Papa Frank’s Muddy Toes


There’s so much dirt!

We at the feralyawp don’t much care for Papa Frank. His toothy grin, saccharine pronouncements, economic ignorance, and obliviousness to actual (as opposed to airy and hypothetical) solutions to the world’s ugliness, which cannot be wiped away with a charitable foot-washing, has us rolling our eyes fairly often. He may dust off the feet of the downtrodden, but his moral pronouncements conveniently float in the ether where he criticizes specific policies but offers none himself to solve earthy problems.

From the start, Frank has used his pulpit to lecture the world on a whole range of political matters. Recently he continued his campaign to encourage Europeans to find a bold and compassionate plan for immigration by orchestrating one of his little do-gooder photo-ops with Muslim immigrants he rescued from Greece. Frank’s conservative defenders highlight Papa’s Christian charity. The good Samaritan certainly comes to mind and no one can fault his excellency on this point. Further, the Pope is not totally naive and has shown some awareness of the cultural problems brought on by mass immigration. But he and his liberal supporters want to have their cake and eat it too.

The Pope’s remarks from several months ago on the immigrant crisis underscore a recurring theme with the man: high-minded principles, coupled with moral brow-beating of particular policies, followed up with a dose of nothing—no papal policy is forthcoming to solve the problem. Throughout his speech he condemns the “exploitation of the weak” and the sacrifice of people before “the idols of profit and consumption.” He lectures us on waste: “We have grown indifferent to all sorts of waste, starting with the waste of food, which is all the more deplorable when so many individuals and families suffer hunger and malnutrition.” In general, Francis condemns the West for their greed and lack of empathy while encouraging them to treat everyone with dignity. Would you like some butter with your white bread moralism? The trick, as always with political questions, is the application of principle–where rubber meets the road. And here is where the Pope’s moralism meets bitter reality:

Today too, before it is too late, much could be done to end these tragedies and to build peace.  But that would mean rethinking entrenched habits and practices, beginning with issues involving the arms trade, the provision of raw materials and energy, investment, policies of financing and sustainable development, and even the grave scourge of corruption.

Quick to criticize the excesses of capitalism and “selfish nationalism,” Papa has no guts to propose anything concrete. He tosses out some words and concepts well-known by the audience and then tells his listeners to go figure it out. He will, obviously, let them know when they screw up and fall short of his principles. But it gets worse: Francis applies the Christian standard of “love thy neighbor” to policy:

Many migrants from Asia and Africa see in Europe a beacon for principles such as equality before the law and for values inherent in human nature, including the inviolable dignity and equality of every person, love of neighbour regardless of origin or affiliation, freedom of conscience and solidarity towards our fellow men and women.

Theologically I take no umbrage with loving ones’ neighbor. It’s fundamental to the Christian gospel. In terms of a political standard, though, it’s naive and a patently unfair to governments muddling about in the muck of policy-making. Politics, by nature, is the art of compromise. Even those who agree in principle will have disagreements, some even severe, over application.

Francis’ main confusion, though, lies in the implicit rejection of Saint Augustine’s distinction between the two kingdoms. The church father argued from Scripture that the church and the state pursue different ends: the church, salvation; the state, justice and peace. Further, while the church’s mission is universal, the state’s mission is particular and local. Both aim at different ends and with different scopes. By applying the Christian end and scope to the state, Francis confuses categories. A government official has a duty to love his neighbor it is true, but as an American (as the case may be), his job is to take care of Americans. To do otherwise, even for the sake of his Christian convictions, would be to violate his duty as an official (a duty given by God no less). This loyalty and love of the particular need not make the outsider a contemptible villainous foe, nor make one calloused towards suffering abroad, but it also need not turn the foreigner into a citizen with all the duties and privileges thereof. In fact to confuse the foreigner with the citizen would be an injustice to the citizen. The official begins with his own and moves outward. Only when his own are secure does he consider those abroad, and even then, caution is warranted.

But at least one Francis’ defender finds this contemptible:

The prophetic gesture of the pope is directed, above all, to an uncaring West that hides itself behind differences of race or religion in order to close off borders.

If the leader of the Catholic Church brings in refugees from a different religion, what excuse is left the West? Our grandmothers had a very Christian expression, “Hacer el bien y no mirar a quien” (Do good without looking to see who is benefiting from your good work).

We must open our hearts, understanding that refugees — before being numbers or members of this or that religion — are people, faces, names, histories.

The charge that the West is uncaring is rather ridiculous (although, I will note the accusation was made by a Francis’ supporter not Francis himself). Angel Merkel threw open the door to immigration. But even if we assume the West is uncaring it still begs the question: uncaring of whom? Ironically, the Pope sees the economy as a zero sum game, but when it comes to immigration, not so much. What the Pope and his supporters seemingly ignore in a mad rush to help the helpless is unintended consequences. At a superficial level, taking in refugees is a good thing. But all kinds of security and economic questions come in to play. Are the refugees going to want to assimilate? Are there terrorists in their midst? Are national infrastructures capable of handling a large influx of the destitute? Is the budget there to handle the problem? How will this change European culture? Do Europeans want to change their cultures? By all means, do good, but make sure you’re not actually propagating a greater evil at a future date. Like a father who makes sure his children are first well-fed and the house is set in order, government’s duty is to their citizens first.

This is where the self-sacrificial love of the Christian variety that the Pope wishes to apply to policy simply does not work. Government is of this world. It does not function according to the precept of “to die for Christ is to live forever.” The state cannot participate in self-sacrificial love. It was not intended to by either God or man. To mix church and state is to ask for trouble. While Francis is not oblivious to this reality, he still wants his cake:

I wish, then, to reaffirm my conviction that Europe, aided by its great cultural and religious heritage, has the means to defend the centrality of the human person and to find the right balance between its twofold moral responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and to ensure assistance and acceptance to migrants[7].

Casting a nostalgic eye to the past, does not the present make. Europe’s cultural and religious heritage is gasping. The secular liberal project faltering. It’s been centuries since Europe has dealt with a massive cultural invasion and nasty nationalism is rising. And here we find Papa Frank claiming that citizens and migrants, for all intents and purposes, ought to be of equal (“balance[d]”) concern to European governments. The fact of the matter is that immigrants are not just people created in the imago dei, they are a fundamental challenge to the European way of life. But the Pope ignores this as he even more recently proposed a new humanism based on the capacity to integrate, have dialogue, and ‘generate.’ These calls for Christian charity and humanism are dubious to say the least.

In the end, I don’t blame Francis for refusing to sully his (notably plain) robes in the actual nitty gritty of policy-making. Theologically he has some points, but his naive politics stem from a flawed political theology. Casting bolts of judgement from the ivory tower that is Rome, Francis’ unworkable “plan” is essentially “be nice to poor people, because, you know, imago dei.” Francis chastisements coupled with optimistic encouragement would be amusing if they weren’t so condescending and annoying to those who actually are in the political trenches.

His excellency seems unfazed by reality. His eyes on the stars he selectively tut-tuts his fellow travelers about their dirty feet from his litter from which he crawls down on occasion for a photo opt. To paraphrase Monty Python, “How do you know he’s a pope? Answer: He’s the only one not covered in shit.

P.S. My dislike of the Pope goes back to the beginning and is theological in nature.  In his first encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) he mentions sin only in passing and more time is spent addressing the pope’s moral hobby horses (oh joy!) that explicating on, well, the joy of the Gospel, which is no joy at all unless that awkward subject of God’s wrath comes up.

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