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Francis, the Writer Unbound Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 03 December 2013

We have recently marked the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a composition that some us can still summon from memory, and which we cannot speak again without being moved by it again.

The same week brought Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. The Holy Father sounded the cymbals and trumpets of joy in the Gospel – he invoked Isaiah: “Shout aloud and sing for joy!” John Paul II had prepared the way; Benedict proclaimed the need to get on more seriously with a new evangelization; and it appears that Francis, with his passion for doing, is bringing that project to a new plane of movement and urgency.

But the Holy Father welcomes candid engagement, and so I am sure he would not take offense if we notice that, in his extended exhortation, running over 200 pages, he did not exactly show the same powers of compression that Lincoln showed at Gettysburg. Nor, regrettably, the same clarity of teaching. Of course, he sought to cover a wider range of subjects. And along the way he had some ringing lines, as on moral relativism, including the relativism to which even pastoral workers may be prone as they recede from casting moral judgments.  

But the melancholy point is that Francis showed his powers of compression mainly on those matters at the core of the “culture war” that has been tearing apart our politics and our lives. Robert George was grateful to see the pope sound the case again for orthodoxy on marriage, but in a papal document composed of 286 numbered paragraphs, “marriage” was given no more than one paragraph. And it was a paragraph notably holding back from explaining the moral argument that has not been sounded in the courts, or heard more than rarely in the pulpits.

On abortion, the pope aptly warned that the “defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.” For one cannot treat flippantly the standing of this “human person” in the womb without diminishing in the same way the standing, and rights, of any other human person.

But then the Holy Father quickly turns to note that: 

it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?


Nothing the Pope says here offers permission for aborting the child in these circumstances. But given what he has famously said about holding back from casting judgments, will we be surprised if people read his silence here as offering a tacit forgiveness in advance for the abortions that would dissolve the problem?   

Francis surely knows that these cases have caused the most strain in explaining the position of the Church. This is the place where teaching is needed. He might have called back his earlier words and said, “I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.”  But he chose to remain silent on the matter, even after he had raised the question.  

We have been told this year that the pope’s positions are far more “nuanced” than they appear in the interviews, relayed through reporters. But here he wrote in his own name at length, where he had ample room to be as nuanced as the subject required. What he produced was a hefty document, regrettably wanting in nuance on these matters of marriage and abortion.

In some quarters, what has also caused the real gnashing of teeth in response to Evangelii Gaudium has been the sections on economics. And yet the pope was careful to note that “the option for the poor” is “primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, or philosophical one.” His case for the poor is for truly engaging with them, for they are anchored in the world with things to tell us. They may be closer, he thought, to “the suffering of Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.”

And yet he swept past his own cautions as he inveighed against the “autonomy of markets” and the “invisible hand” – as though the grand exponents of a free economy had ever detached the “market” from the moral restraints of the law. The law would ever be in place to mark off the limits to what a decent people could demand and supply in the market.

Francis celebrates the capacity of the gospels to make all things new. But what he sees now with a fresh charm, is the romance of pursuing a “better distribution of income,” shorn of its moral fallacies, and the mischief it licenses. He runs the risk then of bringing back the apostles of liberation theology with their gospel of redistribution. That is not the Second Coming for which we have been waiting.

A decent society will tax itself to protect the destitute and disabled from perishing. That is quite different from claiming to know what the “rightful income” should be of a doctor, a ballplayer, or a plumber.

I wish I could enter a plea to the Holy Father that the next time he gathers with advisers to wade into the moral domain of political economy, he might also call 911 for Michael Novak. His counsel would be, at once, savvy and reverential.

 
Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.
 
 
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Comments (43)Add Comment
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written by Bedarz Iliaci, December 03, 2013
"the grand exponents of a free economy had ever detached the “market” from the moral restraints of the law."
Yes, they have. Consider just Mises and Rand. And their influence can not be underestimated among the conservatives, even among faithful Catholics.

Homosexual marriage is merely a Western battle.
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written by Mike M, December 03, 2013
I think you're taking his comments considerably farther than they go. Pope Francis is hardly the first pontiff to erect strawmen in his comments on the economy. Had I been in a position to comment on the exhortation before it was released, I certainly would have pressed the Holy Father on which governments have any faction that claims that the state shouldn't exercise "any control whatsoever" over the economy. But, he didn't say anything that close to indicated that there should be some authority determining how much each person is paid. Perhaps you're mistaking his use of the phrase "distribution of income." While, in American politics, we've started using the word "distributing" to refer to actively taking from some and giving to others, the term "distribution of income" is generally used with the more passive probability sense of the word distribution.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, December 03, 2013
It seems to me that the Holy Father has said nothing on economic matters that goes beyond the settled teaching of the Church, as contained, for example, in Pope Paul VI's great encyclical, Populorum Progressio.

Pope Paul VI, one recalls, cited St Ambrose, one of the Four Latin Doctors, "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich." (De Nabute, c. 12, n. 53)
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written by Jacob, December 03, 2013
Francis is an intellectual lightweight, whatever his obsessed fans tell you, and an extreme danger to the Church.


God bless Pope Francis, that he'll learn the wisdom of his two predecessors!
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written by Mack Hall, HSG, December 03, 2013
Papa Francis has said nothing new. Regardless of the wish-fulfillment fantasies of what may perhaps be called the Left and the fears of what might perhaps be called the Right, the Holy Father teaches what all other bishops of Rome have taught for 2,000 years, and which may be found in, among other primary sources, the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed, the Our Father, the Magnificat, the Hail Mary, and the Bible (the entire canon, not the post-16th-century digests passively accepted by many in this country). That these teachings are often ignored by frail and sometimes evil humans does not invalidate them.
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written by Sue, December 03, 2013
Pope Francis is presiding over a Church that is being looted by governments because of the sins of its sex-abusing priests. If the Church can no longer run the hospitals or the schools because its treasury is decimated, then it must unfortunately hand back the mantle of charitable leadership to the state. We are witnessing the sad extrapolation of Kinsey through Hefner through Kennedy up all those playful priests profiled in "Goodbye, Good Men". What is even worse than giving up the charity role is the impact that all of these "bad men", clueless about the family, still in ecclesiastical power, must be having on marriage prep, annulments, and everyday pastoral counseling.
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written by Manfred, December 03, 2013
Dr. Arkes: Thank you for your column. I hope you said a brief prayer before you read the Exhortation, as then plowing through the 200 pages would be an act of penance and you will have time removed from your stay in Purgatory.
Pope Francis is a product of the Council as he was trained and ordained after it ended. He has demonstrated repeatedly that he has nothing to say (see Fr. Schall, TCT, 10/28/13). Whether he intends it or not he has become a celebrity, but he is all skullcap and no reflection. Because of the heresies and heterodoxies which flowed after Vat II, the Church marginalized Itself and It has become the poor man's U.N. Recall that Bergoglio was the runner-up to Benedict in 2005 and the favorite in 2013. This tells us a lot about the many cardinals who voted for him.
See this from John Paul II:"We must prepare ourselves to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ...With your and my prayer it is possible to mitigate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because only thus can the Church be effectively renewed. How many times has the renewal of the Church sprung from blood! This time, too, it will not be otherwise. We must be strong and prepared and trust in Christ and His Mother, and be very, very assiduous in praying the Rosary."
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written by beddoo, December 03, 2013
Dr Arkes I think its time for you to accept that the brand of Catholicism that you novak weigel et al champion...you know the kind that treats the Catholic faith as an adjunct to Republican party partisanship ...is dead . You all could cherry pick the social doctrine of the church when Benedict and jpii were around but now with Francis you can't. There's nothing unclear at all about this letter. Its perfectly clear that the hayekian brand of Catholicism you champion is being criticized!
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written by Ted Seeber, December 03, 2013
"And yet he swept past his own cautions as he inveighed against the “autonomy of markets” and the “invisible hand” – as though the grand exponents of a free economy had ever detached the “market” from the moral restraints of the law. The law would ever be in place to mark off the limits to what a decent people could demand and supply in the market."

Except it arguably isn't, in the age of globalization. The WTO has no courts that aren't owned by the corporations, there is no judge to keep a first world bank from "foreclosing" with a bullet on a third world farm, the IMF keeps the third world in debt with usury.

Globalization is under the Rule of Corruption, not the Rule of Law.

And even in the United States under the Rule of Law, it isn't much better. Under the Rule of Law the "nonprofit" Planned Parenthood is a corporation earning several million a year killing people, quite legally. Gambling, the fraud of usury, the destruction of the family in our entertainment, abortion, euthanasia, war and even now prison systems and the death penalty are all quite profitable for the free market, and the human cost is simply outsourced to the poor. Even regulations about the environment, well, they're just for the United States, move the factory to China and you can pollute all you want.

There is no morality in a global marketplace- because there is no rule of law in a global marketplace.
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written by ken tremendous, December 03, 2013
We need to see how this happened. It started in the 70's when right thinking Catholics who opposed abortion started voting for Republicans. But the Reagan Supreme Court was not able to overturn Roe and thus the whole rationale for supporting the GOP was weakened.

But the anti-abortion movement did not give up. They realized that the GOP for all its flaws was their only hope in the political battle against abortion. So they refined their message. Not only was the GOP right on abortion but its economic policies were actually the most correct application of Catholic social teachings, so that Catholics really had no reason to vote for Democrats anyway. And during the Bush years we were even told that the GOP's preemptive war and CIA sponsored torture were both perfectly consistent with Catholic just war theory. The point of course was not to war monger, but to protect the Republican party from Catholic defections. Then in the age of Obama it got even more crazy. Catholics who opposed abortion were told that it was our moral duty to oppose the expansion of health care coverage to those who lack it. The official reason given was that the law promoted abortions (it didn't!). The real reason for opposing it was pure political calculation. If the law worked it would help the Democrats politically for years to come and hurt the GOP. And only in that sense was the law pro-abortion.

I think in all this the pro-life movement has been sadly used, Dr. Arkes. The movement attached itself to the GOP in the hopes of changing the party. But in reality the party has changed i.e. corrupted and coopted it.

The problem is not that you continue to oppose abortion and gay marriage. All Catholics must oppose these things. The problem is that this opposition bears the stench of the toxic brew of the GOP economic and foreign policy agenda and thus repels all but the most committed partisans who read this page.

You don't realize it, but this apostolic letter is doing you and the pro-life movement a big favor. Forget the GOP and its warmongering and materialist economic doctrines....heed Francis and embrace the Catholic faith in its fullness!
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written by Dan Deeny, December 03, 2013
A good article. Pope Francis seems to wander around a lot. But perhaps we should solve the abortion and sodomy problems here, where they are most dangerous. The American bishops might consider doing more than wringing their hands.
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written by Tony, December 03, 2013
To Beddoo above: The social doctrines of the Church are the sexual doctrines of the Church are the moral doctrines of the Church are the ecclesiological doctrines of the Church.

The trouble with Pope Francis is perhaps that he's coming from a country whose politics is a bald protection racket, and is now speaking to people who live in countries whose politics is a much more extensive but "softer" protection racket. I would dearly love to see a healthy redistribution, that is to say a restoration, of power and political authority from our Managers to the common people; and that would require, in the Protection Racket of America, much lower taxes. That is because we are taxed not to provide charity to the poor, but mainly to set up a Management State that rewards or punishes us with our own money. I ask myself, "Who profits materially and politically from the degradation of the family?" My answer is, "The Management Class, who are also in bed -- very often quite literally -- with legislators, 'journalists,' lawyers for political groups, business and regulatory lobbyists, social workers, officials in the big unions, and so forth." Taking power from them is like squeezing a shilling out of the unreformed Scrooge.
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written by Sue, December 03, 2013
I concur with beddoo...the neocon/Frankfurt school manipulations of the 20th century dwarf "liberation theology" as an evil. They pit abortionites against waterboarders and expect us to pick one of those sides. Same thing as in WWII - would you prefer Hitler or Stalin? ...what a choice!

We need a third way that is independent of the corporate/statist/monopolist manipulations. I urge the Church to purify itself and then grab back the leadership on caritas. Renounce the ties to government/foundations. Small/subsidiarity is beautiful...encourage homeschooling and homenursing...encourage charity at the family level and let it ripple out. But...repair the family first.
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written by Quaequemcue Vera, December 03, 2013
I follow this site quite regularly and I was waiting for the first commentary on Pope Francis' document. I find its vagueness maddening and I fear what the commentators are saying is true--Francis is an intellectual lightweight or worse that he is so much the product of Vatican II that very little traditional Catholicism will withstand his papacy. But please do not invoke Michael Novak as someone we should look to for guidance. No one has been more contemptuous of the clear teaching of Catholic Social Thought on the economy than him.
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written by grump, December 03, 2013
Francis recently took capitalism to task and made a big deal about how it's the responsibility of the wealthy to help the poor. It brought to mind this excerpt from the Gospel of Mark on Jesus' exchange with the young rich man:

"One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

"And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

"And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

Even after deducting payouts and hush money to cover up countless sex scandals, the Roman Catholic Church, and more specifically the Vatican, is one of the wealthiest institutions on Earth, thanks to vast holdings of priceless art, land, gold and investments across the globe.

The Pope would come off much less hypocritical and more credible if he were to announce that the Church would be liquidating some of these assets to do exactly what he is urging others to do: help the poor and needy.

Although impossible to calculate and widely debated, the Vatican's coffers have been reported to contain as much as $15 billion and perhaps more. It also remains one of Europe's biggest landowners, thanks to seizures of Papal States surrounding Rome and farflung properties dating back to 313 A.D. when Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Therefore, it seems to me what would be refreshing to hear from Francis would be "less nuance" and more straight talk. To have to continually parse the pontiff's words for their true meaning is getting to be tiresome and does little to advance the Church's social, political and economic agendas.

Having made Barbara Walters' list of 2013's "Most Fascinating" people, along with Miley Cyrus, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, the Pope can be said to be in good company by the mainstream media. "Rock Star" status, something JP2 also achieved, appears to have a greater appeal than the teachings of Christ.
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written by Jack,CT, December 03, 2013
One can not argue with you Dr Arkes-
Fantastic Article
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written by Walter, December 03, 2013
Manfred, who knows? Maybe Francis reads TCT and your comments inspired his "don't look like you are coming from a funeral" and "all Lent without Easter" remarks.
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written by Seanachie, December 03, 2013
Seems to me that didactic messages have three main qualities: accuracy, brevity, and clarity. Pope Francis' "nuanced" messages to date lack these qualities. When his messages require constant clarification, he is not effectively communicating. Relative to Pope Francis' comments on economics, he may benefit from recognizing and acknowledging that the voluntarily contributions from Catholics that feed him and the Church are often earned from personal effort and enterprise in "trickle-down", not Marxist(central-planning), systems. I fact, as history records, it is central-planning economic systems where government substitutes for God and the poor are marginalized and exploited.
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written by Gloria James, December 03, 2013
When I was in high school we prayed the rosary for the defeat of Communism. Years later I worked for President Reagan, and indeed, he, along with the Pope, did defeat communism. Now we have a Pope who chooses to attack capitalism, the system that supports the world. Yet he turns a blind eye to communism, the system that disallows freedom and promotes Godlessness. I am heartbroken.
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written by Matt, December 03, 2013
The Pope's exhortation, EVANGELII GAUDIUM, contained a significant thought that is very troubling; even Church threatening.

First, I quote the previous Pope to set the context of Francis' thinking.


Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger ( Pope Benedict XVI )

The problem of Episcopal Conferences ( The Ratzinger Report)

“The decisive new emphasis on the role of bishops ( via VII ) is in reality restrained or actually risks being smothered by the insertion of bishops into episcopal conferences that are ever more organized, often with burdensome bureaucratic structures.

We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function” (p.59).

The Catholic Church has an episcopal structure; it is not a federation of national churches. Ratzinger points out the intimidation and wheeling and dealing that go on in the voting sessions of such conferences. His critique of them is motivated by a desire to restore dignity and power to each individual bishop in his diocese."

And now from the mind of Pope Francis:


Pope Francis

EVANGELII GAUDIUM


Since I am called to put into practice whatI ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy.

It is my duty, as the Bishop ofRome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.

Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “away of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”.5

We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion.

The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”.36

Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated."


What this Pope wants to do is to invest doctrinal authority to a structure that is not "The Church" properly speaking.

This is not a Catholic thought - it is a form of Protestantism.

What Pope Francis has done with this statement of intent is to encourage disobedience in the Church... as I am sure the German Episcopal Conference will "embrace in its fullest meaning".

I can see the day where a Priest will disobey his local ordinary while pointing to the bishop's own Episcopal conference's statement on X issue as his real authority in a disputed matter. The bishop - if not very strong in the faith- will soon find himself going along with the flow of the conference's pronouncements; setting up the conditions for the nationalization of the Church and the eventual split of the Church just like the Anglicans.

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written by james, December 03, 2013
I think the issue with our Pope is not his heart - we see it on display and it moves us. I think the issue is how he expresses himself in a global context. My concern is that his words constantly causes confusion, and confusion is not good. Challenge us yes - confuse us no. If he wants a new move of joyful evangelization, and I know he does - he needs to stop shooting this movement in the foot. There is so much debate over his words that the joy he preaches is at times forgotten.
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written by Hadley Arkes, December 03, 2013
In response to Mack Hall and others, I am happy to confirm that the Church has been consistent in the main lines of its teaching for 2,000 years, and even for 2012 of them. But we had not heard at an earlier time that Catholic legislators in Illinois were voting in favor of same-sex marriage and invoking, on their side, the words of Benedict XVI. Nor did we hear that a character such as Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela had cited John Paul II as he extended price controls and pushed businesses large and small to the edge of bankruptcy. And yet these reports have been part of a rising volume of news citing the teachings of Francis I rippling out to a wider world. Yes, Catholic teaching has remained steady, but something has evidently changed in the teacher, or the way in which the teacher has made himself understood. And for people to pretend that nothing has changed is to show a telling blindness to the signs of the times—to things that anyone with eyes could see. Or could see if he were willing to read closely what is deliberately and carefully said by a man who needn’t worry that he is taking up too much space or using too much paper.

I said that the great defenders of the free market took for granted that the law would be in place to do what the law must ever do—mark off the boundaries of the market by marking the things that are right and wrong, legitimate and illegitimate. They assumed that the market could rightly function only with the goods and services that human beings could decently choose. Whether prostitution and pornography would be available then in the market would not depend then on whether there were people willing to supply and demand those services. When I wrote in this way of the grand exponents of a free economy I meant Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot. No, I did not mean the libertarian economists of our own age who would detach the “freedom to choose” from any moral ground of restraint.

I can’t imagine why our reader “bedoo” would think fit to describe me as an “Hayekian,” a follower of Hayek, but then again just about everything he says is beyond imagining. Hayek did some commentaries quite illuminating, though he carried the baggage of his “positivism” and moral skepticism. Still, Hayek offered an important critique of the law in Germany preparing the way for the Nazis precisely as it abandoned moral truths in favor of a reigning “positivism.” And in that vein, I hope that Ted Seebar will not let himself drift into the assumption that there is, in the international world, no principles of right and wrong, no laws of reason, just because there is no central agency with the authority to promulgate “positive laws” for the world.

We have given people a wide license to say things here they could not say if they were announcing to the world their names and addresses. And we are not obliged to comment on everything. But it surely strains the fellowship and tolerance of these pages for a writer to refer to Michael Novak as in any contemptuous of what the Church has taught. I’ve known Michael Novak for many years—I know his writings and the things he will say among friends, out of the hearing of others; and he has never or written or said anything that would convey, in any way, a contempt for what the Church has taught on any subject.

Lastly, I want to thank the “regulars” who took the trouble to write in today, including Tony, Manfred, Jack and Dan Deeny. And I want to leave word: If I’m not around, or in case anything happens to me, I leave my power of attorney to Tony to write on my behalf. I’ll back anything he says.
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written by Jarheadusmc, December 03, 2013
Allow me to quote a recent article by a Fr. Paul L. Kramer,B.Ph., S.T.B., M.Div., S.T.L. (Cand):

"Pope Francis in Evangilii Gaudium n. 247: 'We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked:."

"This text is an explicit profession of heresy, directly opposed to the solemn dogmatic definition of Pope Eugenius III and the Ecumenical Council of Florence, and the doctrine taught by the supreme magisterium of Pope Benedict XIV in Ex Quo Primum, set forth repeatedly and explicityly citing the definition of Florence, to wit, that the Mosaic covenant has been 'revoked' and 'abrogated'"

"...when a 'pope' will officially teach explicit and clear heresy flatly contradicting the infallibly defined dogma of the Catholic faith, ..."

Which seems to be very clear, public, official and this would mean that the pope demonstrates himself to be a manifest heretic, i.e. a plainly manifested public hereitic, ceases to be pope as taught by St. Bellarmine, Alphonsus Ligouri, St. Antoninus, and especially Pope Innocent III.

Could this be so? Today what is happening in the Church is unprecedented and much of what appears to be "wrong" or contrary to the "deposit of the faith" and the Infallible Dogmas and Doctrines of the previous General Councils, seems to be ignored by Catholics. I would pray that no matter the outcome, the truth is what we want and here it appears quite explicitly that this comment has much merit.

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written by Rolando Rodriguez, OFS, December 03, 2013
"I wish I could enter a plea to the Holy Father that the next time he gathers with advisers to wade into the moral domain of political economy, he might also call 911 for Michael Novak. His counsel would be, at once, savvy and reverential."
The Holy Spirit welcomes your plea and the availability of Michael Novak's counsel.
Meanwhile, our Holy Father Francis continues walking Home with us, stumbling and getting up again, learning and loving more, step by misstep, day by day.
Paz y Bien, Rolando, OFS.
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written by Peter, December 03, 2013
A President can (hopefully) be impeached, but can a Pontiff?
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, December 04, 2013
Considering Francis' background as a Jesuit, I refuse to believe that he has personally penned this latest document which is exhaustive (and exhausting, if not also frustrating to its readers) in length, scatter-shot in focus and oftentimes so confusing that provokes the now-too-frequent response: "What do you think he meant by this?". Where does he get the time in such a short span of papacy do have authored not only this, but an encyclical letter as well, with any degree of perspicacity and erudition? No, in my humble opinion, I place it in the same category as many of the pronouncements that come out of the USCCB under the names of various bishops that are ghost-written by the 'staffers' of Church bureaucracy.

At this point, I can only pray for Holy Father Francis that, on the heels of the liturgy reading of yesterday from Isaiah, the Holy Spirit endow him with His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. After that, I leave it to the Lord to sort out the mess.
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written by Avery Tödesulh, December 04, 2013
Great column, Dr. Arkes. One has to recall that most Popes were not all that insightful, intelligent or holy. We recall the great ones, but forget all the lessers. It's time to recall guys like Pope Liberius, the Avignon Popes, etc. Francis follows them in a well-worn tradition.

It is critically important to distinguish the two kinds of authority held by the Pope: 1) magisterial (when he is speaking ex cathedra, that is, in a way intended to be binding on the faithful), in which he is infallible; and 2) governing, as head of the Church appointed by Christ.

Popes are not infallible when making any governing decision, for they are limited by the information they have for a given situation. They are only infallible in making doctrinal pronouncements ex cathedra. However, a Pope still must be obeyed when exercising his governing authority, as long as his orders apply clearly to the Church rather than to temporal affairs. Do Francis comments on the world economy apply clearly to the Church? Or the temporal order?
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written by Martha Rice Martini, December 04, 2013
Thank you, Hadley, for saying so ably what many of us are thinking. This pope is a problem, not because of his ambiguity, but because of the CLARITY of his vision to reconfigure the Church. He told Scalfari that he was the one who had "the humility and the ambition" to complete the work of Vatican Il. Heaven help us!
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written by DS, December 04, 2013
I would guess that part of Francis' response to this article if he were to read it, is contained in Evangelii Gaudium: don't look to the Pope/Vatican for definitive answers on every issue, and dont' talk about the Pope more than Jesus.

Perhaps TCT should establish a sister website called "The Papal Thing."

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written by Quaequemcue Vera, December 04, 2013
Hadley: I am glad that you know michael Novak. It remains that his writings are at odds with what the Church teaches on political economy.
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written by Manfred, December 04, 2013
It should be noted that Michael Novak opposed Humanae Vitae for years, finally coming on board years ago.
Walter: You are correct. My attitude results from fifty years as an adult watching the victory of Modernism over Orthodoxy. This Pope could live for another ten years and, quite frankly, I am not certain he could pass a Competency Test today. Will further years bring sunshine?
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written by Patrick Hoopes, December 04, 2013
When I read Evangelii Gaudium, I kept wondering who the Holy Father was speaking to. I kept asking myself, just who are these rigorists who take refuge in a secure edifice of rule-driven orthodoxy, while missing out on the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ and his mission? Do these people really exist? I wanted to thank all of you for answering this question for me!
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written by Louise, December 04, 2013
Hadley, I really wanted to comment on your article but I am only half way through the Holy Father's document and I'd rather wait till I've read it all; probably by the time I accomplish that it will be too late. However, in response to the person who wondered how he had the time to write it...I am struck by how much of it seems to be a repetition of what he has already said in homilies, interviews etc. which makes me think he has been writing it a bit every day and then quoting from it on that particular day!
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written by Avery Tödesulh, December 04, 2013
@Quaequemcue Vera

Vos Novak nescis. Vestibulum librum ante comment.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, December 05, 2013
When I was in 'deacon school' and taking our obligatory course on homiletics, our priest=professor warned us against homilies that amounted to nothing more than 'random thoughts while shaving.' I only can hope that what issues forth from the Holy Father - whether in unrecorded interviews with newpapermen, interviews aboard airplanes en route to Rome after grueling WYD events, or apostolic exhortations - is, in the future, the result of a more disciplined and, protracted period of thought, prayer and deliberation. He should realize that serious-minded Catholics, as well as the ill-intentioned secular press parse every word he utters for confirmation or refutation of their own agenda. What we will need is explication, not more confusion. With more of "What does he mean by this?" people used to paying heed will just stop bothering. In a throw-back to the bad ole Clinton years, words DO matter.
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written by Brad Miner, December 05, 2013
I must second. less elegantly, the comment of Mr. Tödesulh @ Quaequemcue Vera. In fact, sir, Mr. Novak contributed considerably to John Paul II's CENTESIMUS ANNUS, which, by virtue of being an encyclical, trumps the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis.
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written by Quaecumque Vera, December 05, 2013
Avery: I do not think I am ignorant of Novak's work. The Catholic Church condemns socialism. It is equally as unequivocal in its critique of capitalism. Quadragesimo Anno is an extended treatment of why the ideology of capitalism cannot be accepted. Very little, if anything , of what that document says no longer applies. Every Church document speaks with one voice--money is a means not the ultimate end of our economic striving. Michael Novak gets around this by redefining capitalism. It is no longer using money to make money but will now be the use of the mind. Because the Church says nothing against this-how could it--our worship of Mammon is given free reign. I don't know if this is being contemptuous of Church teaching. It certainly does not respect the Church documents, certainly is not standing under the documents to understand them. Jesus did not say blessed are the Fortune 500. He did say woe to you who are rich now.
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written by Bill Beckman, December 05, 2013
Bravo Patrick Hoopes. You've put your finger on the problem. It seems that The Catholic Thing has chosen the treacherous course of papal criticism, and notice the spirit it has spawned. One commentator thinks the pope should be impeached, another labels him a heretic. Fear not, with this many people who regard themselves as more Catholic than the pope, the Church is in great shape.
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written by Avery Tödesulh, December 06, 2013
Agnoscite, cogitatio Novakis non crescunt solus. Eius laus de humana libertas, sicut clavis ad capitalismi, venisset a theologia de Karl Rahner, SJ. Jesuita scripsit in Grundkurs des Glaubens (1976), ut euentus de gratia Dei sit "appellatio ad libertatem aliis" (Rahner, 193). Libertas videtur, de duobus, ut radice de hominis actione.

Ut D. Miner scripsit, Centesimus Annus Quadragesimo Anno in parvis vias mutatur, sed crucial mutationes. Nunc alterum sine altero non potest.
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written by Chris in Maryland, December 07, 2013
Pope Francis gives excellent homilies.

Pope Francis does not communicate well at interviews.

A "200 page" exhortation?! That is a failure to communicate.

I have read numerous of his homilies, and his encyclical "Lumen Fidei" via B16.

Now I have to force myself to read a 200 page document to even have a chance to know what's going on in my Church. Well - I'm going to read it - but if I couldn't get an exhortation done in 10-20 pages...I'd feel like I'd failed at editing.
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written by Louise, December 07, 2013
Hadley, I say this with great affection for all the good you do-- it seems to me there is a bit of logical inconsistency in your complaint. You say that compression is superior and yet you fret about the pope’s compression on two important issues, marriage and the right to life. I found this short statement to be one of the most powerful in the whole exhortation, “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.” That should be highlighted in many places with attribution given to Pope Francis!
Yes, it is a long doc but my guess is that the Holy Father is following his own stated desire to encourage the bishops to exercise the responsibility they have in the church by including many of the findings of the synod on which this exhortation is based. I loved reading every bit of it.
I have to say that my greatest disappointment is the criticism and dissent that this exhortation is meeting among conservatives for its statements on economic issues. I guess no one took Pope Benedict XVI seriously. I admit I'm no expert on economics, but I suggest everyone take a deep breath and reread Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate, which to my mind Pope Francis expertly compressed in this exhortation.
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written by jan, December 08, 2013
St Thomas Aquinas, who you are eager to quote in other contexts, was not averse to discussing 'rightful incomes,' nor was he averse to discussing 'rightful prices' of goods. The scope of the sub-branch of moral philosophy known as 'economics' is not limited to discussing the degree of taxation of gain made in free-market economies. The Pope spoke of, and has continued to speak of in his exhortation, the problem of unemployment. He criticized the permanence of the welfare state. It is not Christian to say that people who cannot compete in the market place must be permanent recipients of charity. This does not comport with their dignity. But the logic of the market is to do as much as possible, with as little as possible [including human beings] for no other end than to make as much as possible, in order to reward shareholders. It does not take a socialist to observe that such a system is not fundamentally concerned with the dignity of human beings and that the failings of such a system do not cry out to us to find a better way.
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written by J. Fekete, December 16, 2013
Hmmm … Why not to have as new candidates for the next conclave Mr. H. Arkes or Mr. M. Novak. It sounds like a bad joke, doesn’t it? Yes, indeed. Naturally, it is only a joke, in the same manner as (I hope) the tone of the article itself. (Consider just the authors´ challenging title: Francis, the Writer Unbound.) Many of us Europeans are quite happy not to have an European as a pope. The Church is catholic and not European. And you, dear North American friends, should be happy as well not to have a north American for a pope. (I hope, that you have already forgotten my introductory proposal: H.A.; M.N.) Why? … too much concentration of power, dictatorship of know-how and self-interests on both trans-Atlantic coasts. The future lies elsewhere. Not in the power zones of the World. (We do know something about it from our complex and painful Christian European history. And your Independence /1776/ is an excellent and beautiful answer to this intricate experience). Bethlehem is the biblical name of power free zones for the Good News for the poor in Americas, Europe and the rest of our common beautiful Earth. The Joy of the Gospel is a great chance for all of us.

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