50,000 words, boiled down—way down.Dec 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 15 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
Everybody has an opinion about the pope these days and, what’s worse, feels compelled to express it. Rush Limbaugh has an opinion about the pope. He says he finds the pope “upsetting.” And he’s not even Catholic!
It’s true that Rush Limbaugh finds nearly everything upsetting. Getting upset is what he gets paid to do. What has set him off this time is the papal exhortation released late last month, Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel. It is the kind of document, increasingly common, that is commented upon and argued over and tweeted about rather than read. It goes on for more than 50,000 words, and much of it is of narrow, I almost said parochial, interest; according to a tally by the Catholic News Service, for example, more than 10 percent of it is devoted to the pope’s sermon-writing tips for pastors. Much of the rest has to do with the authority of bishops’ meetings and other matters of church organization.
Still, Evangelii Gaudium is easy to read, most of the time, thanks to Pope Francis’s pleasant and familiar prose style. This makes it all the more frustrating that so many opinion-izers didn’t dog-paddle through all of its 288 sections. Judging by the commentary, you’d think the upshot of the document, or even the document itself, consisted of six paragraphs devoted to the pope’s musings—it’s hard to call them ideas—about economics.
Too bad: There’s lots more to Evangelii Gaudium, including passages on the social obligations of private faith that are as graceful, generous, and penetrating as any you’re likely to read. A proper faith, he tells us, leads to “a fraternal love capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbor, of finding God in every human being, of tolerating the nuisances of life in common by clinging to the love of God, of opening the heart to divine love and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does.” This might have calmed Limbaugh down if he’d gotten that far.
It is perhaps the fate of Francis to be misunderstood, whether through ignorance, laziness, or acts of will. The public image of a thoroughly reformist pope is by now fixed, and people who like the idea—not a large percentage of them are Catholics, I’ll assume—are taking the ball and running with it. A priest reports being asked by a woman in a discussion group when he was going to be married, now that the pope had declared that priests should find a mate. (She had garbled the public comments of a Vatican official who had pointed out that priestly celibacy is a theoretically reversible convention and not a dogma of the church.) A Time magazine copy editor, giddy at the thought of a pope just like him or herself, tagged a picture of the pope like so: “The first Jesuit Pontiff won hearts and headlines with his common touch and his rejection of church dogma . . . ” The caption was corrected, but you can see why they think they like him so much.
Traditionalists are quick to point out that Francis hasn’t come close to “rejection” of any dogma, and, in matters dear to the hearts of Catholic traditionalists, he continues to make strongly worded statements on abortion and the protection of unborn babies—not a dominating concern for Catholic liberals in Europe and America. And in the new document, in a passage in praise of women’s contributions to church life, he includes a parenthetical aside: “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open for discussion.” Time’s copy editors can take comfort from the pope’s modish use of the unisex “Spouse,” however.
Till now the pope’s reputation as a man of the left has rested on that “common touch,” along with his lack of interest in issues of homosexuality, particularly gay marriage, which in one way or another excite Western Catholics of all dispositions. The categories of right and left in the Catholic church don’t translate well into the world of practical politics, especially in the United States, where the politics are at once intellectually inert and rhetorically feverish. Many Catholic conservatives, for example, have little affection for the free market (until it comes to finding bargains) because it disrupts settled patterns of family and social life. In response to Evangelii Gaudium, they applauded as heartily as any Catholic liberal the pope’s treatment of market economics (he never uses the even more ambiguous word “capitalism”). It was rough indeed, as in this instantly famous passage:
The new pope’s first encyclicalJul 22, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 42 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
There’s something in the new papal encyclical Lumen Fidei to disappoint everyone who longs for direct political action from the Vatican.
The fundamental challenge(s) of Catholic renewal.
Mar 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 25 • By RYAN T. ANDERSON
But who do you say that I am?
This question, from an obscure Nazarene carpenter to an even more obscure Galilean fisherman, has proved to be the world’s most important query. How you answer it has profound implications for how you will lead your life. And, as C. S. Lewis pointed out some 50-plus years ago, Jesus left us with only three options: He was either a pathological liar, a deranged lunatic, or the Lord of the universe.
The race is close, and turnout promises to be high.
Mar 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 24 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
The next pope will be Christoph Schönborn, cardinal archbishop of Vienna. The principal editor of the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church, Schönborn was among Benedict’s favorite students back when the current pope was a theology professor, and he stands as one of the few high clerics to act heroically during the sexual-abuse scandal.
1:14 PM, Sep 1, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
On his nightly television show recently, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell said that Texas governor Rick Perry is not suitable to be president of the United States because of his connection to one man — Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas.
Notre Dame drops trespassing charges against pro-lifers.May 30, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 35 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
Early this month came the news that Notre Dame has agreed, at last, to drop the trespassing charges it had been pressing against the protesters who marched on its campus two years ago. The pro-life protesters. At a Catholic school.
Why won't American Catholic bishops defend public figures who believe in the Catechism?11:00 PM, Dec 3, 2003 • By HUGH HEWITT
CATHOLIC BISHOPS have been making noises about disciplining Catholic politicians who advocate for policies opposed to Church teaching. If you are an observant Catholic, don't get your hopes up.
A pair of bestsellers roll their own religion.Sep 22, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 02 • By CYNTHIA GRENIER
The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown
Doubleday, 454 pp., $24.95
The Lovely Bones
by Alice Sebold
The Democratic governor starts bragging on his faith and saying a few Hail Diannes to get him out of trouble.1:20 AM, Sep 4, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
INTERSTATE 5 is not the road to Damascus. But don't tell that to Gray Davis. He wants Californians to believe he's their St. Paul--a convert who shouldn't be recalled because he's seen the light.
The biblical analogy is irresistible.
No matter how bad it looks for him, no matter how many political flesh wounds he suffers, Gray Davis isn't dead yet.12:00 AM, Aug 22, 2003 • By LARRY MILLER
THIS IS LARRY MILLER, your Special Man On The Street, Self-Appointed Hollywood Recall Election Correspondent, reporting live from the rooftops of Universal City. Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea. I can see the lights of the explosions below me in Encino. Oh, the humanity! No, wait, that's just the premiere of "T3." Where was I? Ah, yes, the state is ablaze on the left and the right, and I feel like Raymond Burr leaning out a window in Tokyo narrating the carnage before being knocked through the uprights by Godzilla.
Or someone with a better build.
From the August 25, 2003 issue: The controversy over Mel Gibson's forthcoming movie on the death of Jesus Christ.Aug 25, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 47 • By MICHAEL NOVAK
THE NICENE CREED, recited by the world's more than two billion Christians every Sunday, declares that Jesus Christ "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried."
More than anything else, these ten words are the theme of "The Passion," Mel Gibson's new movie.