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Mah!

Pope Francis on the cover of The Rolling Stone

. . .

Wauck, who does not seem all that conservative for a member of Opus Dei – at one point, he asks excitedly if I’ve read Eminent Hipsters, the new memoir by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan – nonetheless downplays the pope’s call for a truce in the culture wars. “I certainly have no problem at all with anything the pope says,” he tells me. “I do think there has been a bit of selective reading. People are emphasizing certain things and forgetting other things that he also said.” For instance, Wauck points out that the pope often speaks about the devil, “much more than I ever remember Benedict doing.” Likewise, he notes that Francis’ comments about the church’s obsession with gay marriage and abortion did not propose any real doctrinal changes. “The pope never said those issues weren’t important,” Wauck says. “He said that when we talk about these things, we have to talk about them in a context. And who would disagree with that? So when people are trying to figure out what kind of guy is this, you have to hear all the bells, not just the ones that sound like, ‘Oh, he’s going to change everything.'”

This is a common retort among conservative Catholics about Pope Francis: You guys in the secular liberal media just aren’t listening. Santorum has insisted the pope’s comments on gays and abortion were taken out of context. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a conservative who had made a number of papal long lists in March, also wasted no time in translating Francis’ message, telling CBS This Morning, “Pope Francis would be the first to say, ‘My job isn’t to change church teaching. My job is to present it as clearly as possible. . . . While certain acts may be wrong . . . we will always love and respect the person and treat the person with dignity.'”

While much of this sounds like wishful thinking, they also have a point: The pope’s tonal changes don’t necessarily signal a wild swing from tradition. Francis has ruled out the ordination of women, for example, and he still considers abortion an evil. But those obsessed with contextualizing Francis would do well to take a look at the impromptu press conference he granted last summer to gathered Vaticanisti (members of the Vatican press corps) during the flight back from a trip to Rio. Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, told me he’d expected the press conference would go about 20 minutes. It lasted for nearly 90, and ended up including the pope’s famous “Who am I to judge?” response, which is normally the only part of the exchange that’s quoted. But reading the full transcript or, better yet, watching longer excerpts on YouTube helps to convey the true context.

A reporter asks Francis, who is standing at the head of the aisle, about the existence of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican. Francis begins by making a joke, saying he hasn’t yet run into anyone with a special gay identification card. But then his face becomes serious and, gesturing for emphasis, he says it’s important to distinguish between lobbies, which are bad – “A lobby of the greedy, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies!” he says later in the press conference – and individual gay people who are well-intentioned and seeking God. It’s while speaking to the latter point that he makes the “Who am I to judge?” remark, and this part of the video is really worth watching, because, aside from the entirely mind-blowing fact of a supposedly infallible pope asking this question at all, his answer is never really translated properly. What he actually says is, “Mah, who am I to judge?” In Italian, mah is an interjection with no exact English parallel, sort of the verbal equivalent of an emphatic shrug. My dad’s use of mah most often precedes his resignedly pouring another splash of grappa into his coffee. The closest translation I can come up with is “Look, who the hell knows?” If you watch the video, Francis even pinches his fingers together for extra Italian emphasis. Then he flashes a knowing smirk.

Father Thomas J. Reese, a senior analyst at the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, says the arguments about style versus substance when it comes to Pope Francis are missing the point entirely. “In the Catholic Church, style is substance,” Reese says. “We are a church of symbols. That’s what we call the sacrament: symbols that give us grace. These things really matter. So Francis is already changing the church in real ways through his words and symbolic gestures. He could sit in his office, go through canon law and start changing rules and regulations. But that’s not what people want him to do.”

. . .

Pope Francis gathers no moss! Like a lot of ink spilled gushing over our marvelous pope, this lengthy Rolling Stone article — set to hit newsstands this Friday — is astonishingly stupid in places. But I thought the above passage from the middle of the essay approached sanity. Let them gush, I say. Who am I to judge?

Comments

  1. “the pope’s call for a truce in the culture wars” – isn’t that kind of like Custer surrendering AFTER he watches the last of his men being shot

    Or Hitler saying, “Only kidding!”

    Or John Locke being a crypto-Catholic?

    Or – I know – it’s like either a) rushing through an open door or b) closing the doors after the horses have gotten out.

    There’s a new reality show I hear coming along on A & E (to, you know, balance out Phil Robertson or something):

    “Papal Pusillanimity: Brave Moments in Modern Pontificates.”

    JOB

  2. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says:

    They need to re-hire Nat Hentoff and J. Hoberman.

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