“Eventually,” Rolling Stoned tells us, at the beginning of a remarkable paragraph, Pope Francis “moves to greet the crowd. Benedict, a dour academic”—[Hmm, I see.]—“kept this part of the general audience to a minimum.”
POPE FRANCIS THE GOOD HUMAN
Yes, dear reader, that is the kind of useless nonsense that greets us in nearly every paragraph of Mark Binelli’s dumb article. Benedict XVI never stood beloved of crowds. Never. Nor does Mr. Binelli tell us what is so bad about being “dour” or “academic.” (Jesuits are quite known, in fact, for their intellectual achievements.) But Stoned means for us to infer that there is something sinister and upsetting about it all. Mr. Binelli will tell us, in due course, that Francis is to be praised for refusing to judge homosexuals. He himself, however, can judge the “dour” as much as he likes. He is particularly mesmerized by the “shrill” and “incessant” crowd who swarm adoringly around Francis; as though the old pope, the dour Benedict, had not been likewise swarmed. No, dear reader, everyone kept their distance from poor Benedict.
But of Pope Francis, Mr. Binelli has this to say: “His recognizable humanity comes off as positively revolutionary.” Yes. Now, I know this is going to be a disputable point, but here it is: That is quite possibly the dumbest sentence writ by man. No pope before Francis was human—not even recognizably so? What about that dour old crab Benedict? It is not human to be dour? Is dourness the exclusive property of owls? Or what about the gregarious John Paul II? Has Mr. Binelli forgotten him? What does he mean, Francis is revolutionary because he is human? Does that make sense? Is Mr. Binelli trying to make sense? What were all those 265 popes before Francis? Frogs? Reptiles? Monsters of the deep?
Francis, it would seem—if we listen to Stoned—is not just the first pope from the Americas; he’s the first pope from the human race! And in what follows, Mr. Binelli engages in a gross and bald and offensive attempt to portray the former pope as, not a human being, but a horror movie slasher. Have a look at this garbage, but make sure you’ve swallowed your coffee and digested your food first.
After the disastrous papacy of Benedict, a staunch traditionalist who [Prepare yourself.] looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares, Francis'[s] basic mastery of skills like smiling in public [Benedict never smiled] seemed a small miracle to the average Catholic.
Take as much time as you need to recover from whatever fit of pique, or laughter, all that rot has thrown you into. I’ll wait.
Back? Okay, we pick up where we left off.
But he had far more radical changes in mind. [Smiling isn’t radical enough for this pope. Francis will really upset the status quo! Perhaps he will even go so far as to laugh.] By eschewing the papal palace for a modest two-room apartment, by publicly scolding church leaders for being “obsessed” with divisive social issues like same-sex marriage, birth control, and abortion (“Who am I to judge?” Francis famously replied when asked his views on homosexual priests) and—perhaps most astonishingly of all—by devoting much of his first major written teaching to a scathing critique of unchecked free-market capitalism [No pope, least of all Benedict, has ever spoken on this subject before.] the pope revealed his own obsessions to be more in line with the boss'[s] son.
(A side note to Rolling Stoned here: You really need to learn the difference between s’ and s’s. A hint: It is writ just as it is pronounced. Glad to be of help.)
Okay. Now, for those who might be too young to get the striped shirt and knife-fingered glove reference, this is who Mr. Binelli just compared Benedict XVI to.
Should I find it offensive and crude that Mr. Binelli should compare Benedict XVI to the slasher from “Nightmare on Elm Street”? Should I find it crude that this is his view of what it means to be a “staunch traditionalist”?
Perhaps we should be grateful he did not compare Benedict XVI to a Sith lord. I’ve read that before.
More to the point: What does it mean that it is a “small miracle” to have, in Francis, a pope who smiles in public? Mr. Binelli must not look around Google Images too much; for I go to that valuable resource and in less than a minute find this. And this. Maybe Google Images is broken on Mr. Binelli’s computer; you’d think Rolling Stoned could get that fixed. Are they not selling enough magazines over there to justify the expense? I also go there and in less than a minute find this bleak and dour picture of Pope Francis! Stoned really needs to get that computer fixed if Mr. Binelli is not able to find out these things, as I did sitting here in my poverty.
VS. POPE BENEDICT THE EVIL SLASHER
When Mr. Binelli is not engaging in slurs against the former pope, he is getting some basic truths about Francis plain wrong. There are as many as three of them in the paragraph I quoted.
(By the way, I do not much care where Francis wants to live as pope—a palace, a small apartment, a sty, a barge on the Tiber with or without moorings—the question bores me.)
But the first mistake Mr. Binelli makes is in his claim that the pope “scolded” those in the Church who are “obsessed” with abortion, same-sex marriage, and birth control. When he points this out, he wants us to think that Francis shrugs at these issues and says, “Meh. Not important.” We should look into that.
Here, for example, is Pope Francis in a speech to healthcare professionals and gynecologists, on September 20, 2013:
Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection. And every elderly person—I spoke of children: let us move to the elderly, another point! And every elderly person, even if he is ill or at the end of his days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the culture of waste suggests! They cannot be thrown away!
Those are strong words. (Wouldn’t you say, Mr. Binelli?) A child in the womb has the face of Christ! A 90-year-old with dementia who can’t feed himself has the face of Christ! To say otherwise and “discard” them is to succumb to a “culture of waste.” These sound like the kind of words one uses when he thinks that the point—oh, I don’t know—matters. (Wouldn’t you say, Mr. Binelli?)
And here is the pope again (do some homework, Mr. Binelli!), in a speech to diplomats, on January 13—a mere two weeks before Stoned published its ludicrous article. The pope continues his observations about what he calls the “culture of waste.”
Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as “unnecessary.” For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; and children being bought and sold in that terrible form of modern slavery which is human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity.
Abortion “frightful.” Abortion, like sex trafficking, a “crime against humanity.” Any more talk like this and I might start to think (Stoned forfend!) that this is—oh, shall we say an obsession?—with this pope.
And lo! here it is. For as Cardinal Bergoglio, this is what Pope Francis had to say:
Defend the unborn against abortion even if they persecute you, calumniate you, set traps for you, take you to court or kill you.
Speak out against abortion even if they kill you! You know, this does sound to me like a man who is obsessed.
Well, okay, you say. Yes, the pope is pro-life. I understand that. But what about same-sex marriage! What about judging homosexuals?
Yes. Well, let’s look at that one too. Perhaps the right place to begin is with a letter the pope wrote, while he was still a cardinal, to the Carmelite nuns of Buenos Aires. This was during the time when there was a huge push for same-sex marriage in the country. And in that letter, this is what Cardinal Bergoglio had to say:
Do not be naive: [This] is not a simple political struggle; it is [a] destructive attempt toward God’s plan. It is not a mere legislative project … but a machination of the father of lies [who] seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.
Now, that sounds downright judgmental, doesn’t it? That sounds mean and nasty and horrible and possibly traditionalist! Dour too! Same sex “marriage” a “machination of the father of lies”! Where’s my fuzzy Francis?
And what could he have ever meant by saying that Church leaders are “obsessed” with these questions? For he himself sounds quite nasty and reactionary.
To get to the bottom of this conundrum for liberals, it will be helpful to look at the pope’s actual words in their actual context. So let us go back to August 19, 2013, when the pope gave an interview to Fr. Antonio Spadaro. Here is what the pope actually said:
The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all. … The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.
Now, we should make note here of one simple thing: The Church can hardly be a “minister of mercy” to those who have not sinned. To be a “minister of mercy” does imply that sin has taken place. But what the Holy Father says is that priests must be neither “rigorists” who small-mindedly say “the law, the law” with no heart for mercy, nor “loose ministers” who deny that sin is sin. Rather, the law of mercy means to heal the wounds that have been caused by sin.
To put this in simpler terms for Stoned. What Francis is getting at—all he is getting at—is that priests must not become obsessed with the moral law to the exclusion of grace. Sinners must be offered not just moral lessons (though they have their place), but the chance to repent. God wants them to repent. God wants them to do good. God wants them to experience grace.
And a pope who thought that homosexuality and abortion were just fine would not talk in such a way—as did Christ—about sin, mercy, and the healing of wounds. The pope certainly did not mean that abortion, homosexuality, and contraception do not matter.
But wait! you say. I don’t understand. Did not Pope Francis say that he was no one to judge people who are gay?
Well, not so loose with the meaning. Here is how the Wall Street Journal reported that exchange (as quoted in HuffPo):
The pontiff broached the delicate question of how he would respond to learning that a cleric in his ranks was gay, though not sexually active. [Yeah, that part kind of makes a difference.] For decades, the Vatican has regarded homosexuality as a “disorder” [Which it still does] and Pope Francis'[s] predecessor Pope Benedict XVI formally barred men with what the Vatican deemed “deep-seated” homosexuality from entering the priesthood.
“Who am I to judge a gay person of good will who seeks the Lord?” [Another important qualification.] the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. “You can’t marginalize these people.”
Of course, distinction does matter. The pope is speaking about priests here, not Elton John. More than that, these are priests—oy vey, one would hope!—who are not sexually active. Big news flash: Priests are not supposed to be “sexually active” whether they are gay or not. So what the pope says has no application to people out in the world who have gay partners and seek to have the state recognize them as married couples.
And it is always important to stress: The Church has never said that homosexual attraction, of itself, is sinful. It is disordered, yes, but that is not the same thing. Only homosexual acts are sinful (as are any sexual acts outside marriage as properly understood). The Church, nor any pope, has ever said or taught otherwise.
The kind of priest Francis is talking about in this hypothetical example—it was a hypothetical question, remember?—are priests “of good will” who “seek the Lord.” Now, what does it mean for a priest to be of good will and seek the Lord? Does it mean to just go around and have sex without regard for a your vows or the moral law? I would not think so. Would you? A gay priest of good will who seeks the Lord, as I understand that, is a priest who fully well knows that his homosexual tendencies are disordered and is seeking, through his service to the Church and consecration to the Lord, to sublimate them for the sake of his salvation and others’.
Why that is surprising or shocking I confess to not understand; for the Catechism of the Catholic Church has told us the same thing.
2358. The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination,which is objectively disordered [“Objectively”; that means, not according to anyone’s opinion] constitutes for most of them a trial. [But.] They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359. [Note now.] Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection [i.e., seek the Lord].
Also (note carefully, Mr. Binelli) what has been said by both Francis and the Catechism has also been said—gird your loins now—by Benedict XVI. In a letter to bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, dated October 1, 1986, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) does indeed call homosexuality “objectively disordered.” But he also says this:
What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? [There’s that “seek the Lord” language again!] Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption. While any call to carry the cross or to understand a Christian’s suffering in this way will predictably be met with bitter ridicule by some, it should be remembered that [Note this, now.] this is the way to eternal life for all who follow Christ.
Was that the dour slasher Ratzinger who just said that homosexuals who carry their cross show the way to eternal life? Why, that’s the same thing that fuzzy Francis, who is now our hope and joy, said!
But it is those who carry their cross—not those who obstinately persist in homosexual behavior—to whom Francis is referring. He was talking about celibate priests, not the bullies who march in the Gay Pride Parade.
This is a challenge for our culture to understand, and one good antidote to it would be to read and digest the full text of Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter to bishops. At the root of the challenge is a failure to distinguish the individual himself from the sin he does. Thus when someone says that homosexual acts are gravely disordered, our world assumes that the motivation is hatred of gays. And when someone says that homosexuals are not to be judged as persons but to be treated with love and respect, our world assumes that an imprimatur has just been given to gay sex and gay marriage. The truth, however, is that both statements have been equally made by Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. To love and respect a person does not mean to approve of everything he does; to condemn a sinful action does not mean that you hate the person.
All people, no matter their sin, no matter their cross, must be shown the mercy and love of God. But that does not mean that their sin is not sin, or that it does not matter. The offer of mercy implies repentance.
Because he confuses love of the sinner with love of the sin, Mr. Binelli is gravely confused.
His third point of confusion has to do with what he feels to be a “most astonishing” critique of capitalism in Evangelii Gaudium. To fully address how “astonishing” it is, or is not, in light of what former popes have said on this subject, will require some space. And so I will leave that for Part 3.
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