The Mysterious Conservative Loathing of Francis

The Mysterious Conservative Loathing of Francis July 24, 2015

A reader writes:

Have you read Pope Francis’ speech at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia? Full text here.

It was a real eye-opener for me. I had heard plenty of negative things about it, so I braced myself for a lot of leftist politics & economics. But after having read the whole thing for myself, I wonder if American conservative commentators were even reading the same speech.

I don’t get how anyone could read it as an endorsement of any Latin American leader’s policies, leftist, populist or otherwise. Most of it was about the people not waiting around for the political or economic powers to give them permission to rise out of poverty, and commended them for taking their destiny in their own hands – a message that would have been applauded by a business entrepreneur or a libertarian, had it been addressed to a different crowd. The rest was about the purpose of economics itself, again not a promotion for any particular theory or school.

I’m thinking, “Nobody needs a lecture on the evils of leftist dictators. But if this is what passes for ‘leftist / populist demagoguery’ among rank & file Latin Americans, then there are a lot of talking heads in the U.S. trying to keep us afraid of a boogeyman. Heck, I wish our leftists up North were more like that.”

I do not understand the mindless malice so much of the Right has for this pope. But then I do not understand much of the mindlessness of the Right these days. A subculture that frowns at Pope Francis as some kind of menace to the faith while giving a 57% approval rating to a creature like Donald Trump is one that needs conversion, not one that should be patting itself on the back.

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  • American Conservatism has always leaned more toward Protestantism than Catholicism, so the Right’s opinions of Trump vs Pope Francis don’t surprise me.
    I haven’t been in contact with any of my American Catholic friends lately, so I’m not sure where they fit in with all this. The Conservatives I know on Facebook who support Trump are 100% Protestant.

  • Dave G.

    First, I’ve learned that terms like conservative and liberal are less and less accurate, as people seem to cross those lines quite often anymore. But MSNBC had an interesting discussion, not only on why ‘conservatives’ don’t like Francis, but why all of a sudden ‘liberals’, who have been the previous popes’ biggest critics, love Francis. It was an interesting answer: basically Francis has taken the issues near and dear to more progressive hearts and set them aside. Sure, he’s not changing the Church’s stance on abortion or gay marriage. That’s doctrine. He can’t. But he’s made it clear the Church is a big tent and those are now issues we can simply agree to disagree over – with love. But he has turned his wrath and anger toward those things – and groups – who liberals have long attacked and opposed. He’s told those who have fought on those other issues to take a chill pill (something even Fr. Barron admitted he could understand causing some angst among those who have spent years fighting such things as abortion or gay marriage). Meanwhile, Pope Francis also speaks the words in ways more progressive minded folks can identify with. Apparently, when condemning the Western Allies in WWII for not doing what they could have done to stop the Holocaust, he elevated homosexuals as one of the main groups of victims, despite no clear evidence there aren’t dozens of groups whose numbers suggest they should be mentioned fist. A common narrative for those who support the normalization of non-heterosexual relations. So, to MSNBC at least, it’s because if he isn’t a ‘liberal’, he at least speaks like one, has the priorities of one, and has said that those things associated with progressives that deviate from Church teachings are simply things we can agree to disagree about. Unlike things associated with more traditional, conservative ideals – deviations from Church teaching or otherwise. That was MSNBC’s take (with host Chris Matthews). I hadn’t really heard self-proclaimed ‘liberals’ explain their affection for Pope Francis. I thought that was interesting. If not correct, it’s at least how those on the show see it.

    • “. But he’s made it clear the Church is a big tent and those are now issues we can simply agree to disagree over – with love.”

      You can’t or should not simply agree to disagree. What’s the purpose of disagreeing over something as basic as human sexuality and then just letting it go as a regrettable but unimportant difference – perhaps one of taste rather than morals?

      Some things are wrong – as in right and wrong. That’s not negotiable or forgettable or trivial.

      • Hezekiah Garrett

        But that might be a fight for another day.

      • Rebecca Fuentes

        I think that’s the perception many have. The more liberal media in the US seemed very eager to paint Francis as their sympathizer from the beginning (his qualification for this was simply that he wasn’t Pope Benedict, who they just as eagerly tore apart from day one). That seems to have colored many of the discussions, within both political parties, since. US liberals hear what they want to hear, and US conservatives hear what they fear to hear.

        • The Holy Father has to try to lead a Church that has internal problems and is also being constantly infiltrated and undermined by a hostile culture. It’s not always clear where he’s coming from. One hopes that he knows, even if many of us don’t.

          I’m personally not willing to live and let live with certain things. I don’t think I’m the only one. But I’m not bailing out either. So there I am. The only other Church with valid sacraments is Orthodoxy, but I was baptized into this Church, and here I remain.

          Some of the trads go too far, and I think they will regret it.

          I hope some of the liberals will be confounded.

          • Rebecca Fuentes

            I’ll be right there beside you. I have no intention of bailing. Where would I go?

      • Dave G.

        I’m not sure he has done so, but that was certainly the impression that those on the round table had. Sure, the Church teaches these things, but it just teaching these things. Off to the side. Doctrine stuff. The real battle is all those things that those who associate with more progressive ideals are passionate about, and hence their love and admiration for Pope Francis, even when he clearly disagrees on some issues. Again, they might not accurately represent Francis and his approach, but that was clearly how they understood him.

        • When I get right down to it, I may have opinions and impressions, but I don’t have the feeling that they affect anything. I wonder if the Holy Father sometimes feels the same way.

          Maybe the culture is like some great amorphous slug, and if it can’t get through it flows around. It seems to be driven, too, by economic, technological and political imperatives.

  • Andy

    The “fear and loathing” is not hard to understand. Pope Francis is challenging many of the beliefs of this iteration of American conservatives – money isn’t what we should worship. He is challenging the idea that we measure people’s worth through money. He doesn’t see economics/capitalism/social order working as practiced to day. He is pointing out a rather easy to see issue – that there are far to many who are struggling to make ends meet and far to many who are not making ends meet; and there are a “select” few who are reaping incredible benefits from a broken system. a system that allows the few to own the government and thus make the rules.

    He is says that the ultimate non-negotiables are charity and faith. He is not adhering to the time-honored money-makers for this version of conservatives – focus only on the five non-negotiables. He isn’t saying that the five non-negotialbes are important, he is saying that more importantly all deserve charity and dignity which flies in the face of demonization which our political/social system runs on. He wants us to remember the two most important commandments –
    Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength; and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. And that all of the law is based on these. It is hard to demonstrate love of God without love of neighbor, as we are all made in his image, yet our systems do this. We fail to see God in others, those who are ignorant, those who are in sin, those who are poor, those who are in jail, those who are homeless. Not that other popes haven’t challenged us in this way, but he is far more blunt and given the instantaneous communication today harder to escape or ignore.

    He also is saying that the church is place for sinners – which each of us are and that all are welcome to find solace with Jesus. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous he came for the sinner. This is discomforting as many, me included who like to think that I am doing what God wants and what the the church teaches, and yet fall short. I don’t like being reminded of my shortcomings.

    Those alone would make many fear the message and thus loathe the messenger.

    • Andy

      A quick addition – he is also challenging us to be less about ourselves and more about all of us. This is equally as discomfiting as many of us, me included, like to think are the most important and fail to recall that we are all equal before the eyes of God.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      Pope Francis is challenging many of the beliefs of this iteration of American conservatives – money isn’t what we should worship. [Etc., etc.]

      In general, yes, that’s what Francis has been doing. But in the instant case, Francis goes to a country whose president is more or less a commie, and criticizes the social and economic order. And some conservatives can’t see that. Weird.

      The truth is that both communists and capitalists have disordered relationships with money. Capitalists love it; communists fetishize it.

    • Athanasius2

      “Pope Francis is challenging many of the beliefs of this iteration of
      American conservatives – money isn’t what we should worship. He is
      challenging the idea that we measure people’s worth through money.”

      I am a conservative (but Catholic FIRST) and I have NEVER – not once, not EVER – considered money as the be-all and end-all, and NEVER saw it as a measure of people’s worth. As seeing as how by every single available study or poll, Conservatives give FAR MORE to charity in both time and money, your implied idea that we do not “love our neighbor” as we should is, not to put too fine a point on it, bizarre.

      I submit that you have a very, very limited idea of what it means to be conservative.

      • Andy

        I would suggest you don’t represent most/many of the public conservatives. You know the ones who accuse him of being a Marxist, the ones who say that he should stic only to the “5 non-negotiables”. The ones who say the pope shouldn’t offer economic advice. These people are in the news speaking for conservatives and appear on this blog speaking for conservatives. ?Where are the public conservatives saying the pope is correct?
        I have seen the polls you mention and can cite chapter and verse their flaws.
        I also note your response seems to have struck a personal nerve. I was not speaking of individuals, but rather groups.

  • Kraig Boyle

    As a conservative in America I have to fight the urge to be an American first and Catholic second. American conservatives need to change focus. As Catholics we always have to keep in mind Mathew 16. Although not all that the Pope says is infallible we need to respect and digest what he does say. I think that most of what we hear the Pope say comes through the liberal media filter which the American conservative distrusts, but it still enters the psyche. This is why Pope Benedict and Pope Francis could say the same thing, yet to the American conservative they were politically polar opposites. As for Donald Trump, I think conservatives have more in common with Pope Francis than with him. He may be popular now because he is the enemy of the liberal media and he doesn’t back down; it is because he fights that he is getting traction.

  • Dan13

    “The economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home. This entails a commitment to care for that home and to the fitting distribution of its goods among all. It is not only about ensuring a supply of food or “decent sustenance”. Nor, although this is already a great step forward, is it to guarantee the three “L’s” of land, lodging and labor for which you are working. A truly communitarian economy, one might say an economy of Christian inspiration, must ensure peoples’ dignity and their “general, temporal welfare and prosperity”.[1] This includes the three “L’s”, but also access to education, health care, new technologies, artistic and cultural manifestations, communications, sports and recreation.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard an American conservative say something like this. And there are extraordinarily few communitarian Conservatives in the public American sphere. W thought about becoming one, but the Iraq War detoured that. John Kasich of Ohio seems to be one (he said the point of our existence was to serve others). Otherwise, however, most public American conservatives are libertarians.

    Anyway, I don’t think Mark’s friend needs to re-examine his Catholicism (because Francis is, well, right), but he may need to re-examine his personal political classifications–instead of a “conservative,” he may actually be a populist, communitarian leftist or, at the very least, a communitarian conservative.

  • ManyMoreSpices

    I don’t get how anyone could read it as an endorsement of any Latin American leader’s policies, leftist, populist or otherwise.

    Pope goes to a country where leftist economic stupidity has wrecked the place, criticizes the economic order there… and American cons are taking umbrage? Weird.

    I do not understand the mindless malice so much of the Right has for this pope.

    The Holy Father’s poll numbers are lackluster… and Barabbas outpolled Christ. This sort of thing happens.

  • I’ve been reading and commenting on another blog, on which very conservative people are well represented.

    Their principle beefs are, so far as I can understand, ecumenism as opposed to the non-negotiable one true Faith, liturgy, and the loosening of teaching and practice, including that concerning divorced Catholics and of course active homosexuals.

    Inviting everyone under the tent – especially Protestants – and agreeing to disagree about the basics – is anathema to them.

    The Germans are seen as being in active revolt and schism.

    They are repelled by the Holy Father placing his arm around the shoulder of a Protestant and calling him a “brother bishop.” And very angry about it..

  • MarylandBill

    The basic problem is that American conservatives are actually not conservative in the traditional sense of the word. Well, most are not. When push comes to shove most people who identify as conservative are actually classical liberals (Which is not the same as American Liberals which are actually progressives) when it comes economics who have this utopian idea that the free market will ensure a just distribution of wealth. Thus any perceived challenge to the free market is viewed with suspicion.

    • Dan13

      American liberal leaders tend to hold classical liberal views when it comes to non-economic issues. Since the social liberals run the show in the Democratic Party (as opposed to the waning influence of labor and religious minorities) and economic liberals are gaining influence in the GOP, we are moving, as a nation, to a classical liberal nightmare.

  • jaybird1951

    Pope Francis’s poll ratings among liberals also dropped significantly. Could that be due to the sudden realization that he is not a supporter of same sex marriage or the loosening of other moral codes after all? My beef with Francis is his taking sides in the very politicized global warming controversy when there is growing evidence that at least a strong skepticism is in order. Experts representing the other side weren’t even allowed access to him. Also, some of his comments on global economics lack, shall we say, a precision of language. He even admitted in a candid comment to reporters that he hates economics and is no expert but that didn’t stop him from expounding on the global aspects of the subject. His press spokesman has admitted to being “confused” about what Francis is up to.

    • Mark S. (not for Shea)

      If the Left and the Right like you less and less each day, it’s a pretty good sign you’re doing something right.

  • Re_Actor
  • TapestryGarden

    As a conservative practicing Catholic I found your “mindless” comment as well as characterization of Mr Trump as a “creature” and not in the flattering sense of the word really beneath someone who has a blog on Patheos. I would expect this kind of mischaracterization on HuffPo where all conservatives are heartless capitalists who care nothing about the poor, the sick, the hungry, or those in prison. However if you have an interest in facts please check Arthur Brooks’ work as well as numerous writings noting that the more politically conservative are far more likely to donate time, talent and treasure in service of others than are liberals or as they call themselves, Progressives. As a Conservative I make it a point to read what the Pope says rather than listening to the words filtered through various media. I’ve found most of the reports of the Pope’s off the cuff remarks as well as some of his homilies and other speaking opportunities to be grossly mis-stated or misrepresented….intentionally or not. I appreciate Pope Francis’ focus on the poor and exploited. I would frankly rather he concerned himself in speaking out against the horrific persecution of non-Muslims around the world than on “global warming” which is a minor topic in the realm of caring for God’s gifts. Unfortunately as a pet project of the Left the portions of his recent Encyclical could have been reduced to a few sentences as that was the only thing seen in most reports. Please give your fellow Christians of a different political outlook the same courtesy you wish for yourself.

    • chezami

      The exaltation of Trump and the loathing of Francis by the wreckage of what was once conservatism is an unambiguous call to sackcloth and ashes. Period.

      • Trump has an inside the margin of error lead and polls about 60% of Republicans saying that they will never vote for him. That he gets any traction at all is because he is championing immigration restrictions in a full throated roar that get’s him 18% support. He’s a freak show that is being used to signal the candidates to do more about immigration than just pay it lip service. Trump is being used to threaten them.

        As for the loathing of Francis, you’ve never addressed my thesis that he is courting it, needs it in fact, in order to accomplish the purging of marxism from the left and creating a sustainable left that no longer plays such a malign role in global politics. The right’s criticism gives him the chops to demand change from the left.

        That being said, Pope Francis missteps in this speech. Communitarian production is a term desperately in need of definition and Pope Francis introduces it right after disclaiming any possibility that he will provide a recipe. This empty vessel will draw the marxists in and provide them with refuge. I can only pray that there is something more that is not yet evident.

        There’s an important distinction he might be making and in charity assume that he *is* making, between money and money as an idol. Money’s macroeconomic purpose is largely as a signal. It signals which trades lack enough people to occupy them, which goods are in shortage, which services are oversubscribed, which factories need to shut down and be repurposed. These legitimate signals must not be drowned out in a fight against money as idol. The pursuit of economic influence to the detriment of one’s soul, of one’s family, of one’s community. But there will be no recipe from this pope to make the proper distinction between the two. He says so in this very speech.

        This is annoying. It might be dangerous.

        • Steve Brown


        • Marthe Lépine

          Maybe this “communitarian production” could be a translation problem, and really mean “cooperatives”, or “cooperatives of producers”, which are usually community endeavors. There is absolutely nothing marxist about them.

          • Maybe, possibly, could be, provides fertile territory to hide in, burrow, and corrupt. The marxists have been doing this sort of thing for decades and this talent is a large part of the reason why there still are marxists.

      • TapestryGarden

        Again the issue is this sweeping generalization about “the Right.” It is inaccurate and uncharitable and frankly sounds like something out of BuzzFeed or HuffPo. Read Lutas’ remarks below…spot on. Few take Trump seriously but they are simply over the poll tested, P.C. blather coming out of the mouths of most of the candidates. He’s not particularly conservative and is not going to be the nominee. I follow politics closedly and have for decades. Look at the short burst of love shown to Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich for example. Trump performs a useful service and many in America are ready for some plain speaking and for a fire to be lit under the fannies of those running for President. They are all so timid about making a “mistake” that they say nothing. As to the castigation of Pope Francis by “the Right” I suspect you’ve been listening to some of the pot and pan bangers on Talk Radio who do not speak for the majority of Conservatives nor are they versed enough in Catholic teaching to weigh in. It does however make for good ratings and expect more of this. As someone on the Right who adheres to Catholic Social Teaching I listen directly to the Pope (hoping the translation is correct although it isn’t always apparently) or I read what he says. Yes a few of his off the cuff remarks have been startling but often when I investigate the context or the surrounding discussion I have a greater understanding of what he says. I still completely resent your over generalization and am disappointed this passes for a rational discussion on Patheos.

        • chezami

          If the shoe does not fit, don’t wear it. Stop whining.

          • TapestryGarden

            You’re a moderator? That’s a bit scary. If you are unwilling to engage in a rational dialog and instead act like a schoolchild I can see this is not a worthwhile blog to follow.

            • chezami

              You are easily frightened. Better never leave your house.

              • TapestryGarden

                Frightened not at all, You are just pathetic and I’m not interested in wasting time on weirdos. Not sure about this blogger but he/she/it seems to have interesting taste in mods.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  So, why do you read his blog, then? There is plenty of other interesting material on the Net.

                  • TapestryGarden

                    I read ONE article by this blogger and if you’d read my response I noted that I am a big fan of Patheos as the other bloggers I read regularly are cogent, rational, non partisan and well spoken. (The Anchoress is my favorite of the group also like Fr Longenecker and others). This was posted on my FB and I was curious about the title..the “mysterious” loathing of the “right” etc. Having been impressed by other Patheos bloggers I was surprised at the churlishness and lack of anything but ad hominem arguments to make the case. As to Chezami…oy vey what a putz.

      • falstaff77

        Whence came the exaltation of McCarthy? Of Huey Long and dozens of other similar demagogues? Try long simmering and long unheeded populist discontent.

  • Francis (who began saying the Church obsessed too much on abortion, gays, etc.) and his Progressive friends have been systematically overturning Benedict’s Reform of the Reform from the first. This is an absolute, indisputable fact, acknowledged by the great majority in the Conservative and Progressive Catholic Press and the secular press.

    Kasper, Benedict’s nemesis, was chosen to be the Popes personal theologian at last October’s Synod on the Family which sought to open questions regarding remarriage and homosexuality which were closed forever beginning in scripture. The pope personally handpicked the Kasper-approved Progressive theologians who produced the infamous Interim Report which shocked a slight majority of the synod fathers who, thankfully killed the popes inititiative dead in its crib.

    Since then Francis has had to back peddle some, but, analysts say not for good. He gives actions to Progressives and pious words to traditionals, the forces that backed Benedict and John Paul II.

    Even the head of the very CDF (!) has raised numerous alarms over Francis’ synod agenda and joined Cardinal Burke and four other prominent cardinal in the unprecedented historical action of writing a book prior to the synod opposing their agenda. So we will see.

    One need not change one iota of doctrine frontally to hand the Church over to Progressives who will, when Francis is gone, “interpret” those dogmas.

  • virago

    Francis has become good at calling out folks. And he is definitely on the side of the downtrodden, as he defines it.
    But, I’m middle class, pay my taxes, contribute to the church, donate, participate, do the PayPal thing , even on Patheos, so when is Francis gonna say something consoling for Mr?
    I’m not a croney liberal or republican capitalist, I don’t get climate change carp but I do get stewardship, I’m against abortion o n, death penalty and I want to lift folks up that important.
    But what k get from the pope is scoldingscand findings and I don’t think he sees or understands anything about the existence of people like me.
    Am I taking it personally? He’s my pope, aren’t I supposed to?
    Popes are popes for a season, the Catholic church and my identity as Catholic will persevere.

    Besides, that crucifix Morales gave him sucked!
    As the head of organization with a huge beautiful art collection, I find his personal taste in art abysmal!!