to the progressive commandos waiting to storm the Vatican. I think I am being only slightly uncharitable.

Whenever Francis says something that confuses everyone, there seems to be two Party Lines:

  • The line of the Progressive Party and the Traditionalist Party (and when those two agree on something, you know there’s trouble), which is that Francis is a closet progressive who is actively and deviously sapping the foundations of Catholic doctrine.
  • The line of the Conservative Party, which is that Francis is an orthodox Catholic, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing and just keeps putting his foot in his mouth.

I would like to propose a third option: Francis is an orthodox Catholic who knows exactly what he’s doing.

As evidence that Francis knows exactly what he’s doing, I would submit the tremendous success of his PR campaign, his extensive experience of media and church management, and also the fact that he’s a Jesuit, and Jesuits are always playing three-dimensional chess.

As evidence that Francis is an orthodox Catholic, I would submit, even bracketing a few sentences in a few interviews, everything he has said, done and written in his entire life.

What I would submit Francis is doing is that he is communicating Church teaching in a way that is purposefully shocking, both for evangelical purposes and for the purpose of teaching the faithful.

In this, he has a great precedent: none other than Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus preached, he did not deliver theological lectures. He spoke in ways–this is undoubtable–that were purposefully hyperbolic and shocking to the sensibilities of his audience. When he denounces hypocrisy, he doesn’t offer some mealy-mouthed reflection on hypocrisy he talks about beams in the eye (ouch!). He talks about hating your parents. He calls people a brood of vipers–how much more vivid and insulting can you get? He tells people to sell everything they own. This was clearly an element of Jesus’ “style”: he shocked people not only by the things he said, although that was certainly part of it, he also shocked people by the manner in which he said it. He not only didn’t try to sugarcoat it, he made it as shocking as he could. And he was quite deliberate about it.

I love the fact that the Church has one of the most complex and subtle doctrines around. The world is complex, and therefore so is navigating it. And God gave us reason for a reason, which is to use it, and so it is to the glory of God that we build these great doctrinal and theological edifices.

We Christians are, in the word of Soren Kierkegaard, a band of scheming swindlers, who are very good at domesticating the Gospel, very good at sanding off its rough edges. Because we are Good Christians, we do not spit on it, no, no, instead we just go to very great lengths to convince ourselves that it doesn’t require what it plainly requires.

Again, I love the theological subtlety of the Church, but I sometimes wish bishops and priests spoke less in dissertations and more in vivid, shocking images.

I dunno, like this, for example:

Naked did you not drop from the womb? Shall you not return again naked to the earth? Where have the things you now possess come from? If you say they just spontaneously appeared, then you are an atheist, not acknowledging the Creator, nor showing any gratitude towards the one who gave them. But if you say that they are from God, declare to us the reason why you received them. Is God unjust, who divided to us the things of this life unequally? Why are you wealthy while that other man is poor? Is it, perhaps, in order that you may receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship, and in order that he may be honored with great prizes for his endurance? But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.

That’s from Saint Basil the Great (hat tip), Church Father, Doctor of the Church, and according to many Church historians the greatest bishop in the history of the Church.

The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry!

What do you think Rush Limbaugh would say to that?

Is Basil a pinko commie??


“Of course not! He just misspoke, that’s all.”

Give me a break.

Basil knew exactly well what he was doing, which was to shock his flock out of their complacency to recall them to the Gospel.

Take Francis famous comment re: homosexuality, saying of gay Christians who seek God with a sincere heart, “Who am I to judge?” I continue to view it as a masterstroke.

Francis wasn’t just doing a savvy PR play, reminding the world that the Church welcomes all people, although he most certainly was doing that; I believe he was also teaching Catholics. He was not only not overturning traditional Catholic doctrine, he was restoring it to its fullness, which is the taking into account of the whole person and the emphasis on mercy and humility. Yes, in fact, if a gay person is Christian and struggling, and seeking God with a sincere heart, you should not judge them. In fact, this is also true of straight Christians. Saying this in no way abrogates any law or teaching. For the Pope himself to reiterate that only God is judge, that no man may judge another man, even the Vicar of Christ, that is a wonderful teaching moment for the Church.

I could go through all his headline-making statements, but I don’t have the heart here.

The point is this: by challenging us, but using provocative formulations, Francis is (a) being very deliberate; (b) being very orthodox; (c) being a good pastor and teacher by provoking us when he needs to. This is what a good pastor should be–provocative, pushing us, challenging us.

Of course, this pushing and challenging, if it is done well, is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable, and sometimes it can seem unseemly. It is particularly unseemly if you view the Church not as the Body of Christ into which we grow in holiness, but as a political party engaged in a political contest for domination of the society–in which case, your main spokesman speaking off-message is a catastrophe. It is also unseemly if you have a quasi-Pelagian view of the world, whereby the Christian life is not fundamentally about union with God revealed in Christ crucified and risen, but fundamentally about obedience to rules and obtention of rewards by our own works; then anything that says anything about rules other than battening on them will seem dangerous. (Although Benedict had a very different style, trust me, he would agree with every word here.)

I don’t think anyone can deny that Francis’s PR campaign has been massively successful. But people think of it in terms of the Church’s image to the world. I also think he has been a very good pastor and teacher to his own flock. And I believe inside the Church too, he has been a successful teacher.

“Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ… Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians.”

Joseph Ratzinger

Image: Jesus teaching in the Temple, by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bravo!

  • Francis Manion

    I’d like to propose yet another way of looking at what Francis is doing: he’s trying to save the soul of Eugenio Scalfari. Many of us squirm and fret and wonder aloud “why is the Pope even talking to this crazy old atheist enemy of the Church?” Pope Francis, on the other hand, sees only a soul in need of salvation and sees that God has placed him in a unique position to be the instrument of His salvific grace. Jesuits are famous for braving oceans, jungles, deserts,forests, etc. to secure the salvation of a single human being. I think Francis – true Jesuit that he is – is willing to brave making some of us nervous in order to bring Scalfari home safe. Remember, Jesuits like Francis actually believe all this stuff about Heaven, Hell, sin, damnation, and salvation. Compared with the chance to gain for Christ the soul of one single Eugenio Scalfari, the risk of temporarily upsetting a billion Catholics is truly nothing. Even if his whole legacy as Pope were to be tarnished tarnished by his “sloppiness” or “carelessness” in making off the cuff or imperfectly vetted statements, I suspect Francis won’t care a fig if that’s the price of rejoicing someday with Scalfari among the blessed. Let’s just do what he always asks and pray for him.

    • I have also had that thought. Thank you very much for this comment.

    • Ken

      Well said. I’m becoming more and more concerned about the church in the US. Everyone seems to be judging the teaching of the church through the viewpoint of their political party.

      Hello! We’re supposed to be bringing the church to the world. We don’t cater to conservatives or liberals. One of the reasons conservatives are getting mad at the Pope is because he’s reaching out to liberals. Conservatives have convinced themselves that they should hate these people with such white hot intensity that they aren’t even worthy of the charity and love of the church.

      I would say that Pope Francis could and should do these interviews but he could lay down some ground rules like recording them so if there is a misinterpretation the church would have proof of what he actually said.

  • I think it is true that most major media outlets have only two stories that they want to report about popes: 1, Bold reformer reinvents Roman Catholicism in the image of liberal Protestantism, and 2. Blinkered reactionary hunkers down, driving bold reformers to contemplate schism.

    In reality, neither of these things ever happens. Not that some popes aren’t more reform-minded than others, but it’s always more complicated than that. Journalism sticks with these narratives, though, because journalism is the business of news- new things. Popes base their claim to legitimacy, it on the news, but on the olds, on the idea of continuity. If Francis is basically the same as Benedict, who was basically the same as John Paul II, and so on, then there’s no need to make haste to be the first to get the breaking reports from the Vatican bureau.

    So it’s only fair to concede that press coverage of the papacy is sometimes badly distorted. Because many of these distortions are predictable, it is natural that people will sometimes grow frustrated with the press for misrepresenting popes for whose reigns they have great hopes. It is equally natural that people who have low expectations of a particular pope will grow frustrated with him if they see evidence that he is being careless in his public statements. I don’t disagree with your point, I have seen many examples of precisely the double standard you criticize. I’m only saying it’s understandable that people would react like this.

  • You lost me at “Francis is an Orthodox Catholic…”
    If Francis is an Orthodox Catholic then President Obama is a member of the Tea Party.

    • claycosse

      I’m curious to hear what it is he’s said, written, or done that you think is not orthodox.

    • Petey

      what a helpful, clearly argued post.

  • claycosse

    Great post, brother PEG. That St. Basil quote stopped me in my tracks. That is truly a classic. Shocking people just like Christ did.

    I really just do not understand why “traditional” or “conservative” Catholics (whatever those are) get so nervous about Francis, or why “progressive” or “liberal” Catholics and the secular world get so excited about him. I think you answered the question–he like Christ, wants to shock people.

    I think part of it is also that they judge him only on Pope Francis’s track record. They forget (or ignore) his track record as Jorge Bergoglio, which is radically just and radically merciful–i.e. orthodox. Catholic. Christian. This is not to say that his track record as Pope Francis is ambiguous. It’s just that there’s less of it, so it’s easier to graft onto it your own agenda/spin/insecurities when he says something shocking. When you view Francis in light of Bergoglio, the narratives you describe are ludicrous. Personally, I think even Francis viewed solely in light of Francis (and what we know about Holy Mother Church) is 100% orthodox.

  • Mike Blackadder

    I really like this post, and I definitely often think about the challenges that Francis poses for me as a conservative Catholic and that this reads so much like Jesus’ words throughout the gospels.

    There’s a point though where I remove the rose colored glasses. When Francis identified ‘trickle down’ as a major obstacle to Christian morality he’s not elevating the dialog to anything approaching the wisdom of Christ or of the Popes preceding him.

    And I’m waiting for when Francis’ controversial remarks are going to make progressive Catholics feel uncomfortable. I’m not saying that he needs to plant himself in the middle. He should plant himself firmly in ‘the right’. However, while Francis is making conservatives uncomfortable for their political affiliation he makes excuses for progressives despite their position on abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage in that we are too obsessed with ‘small-minded rules’ and the identification of sin.
    ‘Catholic progressives are wondering if we’re dreaming and going to wake up soon.’- John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life

    • claycosse

      How is he making excuses for progressives on those issues? I ask because I don’t know and am not sure what you’re referring to, Mike.

      • Mike Blackadder
        • claycosse

          It’s hilariously ironic that you’d link the National Catholic Reporter as your source for questioning Francis’s orthodox chops. They’re not exactly the bastion of orthodoxy. I’m just giving you a good natured ribbing, brother Mike. But seriously, stay the hell away from the Reporter.

          I ask you though, is Francis really making excuses for progressives on the big three issues? Or is he saying simply that we are all created in God’s image and likeness, and that God loves us all? And that he doesn’t love Clay the faithfully married husband more than so and so, the openly gay, living in sin person? I.e. our rewards may be different in the afterlife, but our worth as human persons is the same.

          Another question: you said “And I’m waiting for when Francis’ controversial remarks are going to make progressive Catholics feel uncomfortable.” I guarantee I’m as orthodox as you are, brother, but why does this upset you? It’s like the parable of the workers in the field. Why does it upset you if the Pope seems (emphasis on that word) to be treating “progressives,” “liberals,” or those who don’t follow the Church’s teaching with more mercy? Is it really your problem if your fellow laborers get the same wage for only working half the day? Who cares if he makes people on the right uncomfortable, but not those on the left?

          Like he says, the Church’s teaching on these issues is not changing, and it’s made the “left” plenty uncomfortable for a very long time. Maybe he just wants to lure them in with the sweet stuff instead of continuing to beat them over the head with our teachings on the big three issues. Then, once we get them in, we spring the trap–it’s been the same Christian faith all along, suckers! But by that time they’re so in love with the Church’s message of love and mercy that they can’t leave!

          • Ken

            To me, Francis is saying that the we are made for so much more than just being against abortion, birth control, gay marriage etc… We’re supposed to be against these things. It’s expected. I think that the reason “conservatives” are so upset about him because they think that is the end of their religion. All we have to do is be against a set of things that we might not ever be tempted by.

            Francis is taking us out of our comfort zone. Thank God for that. Only a person who really loves you does that. They push you to be better than you ever thought you could be.

            Today he called the leaders of Israel and Palestine to suspend their fighting. He cares for more than just us in the church he loves and protects people all over the world. Thank God for Pope Francis. I pray for him everyday.

          • Mike Blackadder

            I realize that we can read Francis’ remarks in a positive light. I’m only making the point that on the one hand we are not to politicize our religious views by lobbying Congress to condemn abortion and to support a traditional definition of marriage or at the very least we should ‘cool it a bit’, but if you don’t support socialist tax policy then you are morally deficient and in need of correction to your views.

            The point I’m making is that while Francis challenges conservatives to assess their views he brings comfort to the progressive Catholic on every issue. So one possible alternate explanation is that ideologically Francis is a committed leftist. He’s a man, and other men feel strongly in their conviction of how the world needs to change, so it isn’t as though he’s not allowed to have opinions. At the same time, like any other man those opinions will be open to criticism from others.

          • claycosse

            I’m flattered that my reference to the parable made you think. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, brother Michael. The Holy Spirit is at work in interactions like this.

            I don’t think that Francis has said we can’t lobby Congress and oppose those things. I think he’s saying that on a personal level, it’s a better idea to talk first about the Gospel’s core message: love the Lord your God before all else, love your neighbor as yourself, and love your enemies/pray for those who persecute you. I mean what’s a better way to build a relationship? “Hi brother Mike, God loves you and I love you,” or “Mike, abortion, birth control, and SSM are wrong”?

            Think about football–you learn blocking and tackling long before you start learning the nuances of your playbook. If our fellow brothers in Christ don’t know the core of the Gospels, it’s premature and counterproductive to start talking about the more complex issues. And anyway the core of the Gospels–if it is truly and knowingly believed and accepted–will inevitably lead to the correct conclusions on the more complex issues.

            Socialist tax policies? See my comments above re: unfettered capitalism. The oppression of totalitarianism was yesterday’s problem. I think the oppression of unfettered capitalism is today’s problem. And if you like workplace safety and child labor laws, then you, like Francis, are against unfettered capitalism.

            On tax issues specifically, I don’t recall Francis taking a position in favor of socialist tax policies. Taking the issue out of the political, though, doesn’t being Christians require those of us who have to redistribute to those who have not? Of course.

            I don’t agree that he’s trying to bring comfort to the left more than the right. He smacked the liberation theology guys in Argentina hard enough that I don’t think he deserves to be called a leftist. And think of the initial point of the article. Christ didn’t come to bring comfort to the right–“not peace but a sword.” Comfort is for those who mourn, not for Christian warriors like us, brother Mike.

          • Mike Blackadder

            Thanks claycosse, this is very good and helpful. I’m coming around to a more healthy appreciation of Francis (which is maybe surprisingly full circle from where I started). There is a good deal of misrepresentation of what Francis actually preaches and when this is coupled with the discomfort of the truth in what he says many of us jump to conclusions sometimes for emotional (and certainly prideful) reasons.

            I think that it’s important to recognize the sheer volume of Vatican corrections to popular and incorrect interpretations from the media during Francis’ papacy. It isn’t as though there is no attempt to correct these falsehoods, it’s just that anti-Catholic and/or progressive media has broad influence, and Francis doesn’t allow this to dissuade him from talking to anyone and anybody no matter how deep the subject matter (which is not something I’d wish to change about him). Though it isn’t only the media’s fault it’s also bloggers and fellow Catholics who broadcast their concerns in public forums which only perpetuates a shallow rendition of Francis’ message. This is why upon reflection that I felt I should remove a couple of the comments that I had posted in this thread.

            I don’t know that ‘unfettered capitalism’ is the only legitimate characterization of what is often actually the collusion of government in markets (for political reasons) or the arbitrariness of regulation and taxation that actually promotes unfairness. There is more than one angle to consider in terms of problems of market speculation, large corporate influence or oligarchy and dignified work opportunity. It’s not so much about promoting ‘unfettered’ capitalism as it is promoting objectivity, fairness and effective markets.

            “Comfort is for those who mourn, not for Christian warriors like us, brother Mike.”
            I concur and God bless you, it’s been a pleasure.

          • claycosse

            Back at you my brother. I don’t think you should delete any of your comments. It’s all been a part of our healthy discourse. On the capitalism tip, sure, objectivity, fairness, and effective markets are good. But as Christians, good isn’t good enough. We’re called to be perfect. I’m thinking Chesterton’s Distributism and the New Distributism that PEG, the author of this blog, writes about. Maybe stuff like that is how we strive to be perfect.

          • Mike Blackadder

            Thank you. I meant to say more in my last comment and explain that I’m not an unfettered Capitalist guy anyway. I think that I read PEG’s first post on New Distributism. I will have to check out the rest!

          • claycosse

            I didn’t get an unfettered capitalism vibe. I just need to chill out sometimes.

          • Mike Blackadder

            claycosse, thanks for your reply. I’ll take your word for it about the Reporter. I love the reference to the parable of workers in the field. Definitely an illuminating perspective in accepting Francis and the faith with more humility.

            You asked ‘why does this upset you’? I’m going to think about that more before replying.

          • Mike Blackadder

    • Ken

      When you say he should plant himself “in the right.” do you mean politically or in the right in truth?

      • Mike Blackadder

        The latter of course. 😉

        • Ken

          Got it. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Seth


  • claycosse

    PEG, I re-read your post on hiring people in same-sex marriages. I mostly agree, but what about those in charge of religious education. I ask because the school at my parish has an openly gay (in a relationship and cohabitating) principal. I get that as a business person and a sinner I have no grounds, per the Church’s teaching, for discriminating against gay people. But doesn’t a Catholic school, the mission of which is largely catechesis/faith formation, need to demand that its principal not live in open/unrepentent sin? I mean, there’s a difference between living in sin unrepentently (which I realize includes heterosexual cohabitation as well as same sex cohabitation/sex) and my own sexual sin, which I struggle with and try to fight and as to which I have a firm purpose of amendment? I’d love your thoughts on this in the comments or a post.

  • jeanvaljean24601

    Wonderful meditation.
    (Bet you get smacked by more Traditionalists and Conservatives than Progressives. Their worldview seems to depend on attack and response as much as a fencing master. Or Ann Coulter.)

    • claycosse

      I loved the post too, and I don’t want to get into a traditional/conservative versus progressive/liberal debate, but to take one example, the SSA/marriage proponents are constantly on the attack. Anyone who doesn’t approve of SS marriage or sex is a bigot. Which is not to say that the traditional/conservative side is not also constantly on the attack. I’m sure you’d agree that both sides are guilty of it, and it isn’t very Christian.

      • jeanvaljean24601

        I do agree, indeed. Everyone has their own (absolutely correct, of course) version of what is truly orthodox, and what is heresy. And nobody seems to be willing to forgive or forego the “debate”.
        (If I seem to pick on T and C more than P, it is probably because I hang out [or troll, some might say] more around places where the T and C are likely to show up in com boxes. Go figure.)

        • claycosse

          Ha! Superlative! We can be friends!

          It’s fun to troll sometimes and some people are beyond our help via internet chat boards, but we always need to be careful to win the debate at the expense of losing the soul.

          /dismounts soapbox

          • jeanvaljean24601

            “Not to”… not to win the debate at the expense of losing the soul… lousy keyboard, always ellipsising things

  • I think if you wish to impress the RadTrads, you need to go back to Pope Pius IX, Prisoner of the Vatican, who gave some really awful interviews in his day, when taken out of context.

    BTW, when did the word “judge” come to mean “oppose my point of view”?

  • BTP

    Except, instead of insisting that each of us has a responsibility toward the poor, Francis insists the system that supports the natural right to property is counter to the gospel.

    So that vexes me. I’m vexed by it and I don’t feel bad expressing my vexed state. Nor do I think that makes me a closet Pelagian or a person who conflates the GOP with Jesus of Nazareth — much as _some_ people would prefer to toss out spiritual diagnoses like they were beads at Mardi Gras.

    • claycosse

      I’m confused–he’s publicly said that this needs to be a Church of the poor. He sneaks out of his apartment at night to feed the poor. Why do you suggest that he hasn’t insisted that each of us has a responsibility toward the poor? The Church has always taught this. It’s both/and, though. Much of John Paul II’s time was devoted to bringing down extreme leftism, communism, probably because that was the more imminent threat at his time. Now the whole world is capitalist and unfettered capitalism threatens to grind people into a fine powder. He’s never said that capitalism is bad, only unfettered capitalism. Do you like things like workplace safety and child labor laws? Do you dislike things like insider trading and monopoly? If so, then you too are against unfettered capitalism, and I think you agree with Francis more than you disagree.

      • BTP

        You are correct, of course, to note that the Holy Father has been an extraordinary example of personal responsibility toward the poor. I should have been more careful.

        I think the complaint may be better expressed by the worry that His Holiness seems to think, as you do, that the whole world is capitalist and that the current, more-or-less global system we have now is something like unfettered capitalism.

        Let me just point out that the groups who are capitalists par excellence — your Austrian economists, free-marketeers of various stripes, acolytes of Ayn Rand (shhhhh!), etc., think of this current system as anything _except_ unfettered capitalism. You might care to familiarize yourself with these criticisms from these types.

        So, the irritation is more that the Pope feeds the idea that capitalism _needs_ fetters, when the system we have is a rigged, excessively fettered system. The constraints that do exist are in place mostly to reward the politically-connected and the solution is _fewer_ of these rules. Complaining about unfettered capitalism mis-diagnoses both the problem and the solution.

        • claycosse

          Your first paragraph really addresses my point. No worries.

          I do think the whole world is capitalist and that our system is global, but I mentioned a few forms of fetters that our system (some of our systems) have that are good, like child labor laws.

          Haven’t we seen more or less unfettered capitalism–like industrial revolution, pre-worker safety laws, pre-antitrust, pre-financial regulation? There were good reasons for all those types of regulation. Now, whether all these “fetters” accomplished what they were intended to or just rigged the system is another question. I’d say some have more or less accomplished what they set out to do, like child labor, worker safety, and antitrust. Financial regulation… that’s above my pay grade as a gratuitous Patheos commenter.

          My point is, I don’t think our system is unfettered, and I mentioned some of the fetters that we have. If we could get the developing economies to embrace some of those fetters, I think the world would be a better place.

          Again, though, on the financial regulations, maybe they do rig the system and foster corruption. I don’t think that means regulation is wrong and unfettered capitalism is ideal. Maybe it is, but the ideal seldom translates to where the rubber meets the road. You mentioned Ayn Rand. I don’t think ethical egoism is consistent with Christianity and I personally wouldn’t hitch my ethical wagon to her, though maybe you were just invoking them to make the point that the current system has been criticized for being too fettered.

          So I don’t think our current system is unfettered. I do think capitalism needs fetters, and I cite child labor, worker safety, and antitrust laws as my evidence. I think these laws and the conditions that brought them about demonstrate pretty clearly that some fetters are necessary. I also posit that the invisible hand just doesn’t pass the smell test. If we don’t protect ourselves and our brothers and sisters, are MNCs going to do it out of sheer magnanimity?

          • BTP

            Couple points. First, if we agree that the current system is not ‘unfettered capitalism,’ then what in the heck is the Holy Father talking about? Did Paul Ryan come out in favor of allowing cobalt dumping in the local water supply, and I just missed it?

            Anyway, there is an extensive (exhaustive, really) economics literature on managing externalities — the problems that happen when somebody wants to put his slaughterhouse across the street from you. If the conversation is mostly about that, then nobody on the planet is in disagreement with the idea of restraints from some government.

            I hold no illusions about the niceness of MNCs, I hope you don’t hold such illusions about the niceness of government. Finally, I’d say that in a world where Walmart is not allowed to open their ugly stores in some neighborhoods specifically because of concerns with the overall quality of life… well, let’s just say we’re in no danger of the capitalist apocalypse any time soon.

          • claycosse

            I think I agree with everything you’re saying, though I had to google “managing externatlities,” in all honesty (I believe in the internet honor system)!

            As far as what the Holy Father was getting at, I think it’s not a boolean thing. It’s not, this system has fetters, so it’s ok, or “fetters are right,” or “fetters are wrong.” There’s a constant struggle between and among various actors for and against fetters of various different kinds, good and bad, right?

            Through most of the 20th century, socialism and communism were seen as the biggest threat to the dignity of the human person and the family and the Church. Now, less so. Now, the whole world is capitalist. I think the Holy Father was cautioning against erosions of the good restraints, of the ebb of good restraints and the flow of corporate power.

            I definitely hold no illusions about the good of government. We need to protect the dignity of the human person, the family, and the Church from it every bit as much as from MNCs. Often, we need to protect ourselves from both acting in concert to crush the little guy, to your point about corruption.

  • Antiphon411

    “I don’t think anyone can deny that Francis’s PR campaign has been massively successful.”

    By what measure? Are conversions up? Are vocations? Is Mass attendance? More people going to confession? Do more people believe in the Real Presence? Is the use of contraceptives down among Catholics?

    By what measure has his PR campaign been successful? What does that even mean? Francis’s PR campaign is successful because he got a picture of his face on Rolling Stone? Was Our Lord’s PR campaign a failure because He got His Body hung on a cross?

    • Have to agree with this. A lot of his popularity has come from the secular press misinterpreting what he says as in line with their views. Then when he explains himself, it vanishes till the next statement. He’s actually done little to nothing to change things.

      And he has to be careful with trolling the faithful. There’s reminding of the balance of the gospel, and there’s sowing doubts in what he really believes. I think some of the conservative concern about him is that he’s one PR gesture away from revealing beliefs that might cause serious issues in the church.

    • Mike Blackadder

      I agree. Successful according to what measure? Being popular on the terms of the secular world might not ordinarily be measured as success for one who walks with Christ. What Francis is doing is a long game though. You can’t judge the REAL success in terms of vocations, mass attendance, holiness as something that should happen immediately.

      • Antiphon411

        Duly noted regarding the long game, but how does more Liberalism help solve things? How does more Spirit of V2 help? Benedict’s recognition of the power of Tradition was bearing fruit within a few years. Do we have time any more for the long game? I guess Francis has read the Third Secret of Fatima and I have not. Perhaps we have all the time in the world, thought the signs suggest otherwise to this observer.

        • Mike Blackadder

          I can’t hold anyone responsible to change hearts by snapping their fingers, but you are right that it is always of the highest urgency to do so because souls are lost every day. I can’t answer whether more Liberalism or Spirit of V2 is helpful or not. I really can’t. I’m not an expert on V2, and can’t partition every problem facing the body of Christ down the lines of liberalism/conservatism.

  • Jim Dailey

    I concur absolutely with the sentiments in this post. Francis is playing a brilliant game of three dimensional chess against the agnostic, secular, Catholic-hating media. As far as I can tell, Francis is ahead by about 100-0.

    I can really get behind Francis, his message and his mission.

    However, the liberal/progressive people are, in my limited experience, ham-handed administrators who unintentionally do much more harm than good. And the media is brutal on the Body of Christ, even when well meaning errors are made.

    I hate to say this, but –

    I hold the liberal/progressive types fundamentally responsible for the child abuse crisis. I do not think it was a bunch of hard-ass Conservative Catholics who admitted these people to the priesthood in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. I do not think it was a bunch of hard-ass Conservative Catholics who thought the abusers could be healed or redeemed, or should be given a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance.

    I do hate to say this as I invariably find that the hardass wing of the Church is pretty uncharitable and inflexible. Their vision and communication of Catholicism is sort of an anti-evangelism, and frankly, most of their blogs sound exactly like a bunch of pharisees sitting around shooting the breeze. If the Church had been left in the hands of people like this, the Church never would have made it out of Jerusalem. They would have demanded that all the Gentiles get circumcised and that would have been the end of it.

    This is like watching Mom and Dad fight.

    • Petey

      the child abuse crisis began well before the 60s. just ask anyone of a certain age in Ireland or Canada.

      • Jim Dailey

        I do not doubt that there were cases of child abuse before 1960. However, I think that what I probably improperly refer to as the “liberal” mindset that took over a certain portion of the Church post-Vatican 2 allowed for “tolerance” of these people (i.e a second, third or fourth “chance”), a mindset that said child-molesters could be “cured”, and further, a relaxation of the idea that sex outside of marriage is a grave sin.

        • Petey

          I wrote a reply to this then disqus crushed me. I’ll try again anon.

          • Petey

            “cases of”
            please. the Ryan report (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commission_to_Inquire_into_Child_Abuse) starts documenting from 1936. fr gerald fitzgerald reported to bishops in 1952 and again in 1957 that pederastic priests, of whom he had apparently seen enough by then, should be laicized. action taken? (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-03-31-catholic-abuse_N.htm)

            “a mindset”
            the mindset that allowed pederasty (and molestation of girls too) before vatican 2 was that the priest, held in quasi-divine regard, would be wholly protected from the consequences of his actions and the victim would be facing disgrace and ostracism for saying anything. i saw this first hand. my mother, born in ireland in 1913, “knew” that the accusations against john geoghan were fabrications of a cabal of people who only wanted “to call down the catholic church” and she had masses said for his dignity after his imprisonment. and cf. marciel macial. i have great sympathy for those who are driven to anticlericalism.

            so what you ascribe to vatican 2 tolerance is a continuation of pre-vatican 2 arrogance (papal nuncios in both the US and ireland recently have “expressed reservations” about co-operating with civil authorities in matters of child abuse, and just look at the los angeles and twin cities situations) combined with the church’s ignorance in the 1960s of how to include psychological information into moral counseling, so leaving it to those from the wider culture whose moral agenda was not the church’s (and about which fr fitzgerald was concerned, it seems to me from that article).

            i am sorry if i seem to be going off a bit here, but i’ve just had it with this pre-V2/post-V2 stuff. the problems were present before and after and the response to it was too much the same, until the last 15 or so years.

          • Jim Dailey

            I think you should check your links. There was no article at Wikipedia. The USA Today series of articles had to do with Robert Finn, convicted of a misdemeanor charge?
            Sorry if you do not like my perceptions. However, I am unimpressed by your arguments.

          • Petey
          • Petey


            not the orig. link unfortunately but there is much info about him available.

          • claycosse

            The Church has publicly apologized and repented and has very publicly taken corrective action with respect to sex abuse. None of this was done in a timely fashion, and the extent of these repentant/remedial measures may be insufficient, and for that I apologize on behalf of the Church. That said, He said that the Church is like a net that catches good fish and bad. There will be sinners in the Church. We should also remember that kids have always been more likely to get molested in public schools or their own families than in the Church. Also, I view the “cover up” attitude towards sex abuse to have been more of a problem of the time than a problem specific to the Church. That was the case in my own family, and the Paterno case at Penn State demonstrates the attitude of that era towards sex abuse. None of that justifies our very public sin, though, and I do beg forgiveness on behalf of my beloved Church.

      • PlumDumpling

        Please. Stop. The RCC was mutilating boys for musical tones because women must not sing until 1870. Here is the last castrato.


  • SamRocha

    Bravo, PEG!

  • jenny

    Excellent !!!

  • Petey

    with the this post this has become my favorite Catholic blog.

  • I find it curious that you would quote Kierkegaard in support of Francis. He was a brilliant thinker to be sure, but I’d bet non-trivial amounts of money that the Church you so love would’ve excommunicated him if they had the chance.

  • Mike Blackadder

    Changed my mind.

  • PlumDumpling

    Thank you for this. I love Pope Frankie. And I admire him. You speak for me.

  • What a difference six months makes! I used to be right with you and the Pope on this, but then Kasper the Friendly Cardinal had to go and twist that teaching into an attack against heterosexual lifelong monogamy and those most hated melanin enhaced human beings. I no longer believe this approach to be pastoral, only abusive.