Popish unctuousness and cowardice

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.28.47Less a shepherd, more one of the sheep

Pope Francis’s speech to Congress, writes Dalrymple, resembled that of

a politician seeking re-election. It was like the work not of a man intent upon telling the truth, however painful or unpopular, but that of a committee of speech-writers who sifted every word for its effect, appealing to some without being too alienating of others. If Bill Clinton had been elected pope, he might have made the same speech, so perfect was its triangulation, so empty its high-sounding phrases.

Interviewed after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Francis let it be known that if someone insulted his mother he could expect a punch, making a physical gesture to illustrate his point.

This is not exactly the doctrine enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount; and one could not imagine John Paul II or Benedict XVI making so foolish or crude a mistake under the complacent impression that he was charming.

Francis’s

propensity to run after false gods, most of them fashionable in the constituency to which he evidently wants to appeal, no doubt accounts for his popularity. He is bien pensant; and where he does not yet feel able to alter doctrine in a liberal direction he is evasive and even cowardly, afraid to court distaste or opposition by clear expression of what he means.

Dalrymple asks to whom and at what these papal weasel words are directed:

It is my wish throughout my visit that the family be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! How worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and beauty of family life.

Dalrymple:

Who and what are calling fundamental relationships into question? Fundamental relationships do not call themselves into question: someone must do it in the name of some doctrine, some belief. The Pope’s resort to the passive mood is indicative of his moral cowardice in confronting the opponents of what the Church believes in. Those opponents he knows to be militant and aggressive, and to confront them openly would lead to his fall in the popularity polls.

Francis

evades the issue with vague and oily declamation. It is one thing to be peace-loving and conciliatory, another to surrender by means of avoidance of the issue.

Such avoidance was evident when Francis said:

We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.

Dalrymple:

This may be true in the abstract, but the wholesale persecution of religious minorities, and the perpetration of violent acts in a host of locations, is confined to Islamic extremism. It would have been better for the Pope not to have broached the subject than to have dealt with it in so pusillanimous a fashion.

The Pope’s secularist outlook is evident in his abolitionism:

I am convinced that this way is best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

Dalrymple:

There is nothing here about mercy, forgiveness, repentance, redemption or salvation. Rehabilitation is a purely secular concept, suggesting that the wickedness of crime is a form of illness, to be treated by the psychological equivalent of physiotherapy; sin, or even vice, doesn’t come into it.

Francis’s words

are indistinguishable from those of the European Court of Human Rights, when it ruled that it was a breach of fundamental rights that brutal repeat murderers should be sentenced to whole-life terms because such sentences exclude the possibility of their rehabilitation (even if, in practice, they would never be released). But while God may forgive Himmler – under certain conditions – surely Man cannot. The irreparable exists in the sublunary world.

At every point, Dalrymple points out, Francis

evaded specifics and resorted to unctuous generalities. No one ever courted unpopularity by denouncing injustice, but many risked much by being specific about what they considered, rightly or wrongly, unjust.

Francis

was against poverty in the way the preacher in the Coolidge anecdote was against sin. But while no secularist will speak up for poverty, the religious attitude has traditionally been more nuanced.

Francis spoke of the unjust structures that exist even in the developed world. This, says Dalrymple, is to

make a fetish of wealth.

Moreover, he was

exciting one of the seven deadly sins, envy.

Francis, Dalrymple concludes, prefers to court popularity while rocking no boats. He

plays to the gallery, wanting to be liked by everybody. There is nothing of timelessness in what he says but only of the temporal, the contingent, the fashionably platitudinous.

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