The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Three Surprising Papal Moves Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 25 November 2013

Among the many new notes introduced by Pope Francis, we now have evidence of his willingness to correct his own errors or imprecise statements – and quite openly, too – something not always seen in Rome’s handling of PR problems. That’s the contention, anyway, of noted Vaticanologist Sandro Magister, who’s pointed out three recent cases. Two relate to Catholic self-understanding, the third to Francis’s global view of the contemporary world.

The first two corrections dealt with the two interviews the pope gave this year, which raised questions about what, precisely, he meant to say.

Speaking with Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari of the newspaper La Repubblica, Francis expressed what seemed a muddle about each person needing to follow his or her own vision of the Good. A very few of us in the Catholic commentariat maintained that he had indeed said such a thing, but couldn’t have meant it quite that way. That now seems to be the case. The Vatican took down the interview from its website, and both Scalfari and Vatican officials say it was a reconstruction with words that may not have been Francis’s own – and might be misleading.

Similarly – and of greater import – Francis corrected another “imprecision” in a widely distributed interview with La Civiltà Cattolica. He said that Vatican II had performed “a reinterpretation of the Gospel in the light of contemporary culture.” This phrase is often used by proponents of a “rupture” with the past at the Council. Francis has removed any ambiguity by publicly commending a scholar of the Council’s “continuity” with the past as the best interpreter, which is to say he’s in line with John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

This doesn’t fit the secular media’s narrative about Francis, so it’s barely been noticed outside Catholic outlets. But it should lay to rest earlier agitation over what seemed a casualness bordering, at times, on almost inconceivable concessions to current secular culture.


           Robert Hugh Benson

I myself think a third recent assertion by Francis is quite earthshaking. Many have already convinced themselves that he’s some kind of progressive – against all the evidence from Argentina. He may have decided to tip his hand a bit more openly – and deftly.

In a morning homily last week, he spoke of “adolescent progressivism” and quoted Robert Hugh Benson’s apocalyptic novel Lord of the World as having foreseen the “hegemonic uniformity,” a form of worldliness that was coming into being and which today, bears evil fruits in the culture of death.

This pope taught literature and mentions it frequently; he listens to opera, even the whole of Wagner’s massive Ring; and he has a cultural sophistication, over and above his commitment to humility and simplicity. The Benson reference is intriguing: has Francis been reading his story about a future dystopia – our own time – in the evenings after his duties are done for the day? (It’s worth recalling that Pope Benedict mentioned Benson’s novel more than once himself.)

Benson died in 1914, at only forty-three, but did much in his relatively brief life. His father was an Anglican bishop and an Archbishop of Canterbury. Benson was ordained an Anglican priest, but was powerfully drawn to Rome as the only real Christianity left. In 1904, he became a Catholic priest, whereupon he went back to his alma mater, Cambridge, and became famous as a Catholic apologist and convert-maker.

Lord of the World is a daring projection of where Benson thought things would be by the end of the twentieth century. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, he didn’t foresee crude totalitarianisms, like Nazism or Communism. He expected, at least in England, an insidious Humanism would dominate. One of his characters reflects:

There it stretched away into the grey haze of London, really beautiful, this vast hive of men and women who had learned at least the primary lesson of the gospel that there was no God but man, no priest but the politician, no prophet but the schoolmaster.
Those who embrace this ethos – many Catholics, including many old Catholic families and even Catholic priests apostasize – believe they have left behind superstition for a more rational and “humane” way of life.


Political forces worked secretly for this triumph, notably the Freemasons, in Benson’s telling. Two currents, Materialism and Psychology, have been especially effective. The materialism is self-refuting, as all materialism is, for any thinking being – thinking not being a material process. But psychology comes to the rescue by portraying every impulse that contradicts “the primary lesson” as wishful thinking, sentimentality, weakness, compensation.

Meanwhile, under the new dispensation, Death still remains a challenge. When a volor (Benson anticipated regular commercial aviation) crashes in downtown London, a priest gives last rites to the few Catholics. But the more typical ministrations, deployed by government, are the “euthanatisers” sent to deliver the victims from their sufferings. Anyone dismayed at the bleak “rational” life in this world without transcendence can apply for a euthanasia permit.

All this is set within the larger story of Julian Felsenburgh, a political messiah who seems to be capable of reconciling the large blocs in the future world. But though he moves the masses to utter worship of him, no one seems to know anything about him. The peace he brings is no peace – he’s carrying out murders to impose “peace.” And, incapable of allowing the few pockets of religion left on earth to exist, he orders a massive air attack on Jerusalem, which leads to end of the world.

As in most stories of this kind, some elements are carried farther than we might think plausible. Or are they?  Unlike Benson, we have sobering examples from the twentieth century of political messianisms that killed tens of millions – and half a billion babies aborted by our humane modern states. Compared to us, Benson’s anti-Christ was a piker.  

The fact that Pope Francis is thinking along these lines, even if just in passing, reveals another surprising side of him. No doubt, we’ll hear more of that in the future.

 
Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the Westnow available in paperback from Encounter Books.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (20)Add Comment
0
...
written by Jack,CT, November 25, 2013
Wonderful piece Mr Royal-
0
...
written by Grump, November 25, 2013
I have to hand it to the Pope. Anyone who can get through Wagner's "Ring" is a model of endurance. As Mark Twain once observed, "Wagner's music is not as bad as it sounds."

Re this nugget from Bob's column:

"All this is set within the larger story of Julian Felsenburgh, a political messiah who seems to be capable of reconciling the large blocs in the future world. But though he moves the masses to utter worship of him, no one seems to know anything about him. The peace he brings is no peace – he’s carrying out murders to impose “peace.”

Was this an intentional allusion to the current occupant of the Oval Office? It seems to fit perfectly.

0
...
written by Manfred, November 25, 2013
Thank you for an excellent article, Dr. Royal. The fact remains that the Scalfari interview was translated into six languages and placed on the Vatrican website for two months!
If you ran a commercial firm and Jorge Bergoglio was your marketing manager, how long do you think you would keep him around? I think Scalfari is playing the gentleman by suggesting Francis's words were somehow his and not the Pope's. Orthodoxy and orthodontistry come from the same root word referring to straight teeth and straight doctrine.Forget the opera and Benson's book. Cdl Law was one of the forces pushing for The Catechism of the Catholic Church produced in 1992. Its purpose was to tell Catholics what the Church taught, if anything, in all the confusion after VAT.II. I am sure that Bergoglio's handlers will keep him on a tight leash moving forward but that is not enough.The Church must call a council in which all the heresy and heterodoxy is identified and condemned. Otherwise these errors will continue to fester. Isn't legalized in "marriage" sodomy enough of a warning that the world and the Church are already over the cliff?
0
...
written by Sue, November 25, 2013
Very fitting for this to be posted the day after Christ the King. (Makes up for the touch of Kennedelia in the previous post!)
0
...
written by Alex, November 25, 2013
Beware of Sandro Magister. He is almost suggesting that the Pope makes mistakes all the time, that his credibility should be doubted, that the Vatican's authority is to be questioned and never followed out of obedience. Granted that it is an eternal truth that the Church is made up of sinners, the conclusion shouldn't be that when the Vatican is trying to guide the Church as a whole that it should be questioned or second-guessed. This is not the first time I hear of him plotting against the authority of the Pope. He did it with Benedict and is doing it again with Francis.
0
...
written by Rich in MN, November 25, 2013
I think one of the most tragic and dangerous confusions is not understanding the exact nature of forgiveness and mercy. We jump from the truth that God is forgiving to the rather idiotic conclusion that, therefore, our sins are really not that bad -- or not bad at all! In fact, we'll proudly state, "How many people who act on their desire to [fill in the sin-du-jour] does God have to create before we accept [fill in the sin-du-jour] as a GOOD???

It would be as if we forgave our child for dropping and breaking a dish and then, after they learned they were forgiven, they proceeded to break more dishes because it must not be a bad thing! How would we like that???

GK Chesterton (a contemporary of Benson and every bit as prescient) points out this idiocy with extraordinary eloquence and power in his Father Brown story entitled, "The Chief Mourner of Marne."

(And please, please, PLEASE, if you are unfamiliar with the Fr Brown stories, DO NOT watch the PBS "Fr Brown" series as your introduction. I watched an episode only to learn that this "fr Brown" considered it is very dangerous to accept Jesus' miracles too literally. Father Brown, the demythologizer! Who woulda thunk it! Chesterton must be shaking his head -- or whatever those among the "cloud of witnesses" do when they notice a profound contradiction in the physical realm.)
0
...
written by Robert Royal, November 25, 2013
Alex, with all due respect, I know Sandro Magister (I assume you do not). He's never suggested any such thing, in public or private. In fact, quite the contrary. Until the confusing interviews from Pope Francis began to appear, I believe he had never even suggested in the slightest that a pope had put out a potentially misleading statement. You're slandering someone who has been a very loyal and diligent Catholic reporter.
0
...
written by mary, November 25, 2013
thank you Dr Royal. So here's my question - why did it take so long to figure out that what Scalfaro wrote was not in fact what the Pope said ? Can anyone answer that - I truly hope so.
0
...
written by DS, November 25, 2013
I am glad that some are comforted by Francis' supposed new tack to orthodoxy. I have failed to see what the angst is all about. This constant back-and-forth (has he "ruptured a Benedictine hermeneutic"? stumbled on an orthodox tripwire? worn the wrong vestment on the loggia? endorsed gay marriage?) sounds like my teen's latest authoritative pronouncements from Twitter.

In just a few months, Francis has be labeled many things, both positive (e.g., pastoral, humble, evangelizer) and negative (e.g., duplicitous, heretic, naive). But the only things we know for certain are (1) he is a human being who is now Pope and (2) he has consistently proclaimed the Gospel and his love of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps we should give him and the Holy Spirit some time and space to do their work.
0
...
written by Ted Seeber, November 25, 2013
Nah, can't be a reference to Obama, in comparison to Felsenburgh, he simply isn't charismatic enough. He'd need twice as many people worshiping in the church of St. Obama to come close.

But all politicians do have a touch of the antichrist in them. If they didn't, they wouldn't have a big enough ego to survive the campaign trail
0
...
written by Robert Royal, November 25, 2013
Mary, that's an interesting question. I've heard a lot of speculation about the answer, but since it's just speculation I think we should leave it for now and let the facts speak for themselves.

DS, you seem blessed with an unusually placid disposition. Pope Francis is a charismatic man who, in just a brief time, has moved millions around the world. As pope - which means a figure whose every word is carefully examined - he's raised many hopes and fears as well. It's not surprising that people pay attention and react to what he has to say.
0
...
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., November 25, 2013
The secularization that Fr. Benson predicted is here and procees apace in some quarters, particularly in so-called Catholic colleges. With the regularity of the tides those who actually listen hear from the pulpits the twisting of Scripture to fit the Leftist agenda of replacing the gosple of salvation with with that of social justice. We are told that the Hebrews who SETTLED in Goshen were "migrant workers" and that Chrsit chose "marginalized" fisheman and a tax collector. Oh, yes, and the Birth of the Savior was revealed first to "marginalized" shepherds. It is good that some are not listening and don't realize that they are being scolded for marginaizing "gays" and poor people. Unfortuantely enough have listened to this insidous rot that it can be said that Catholics have had a major role in electing pro-abortion, pro-promiscuity, anti-Christian politicians across this land. When I hear them say not to fear and insist that there is no war on Chrsitianity I think of the voice Jim Jones telling those about to drink the poisoned Koo-Aid to calm their children.
0
...
written by schm0e, November 25, 2013
"Earthshaking," indeed! Does the Holy Father underestimate the weight the world puts on a mere knitting of his eyebrows? Can it possibly be underestimated the ramifications of him citing, of all things, *that* book?

Maybe it's just me. But I don't think "earthshaking" is too big a word.

And I'm happy to know that the Holy Father holds in some esteem a book which I had the pleasure of reading for the first time this summer.
0
...
written by Robert Thaler, November 25, 2013
The site, "Today's Catholic World" shows evidence that the decline of true Catholicism is due to the loss of the vatican in 1958 to the Masons and that Cardinal Siri was validly elected the pope then. And he called himself Pope Gregory XVII. He was also claimed to have been held captive in Genoa, Italy untill 1988. What is suggested is that the world had no true popes since Pope Pius XII. What do you make of that? Robert
0
...
written by DS, November 25, 2013
Mr. Royal, my comment certainly does not spring from a placid disposition (my wife will surely laugh when I show her your comment). It is quite simple, actually: if we truly believe what we recite in the Creed every Sunday, then whatever Francis might do or say on a particular day to get me excited, angry or perplexed can easily be put into perspective.

I must admit, I smiled when he washed the feet of homeless youth and made a sandwich for a Swiss Guard, though I don't consider either to be a profound Papal moment or theological breakthrough.
0
...
written by Robert Royal, November 25, 2013
DS: I know this syndrome myself. My wife laughs a lot at things said about me - one of the great benefits of marriage is the inescapable realism.

Robert, I don't much credit the kinds of things you cite. There was turmoil in the Church in the 1960s and 1970s. But if JPII, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis are not Catholic - and among the distinguished popes of our distinguished Catholic tradition - then who would be?
0
...
written by Manfred, November 25, 2013
"We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think the wide circle of the American Society, or the wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the Gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. This confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is therefore, in God's Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up and face courageously....."
Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 9, 1978
0
...
written by schm0e, November 25, 2013
@Manfred -- wow. Thanks for that. I hadn't seen it. Clearly we are well into it.
0
...
written by Rosemary, November 25, 2013
Thank you for the quote of JPII, Manfred. He is sorely missed.

Never have I seen or heard such fussing and clucking about interviews as there have been about the two Francis gave. They were most certainly approved by the Pope and his press office, and, yes, as Manfred said, they were up on the Vatican's own website. Were the interviews a "test"? I wonder.
They have provoked a collective response that any marketing firm would envy.

I have been following Sandro Magister for a few years and have found him to be a font of probity. He writes in a deliberative manner that gives the facts and lets you decide how you want to see them. That he may be scandalized by certain events I take to be a normal response but he has not gone past the point of the minimum decorum necessary. (His translator is very good, too.)

Not to be a Susie Sunshine or anything, but I am tired of cursing the darkness, the "adolescent progressivism", the secular whatever, the culture of death, post-modernism, etc. Of course, we can't ignore it; as JPII says, we must face it courageously. We must also face the prospect that we can't save everyone - or even most of everyone. The Lord said we should go out and preach but he never said we must save the world. Only God can do that, if he chooses.

Perhaps we are too interested in the condition of the world, in fixing the world - and not so interested in learning about the faith that we profess.

One of the great aspects of Jesus Christ was how people were attracted to him. He did not run around telling Caesar or Pilate how to run the Roman Empire. Even people who hated him found him compelling because Jesus is like a magnet. There is no need to go out and "fix" things for people to find the Christian message attractive. Perhaps I am being naive but I do believe it is possible because Christ is always relevant. We need to forget the distraction of politics and come to people where they hurt, personally. That's the magnet of Christ, the Suffering Servant.
0
...
written by Manfred, November 26, 2013
Post Script: It will be noted that our own Fr. James Schall wrote a column in TCT (Oct. 28th?)comparing Francis's remarks to Scalfari to words from the pen of Justice Anthony Kennedy in a decision before the Supreme Court on the subject of homosexual "marriage, declaring he could find very little difference between the two statements. Are we really to believe that that the editor of one of the largest newspapers in Italy, which is also sold in the U.S., would have an interview with a Pope during which no audio tapes or stenographer were present? That this private conversation, as were are now to believe, was published in this newspaper, complete with quotation marks, placed on the Vatican website for two months, translated into six languages, and the interview was merely Scalfari putting words in the Pope's mouth? I refuse to believe that Fr. Schall and the rest of the world coud be duped so easily. In fact, we know these were the Pope's words and the outcry from the Catholic "grown-ups" around the world is what forced this recantation with Sclafari deflecting the blame(?) to himself.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 
CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner