Almost from the beginning of his papacy, there has been a lot of nonsense written about Pope Francis. On the Left, there has been much wishful thinking about how the former Cardinal Bergoglio is really a man of progressive sympathies, while on the Right, there is a deep suspicion that the first Jesuit pope is basically a “liberation theologian” who is not a particular fan of capitalism and may in fact be a sneak commie symp. Much of what the pope is said to have said turns out to be either a mistranslation or completely imaginary, the result of having reporters either ignorant of Catholicism or openly hostile to it reporting or commenting on the pope and the Church. So who is he?
To quote the old joke, “Is the Pope Catholic?” You bet he is. To look at him any other way is simply wrong,
Yet now that President Obama has effected his instantly controversial opening to Cuba, the pope is coming in for more critical scrutiny. Having worked behind the scenes with the president and the Castro regime, the pope is viewed even more hostilely by some on the right, who seem to feel that the pontiff’s first allegiance ought to be to conservative political principles rather than to the world’s more than one billion Catholics and the tenets of their shared faith.
This particular pope, an Italian born in Argentina, gave his game away by taking the name “Francis” upon his accession to the chair of St. Peter. As it happened, I was on the air live with Hugh Hewitt from his Orange County, Calif., studio when the election was announced, and my first articulated thought (which turned out to be correct) was that the new pope had taken the name of Francis in honor of St. Francis himself, and that this signaled that his papacy would be concerned with Franciscan virtues: humility, self-abnegation, poverty and love for his fellow man; in other words, the spiritual realm. It would not be concerned with politics as we Americans understand them, which is why from time to time the pontiff’s remarks about capitalism, misinterpreted, have set off alarms bells.
Cuba, like most of Latin America, is a nominally Catholic country, and despite the imposition of a typical Caudillo system wearing Marxist drag, it’s still a land of great faith. Francis’s duty is to his flock, not to the American or Cuban governments. For him to criticize some of the predatory and unscrupulous aspects of international capitalism is perfectly justified; he need not compare it to communism and then declare it, on balance, better. That is the job of a political leader; and to call it “moral relativism” is simply ridiculous.
As it happens, the pope has made his views on the Cuban government perfectly clear, in a 1998 book called Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro.
In the booklet, Bergoglio harshly criticized socialism — and by extension Castro’s atheist revolution — for denying individuals their “transcendent dignity” and putting them solely at the service of the state. At the same time, he denounced the US embargo and economic isolation of Cuba that impoverished the island.
“The Cuban people must overcome this isolation,” he wrote.
Significantly, the first chapter of the book is titled “The value of dialogue,” and it is clear that Bergoglio fervently believed — as did John Paul — that dialogue was the only way to end Cuba’s isolation and its hostility to the Catholic Church while promoting democracy.
The pope, whose reign seems most akin in spirit to the short-lived papacy of John Paul I, is trying to get the Church back to her roots, as a ministry to the poor, many of whom might otherwise be susceptible to the satanic appeal of Communism or some other form of Socialist tyranny (tyranny being pretty much all they know in the first place). He recently dressed down the Curia by warning of “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and listing fifteen flaws that Church leaders needed to address in their own lives. The top three:
1) Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable. “A Curia that doesn’t criticize itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.”
2) Working too hard. “Rest for those who have done their work is necessary, good and should be taken seriously.”
3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened. “It’s dangerous to lose that human sensibility that lets you cry with those who are crying, and celebrate those who are joyful.”
In other words, treat the Vatican and the worldwide Church as a spiritual, not a business, enterprise — something the Church has had a problem with for centuries. Francis may be maddening to non-Catholics and some Catholics alike on both sides of the political divide: no, he’s never going to come out for gay marriage and, no, he’s never going to come out for Wall Street either. Get over it or get used to it. And as much as the easily hurt feelings of the Miami expatriate community are offended — “I am a Catholic without a pope,” said one former political prisoner — they are of little moment in the larger scheme of Francis’s ministry. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Havana) might want to keep that in mind as he contemplates running for a job that is entirely political, and not spiritual.