Tighten Up, Francis: Rightbloggers Reassure Us the Pope Isn't That Gay-Friendly
Nonetheless the pleasure with which it was received in some quarters presented rightbloggers with an opportunity to discuss Catholic theology and its relationship with American conservatism, which is always good for a laugh.
The Pope's freewheeling remarks in an on-flight discussion were piquant but non-committal; for example, he gave a we'll-see answer on communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics. On gays (so long as they were not part of a "gay lobby" -- he's still against that), Francis leaned on the sunny, sinner-not-the-sin approach to doctrine: "When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem..."
A number of Catholic bigwigs pointed out that this was no big change. Nonetheless the gay stuff worried some of the brethren.
At WorldNetDaily, Scott Lively complained that the Pope "GAVE GROUND ON 'GAYS.'' While "clearly, Pope Francis is NOT endorsing homosexual conduct as so many in the liberal media have dishonestly claimed," said Lively, Francis failed by using the term "'a gay person'" instead of "'a person who struggles with homosexual temptation,' or 'a person who defines himself as homosexual,'" which "is on its face a major concession to sexual-orientation theory when used by a church leader about Christians... it implies a softening of church policy that those with a deep-seated homosexual identity, even if celibate, are unfit for the priesthood." Clearly the Pontiff needs to get his anti-gay-theology straight. Isn't Ratzinger supposed to be keeping tabs on him?
"'Who am I to judge?' Pope Francis refuses to condemn gay priests and says their sins should be forgiven and forgotten," headlined neiman at Say Anything and guess what, he didn't mean it positively. "This Pope and the Roman Catholic Church is clearly apostate as a religious organism and virtually all of the organized Christian Church is also apostate; that is, having abandoned the faith once delivered, they are of another faith," said neiman. "This is the End Times, the true Church is under attack as God told us would happen at this time in history."
Rod Dreher, who left the Catholic Church for Eastern Orthodoxy some years back but retains a lively concern that other species of Christians might weaken in their moral fervor, was cautiously optimistic at first -- "That's not the same thing as saying that homosexuality is morally licit... I don't understand why the media are making such a big deal over it..." But then he read up on it and became alarmed: "I have a feeling that Church liberals who cited 'the spirit of Vatican II' as license to throw off all theological, moral, and ecclesial discipline, are going to come roaring back under this papacy."
Watch your shit, Francis.
Fortunately Dreher was able to repurpose some of his fear as wrath against the Main Stream Media, which must have been more comfortable for him. His target in this case was Time magazine, which let gay Protestant bishop Gene Robinson talk about Francis' comments. Dreher didn't blame Robinson, but "what I do blame is the editorial leadership at Time magazine, for seeking out the opinion of a leader in a failing church staggering toward demographic extinction, asking him to tell the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world how to do his job like a grown-up." And then the Washington Post allowed another Protestant to talk, one who "prides himself on his theological progressivism, especially on gay issues... He gets no apparent challenge from Quinn, though there is an avalanche of data to belie these feelgood assertions by the rector. Come on, Washington Post, practice some damn journalism!" Scott Lively can't do it all by himself!
Also mad at the press was Lauren Elk at NewsBusters. "Huffington Post - as usual - was probably the worst, its front page headline emblazoned with the ludicrous statement: 'POPE OK WITH GAYS.'" It is not okay! Also: "CBS joined in, too, when Gayle King claimed on 'This Morning' that Pope Francis was 'offering a hand of friendship to gay priests.'" Like he'd even touch them!
"Many liberal elites don't even have the basic good will that Pope Francis referred to as a requisite for acceptance," fist-shook Mark Judge at The Daily Caller; "trashing Christianity is just too valuable a tool to gain and maintain status in their social circles, and to actually read Chesterton, or C.S. Lewis, with an open mind and heart would be a betrayal of their own secular faith. Bill Maher will never be bothered to read Mere Christianity. So if good will is required, you can instantly eliminate about half the population." (Actually we imagine the percentage of Catholics who have actually read Chesterton and Lewis is much lower than 50 percent; maybe The Sound of Music would be a better metric.)
Striking a more measured pose was Ross Douthat at the New York Times. "I have a little more sympathy than usual for the media reaction," sniffed Douthat. "...such a tonal difference, from 'the miseries of the Church'" -- previous Pope Benedict's description of homosexuals -- "to 'who am I to judge,' on a fraught, high-profile topic is surely newsworthy..."
But Douthat didn't want the Pope giving them too much encouragement. Referring to other Papal comments on forgiveness ("St. Peter committed one of the greatest sins, denying Christ, and yet they made him pope. Think about that"), Douthat said, "Now Francis did specifically exempt crimes against children from his call for a forgiveness that also forgets. But the danger facing the church in the future is not an exact replay of the sex abuse scandal. Rather, it's a perpetuation of a model of church governance in which any scandal -- sexual, financial, you name it -- is met with forgiveness but not with penance, with apologies but not accountability."
Cue Peter O'Toole in The Ruling Class: You have forgotten how to punish, my noble Lords! While Douthat acknowledged Francis' apparent toughness on child-rapists, whose previous lenient treatment was for the Church "a disaster in part for very worldly reasons," he seemed concerned that the Church wouldn't as readily go after non-pedophile sinners. The godless world might not see the crimes there, but God/Douthat does.
But in a follow-up, Douthat suggested there was one benefit at least to the Pope's tone that was tactical. Maybe it'd be good for American conservatism, he suggested, if Francis' happy-clappy threw a scare into them. He cited R.R. Reno, who had noticed that in America "religiosity now strongly correlates with partisan loyalty," and worried that "religion, especially orthodox Christianity, may end up implicated in the inevitable failures and corruptions of the Republican party."
Those of us who remember the Moral Majority may wonder where Reno's been all these years, but Douthat was sold: "if Pope Francis's public profile continues to come across as more 'liberal' than [John Paul II's and Benedict's]," he said, "it might actually play a helpful role in complicating the 'partisan captivity' scenario that Reno sketches out."
This is a glorious switcheroo: Where once upon a time Ronald Reagan tightened up with Pope John Paul II every chance he got, we now have a leading conservative trying to inoculate conservatives from Papal cooties.