Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Liberals v. Conservatives v. Pope Francis, I: What He Said

Although the Center for Economic and Social Justice is an interfaith organization, and nobody’s income is tied to its existence (it’s all-volunteer), and the Just Third Way is not a faith-based program (although fully consistent with the natural law-basis of the social teachings of the Catholic Church), there is a strong and vested interest in the matters Pope Francis addresses that are not purely religious in nature.

Abraham Lincoln: on the pope's A-list
That is why we paid careful attention to Pope Francis’s speech before the U.S. Congress.  The fact that a great many people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have managed to put some rather unusual twists on virtually everything Francis says (and make up quite a bit to go along with it when actual utterances prove insufficiently spicy), makes this scrutiny more of a duty than a pleasure, but that, we believe, is just another example of how desperate people trapped in the slavery of past savings are to find answers that fit within their limited world view.  The fact that a solution is right before their eyes in the Just Third Way would be obvious if they could emancipate themselves from the curse of past savings that has done more to keep people enslaved in other ways than virtually anything else.

That is why we were impressed with the list of Americans that Francis mentioned in his address — although, again, we have to be very, very careful how we understand what the pope said and not load it up with our own hobby horses and what we would have liked him to have said.  Putting that special twist on the pope’s words is a temptation that fewer and fewer people these days are able to resist.

So, as Francis said, “I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.”

Is Rome Sweet Home for everyone, automatically?
Right away people who don’t listen carefully or who don’t understand the teaching office of the pope were baffled.  Two of the people on the pope’s list aren’t even Catholic!  Does that mean that Francis is holding them up as exemplars for Catholics to follow, suggesting that one doesn’t have to be a “good Catholic” in order to be a good Catholic?  A fake quote attributed to Francis has, indeed, been circulating for several months to that effect.

On the contrary!  Being reasonable (and, in Catholic teaching, even matters of faith must have a foundation in reason), we conclude that each one of these people is being given not as an exemplar for his or her entire life, but for a single reason, which is only related to Catholicism in a general way.  Francis was, after all, addressing a body — the United States Congress — composed of people of many faiths and philosophies.  It would have been the height of presumption for him to speak to them as if they were a group of Catholics or even Christians.

No, the pope was addressing the Congress as a moral teacher and world leader whose principles are, in essence, consistent with those of all of humanity, not any individual or specific group.  To suggest that the characteristics or qualities we find in Lincoln, King, Day, and Merton are somehow essential to being Catholic but not members of the human race would have been both rude and stupid.

Further, are we to take everything said or done by Lincoln, King, Day, or Merton as fully consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church?  Again, that would be wrong.  Neither Lincoln nor King were Catholic, and probably had no intention of ever becoming Catholic.  Day and Merton, for all the reverence in which they are held by many, both Catholic and non-Catholic, said many things that, at least on the surface (which is all the further many people get these days . . . when they get that far . . . ) are contradictory, even inconsistent with what the Catholic Church teaches.

Looking at the pope’s speech with a little objectivity, then, it is obvious that Francis asked his staff for the names of Americans who would be recognizable and who exemplified certain traits he wished to stress.  Personally, we think that Fulton Sheen would have been a better choice than Day and Merton, but we don’t happen to be on the pope’s staff as speech writers, or as anything else, for that matter.

So we can accept the examples that Francis gave without assuming that he was presenting the U.S. Congress with an infallible declaration.  We can also reject them without impugning the pope’s authority for that matter — as long as we accept that the principles he was trying to illustrate are valid.

After all, does the fact that George Washington never actually chopped down a cherry tree and may have stretched the truth a few times in his life detract from the validity of the belief that lying is a bad thing?  Yes, it would have been better had Parson Weems stuck to the truth himself, but he was constructing moral parables, sort of an American version of Æsop’s fables, not a strict historical account.

Many people, however, not understanding what Pope Francis was doing, are going to go into high gear, and do themselves and others a great disservice, as we will see tomorrow.



peter maurin said...

Sir, just an observation; your writing style often seems abrasive toward precisely those you seek to convince. That does not seem to be a smart tactic.

Michael D. Greaney said...

Thank you for your not unexpected comment. I appreciate its uncharacteristic mildness for one whom I assume from your screen name to be either connected with or sympathetic to the Catholic Worker movement and its philosophy and principles. Unfortunately, I am not writing to convince anyone in particular, but to give my own observations and analysis.

I have attempted on several occasions to discuss certain issues with people in the Catholic Worker movement, particularly what appear to be contradictions in statements made by Dorothy Day, and have been completely ignored. Not unreasonably, I have concluded that the contradictions cannot be resolved, and some statements by Dorothy Day (e.g., her condemnation of armed resistance to Hitler and approval of violence by Fidel Castro, her claim to be an anarchist, her enthusiasm for New Age guru E.F. Schumacher) are, as they appeared to me, inconsistent with Catholic social teaching and the natural law.

I have also attempted to discuss certain untrue statements made about me and CESJ by members of the Catholic Worker movement in print, and have been ignored, although in one case I tried for years and nearly a dozen times to bring the demonstrably false accusations to the table and clear the matter up. This is not, I believe, consistent with any Catholic teaching, social or otherwise.

peter maurin said...

I do hope you read the conservative National Review slanderous piece against Dorothy Day and Pope Francis and also report on that... and give a Meta Critique regarding the thinking of people like the conservatives at the National Review

Dcn. Joseph B. Gorini said...

I have a different reaction to Michael's writing style. What you may find irritating, I find entertaining. What after all, is "wit," and "humor"?

Michael D. Greaney said...

Been there, done that, Peter Maurin. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll see that "the conservatives" get it in the neck often as not. For some reason, they get even more annoyed than "the liberals," as evidenced by the reaction(s) to "Putting Pope Francis in Perspective" on Catholic365, http://www.catholic365.com/article/1677/putting-pope-francis-in-perspective.html.

Both groups seem insistent on straying as far as possible from the orthodox position, perhaps best stated by Pope Benedict XV in his first encyclical in 1914. Where the liberals/modernists want to do new things in new ways, and the conservatives/traditionalists want to do old things in old ways, the orthodox position is to do "Old things, but in a new way" (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, “Appealing for Peace,” § 25.)

Neither conservative nor liberal, this is, IN THE ORIGINAL MEANING OF THE TERM, progressive. That is, progressive in the sense used by Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop Ireland, Theodore Roosevelt, Judge Grosscup, and others, NOT as the term is used today to indicate ultra radical liberalism.