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Opening Arguments

Get your pope hat on

I was sort of expecting Time magazine to name Edward Snowden its Person of the Year, so I was mildly surprised when the non went to Pope Francis. But of course the editors weren't really honoring the pope. They were just trying to sell to us the pope they wanted to see:

There are two Popes. One is Francis as he actually is: spiritual shepherd of the Catholic faithful, the man chosen to defend and articulate the beliefs of the Church. The other is Francis as the liberal establishment would have him be: a crusading humanist on the verge of making the Catholic Church socially acceptable at Manhattan dinner parties. Guess which Pope Francis Time Magazine just made Man of the Year?

The Catholic writer Billy Newton has done a great run down of why Time's Pope is not the real Pope, with two killer observations. First, the magazine calls him The People's Pope – as if a pontiff could be anything else, or as if all those that came before him were distant aristos who ate the poor for breakfast. Second, Time is obsessed with sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sexy sex. Will the Pope embrace homosexuality? Will he make it a little less wrong to have an abortion? Will he distribute prophylacticos to the masses of Rio, flinging them from his Pope-copter like confetti on a parade? Or, at the very least, will he stop talking about sex and leave Catholics to run their own sex lives in peace?

I remember this kind of hero-worship in the '60s, when the hippies adopted John XXIII as their unofficial mascot (Time made him Person of the Year, too, 'cause, you know, he had such "warmth, simplicity and charm," although I think the magazine back then might have still been sexist enough to call it Man of the Year). Out with all that stuffy old Latin, and bring on the folksingers. Thank God for an occasional Catholic leader who isn't so darn Catholic!

To be fair, a lot of conservatives don't seem to quite get Francis, either. I heard Rush the other day going on and on in a rant about how the pope was turning against the capatilst system that enabled the church to do so well in the first place. But they were just responding to the media's cherry-picking if Francis' Evangelii Gaudium. A few conservatives actually read it. Here's Ed Morrissey:

Near the end of the exhortation, Francis notes that the state has a responsibility to promote the common good through “the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.” The key concept of subsidiarity in Catholic doctrine rejects Marxism and command economies, teaching that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order” (paragraph 1883).

It specifically rejects “all forms of collectivism” and “sets limits for state interventions” (paragraph 1885). Subsidiarity and solidarity together promotes “the just hierarchy of values” (paragraph 1886), and opposes “[t]he inversion of means and ends” that “engenders unjust structures” that render the Christian life “difficult and almost impossible” (paragraph 1887). When that happens, the Church teaches that inner conversion will result in individual action to bring remedies to social institutions and unjust structures. “This is the path to charity,” the Catechism instructs, “that is, of the love of God and neighbor.”

Pope Francis uses a small part of Evangelii Gaudium to challenge Catholics not to invert the means over the ends, i.e., to fall so in love with economic philosophies as to become blinded to their pitfalls and negative outcomes. Far from demanding top-down control over economies, Francis is exhorting Catholics to act personally when they see injustices, and in that effort bear witness to the truth of the Gospel.

And here's Ross Douthat:

And this is where Francis’s vision should matter to American Catholics who usually cast ballots for Republican politicians. The pope’s words shouldn’t inspire them to convert en masse to liberalism, or to worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope. But they should encourage a much greater integration of Catholic and conservative ideas than we’ve seen since “compassionate conservatism” collapsed, and inspire Catholics to ask more — often much more — of the Republican Party, on a range of policy issues.

Francis is a fascinating enough person for the way he's energizing the religious debate. It's probably a good idea not to start mixing religion with economics. I give you liberation theology as Exhibit 1.