A Flop Bop-A-Lu

LAST week the wrestling sensation in the Catholic Church was Becciu vs. Pell. This week, it’s Zen vs. Parolin. If this keeps up, Vince McMahon could emerge as a favourite for the next papal conclave. It would be very difficult to find any equivalent to the righteous tirade unleashed by Cardinal Zen in the modern history of the college of cardinals; by that I mean since the late 1700s. (Of precedents where a Prince of the Church falsely associates a pet project with a former pope – as Cardinal Parolin has done regarding China policy – examples do abound). Likewise, I can think of no modern parallel to the published accusation that one cardinal sought to pervert the course of secular justice to frame and take out another. But the now ex-cardinal Becciu allegedly did just that to maintain control of a bank whose venality would embarrass Tony Montana. For his purported sins, Becciu was reportedly dismissed from the cardinalate on the spot during an audience with the pope – an historically brutal sentence. In the midst of all this fraternal warfare, Pope Francis has published a new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (Brothers All) which, in the circumstances, was both spectacularly ironic and morally dead on arrival. The pope, however, is not the innocent in these crises. He is their ultimate cause.

Parolin knows he is lying. He knows that I know he is a liar. He knows that I will tell everyone that he is a liar.”

– Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong

Written in Spanish rather than Latin, the Italian title of the encyclical – already widely mocked – is likely to be the only thing anyone remembers about it in years to come. Running to 43,000 words, the letter is longer than the book of Genesis by several thousand words. Probably fewer than fifty Australian Catholics will ever read it. St John Paul’s 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (On Preserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone) set forth an infallible doctrine for all time using 1089 words. Why, then, was Tutti Frutti – as it’s being called – even written? It has no catholic audience, answers no questions and presents none but the most disreputable and fatuous of ‘teachings’? The answer: publicity.

Work began on the encyclical prior to the emergence of coronavirus. Its original purpose was to imbue the so-called Abu Dhabi Declaration signed by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb (the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar) in February 2019 with a wholly contrived Catholicity. The latter document speaks of the shared spiritual values of Christianity and Islam as “anchors of salvation for all” and encourages the world’s leaders to learn from them to build a “culture of tolerance.” Only this will end war, save the environment and arrest “moral and cultural decline.” Notoriously, it also declares that religious pluralism and “diversity” are God’s will. This is what caused such angry commotion in the ranks of Catholic commentators. Prima facie, it is an unauthorised – in point of fact, impossible to authorise – repudiation of the constantly expostulated doctrine on the centrality of Christ in salvation history.

If the Abu Dhabi project and the weirdly named entity it founded – the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity – constitute heretical syncretism, they also represent the misuse of papal prestige and its weighty instruments of communication to advance a broader twofold agenda. First (this pre-dates Pope Francis), to seek sanctuary in Islam so as to partake of its special immunity from substantive criticism in the media and its exalted voice in world forums. Second, to force on Catholics a new ‘understanding’ of what the Church itself is via that familiar mixture of condescension and thuggery so beloved of ‘progressives’: the phony fait accompli. If the pope signed a “declaration” and later wrote about its themes in an encyclical, they must not only be true but Catholics must now be obliged to accept them. Right?

Cardinal Zen is only the latest senior church leader who brawls – not begs – to differ. That the Holy See alone should choose bishops for China even if that means the underground church continues to suffer was immovable doctrine beyond haggling. Like the Abu Dhabi novelty, the new agreement between the Vatican and Beijing is an act of weakness so egregious that a peculiar malice towards the power of Rome itself seems to have actuated Francis to formalise it. He has repeatedly conflated institutional capitulation with personal humility. Cardinal Parolin’s attempt to wrangle the moral authority of Benedict XVI to underwrite a dalliance with the Chinese Communist Party is a sure sign Francis has debased this coinage a few times too often.

The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property.”

– Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891

Another example was his peremptory alteration of the Church’s millennia-old teaching on the permissibility of the death penalty in some circumstances. The predictably illogical corollary in Fratelli Tutti is Francis suddenly declaring a thousand years of doctrine about military conflict obsolete: “[I]t is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a just war.”

Consider for a moment how disturbing it is for a pope who aligns the Church with Islam and Beijing to then claim (without evidence or authority) that national – let alone hemispherical – self-defence may no longer be licit. Dangerous bordering on treacherous, it will be welcomed in China’s foreign ministry and in maddrasas everywhere. But this isn’t the only ANTIFA-like claim in Fratelli Tutti. The pope also asserts – falsely – that “Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable.” Yes, we are obliged to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but this in no way extinguishes private property rights.

At some stage of the encyclical’s composition, the pope and his top ideological advisers evidently decided the arrival of a pandemic was an opportunity not to be wasted: themes were united into a cumbersome treatise. To ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’, ‘Do as we say but not as we do’ and ‘War: what’s it good for?’ was added the sophomoric anti-capitalism Francis had already expounded in earlier documents. In 2015 he described market capitalism as the “devil’s dung” – which is not a technical term. The end result is a kind of daffy anti-Veritatis Splendour. It is a paean not to the splendour of truth, as John Paul The Great’s magisterial 1993 encyclical was, but the splendour of subjectivism and cocking a snoot. The pope’s argumentation in economics – like his case-making in theology – is here characteristically lazy, cynical and vaccuous:

The fragility of world-systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom. It is imperative to have a proactive economic policy directed at ‘promoting an economy that favours productive diversity and business creativity’ and makes it possible for jobs to be created, and not cut.

Neo-liberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ — without using the name — as the only solution to societal problems. There is little appreciation of the fact that the alleged ‘spillover’ does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society.

Blaming markets for the magnitude of COVID-19 is like blaming greengrocers for the perniciousness of genital herpes and is, in my opinion, the most idiotic polemic ever published by a pope. Were it not for capitalism, the death toll would already be several times larger and millions would not have been successfully treated. They’d be dead. Governments would not have had the revenue streams to do anything ameliorative and food shortages would already be hastening the disintegration of civil order. No ‘neo-liberal’ economist believes that markets solve all “societal problems” (whatever they might be) and none have ever sought to repudiate Christ himself on ‘resolving’ inequality (cf. Matthew 26:11). This straw man vaudeville is an embarrassment to the Church. Never before have a pontiff’s ‘moral teachings’ rhymed so exactly with the sloganeering of American street gangs or the Chinese politburo.


THE 20th of September 2020 was the 150th anniversary of the Risorgimento, a nastier and bloodier event than many aficionados of contemporary European history might think. For several decades thereafter the pope was described as “A Prisoner in The Vatican.” The sobriquet was abandoned with the Lateran Treaty of 1929 but it wasn’t for another 60 years that the world saw and experienced a globe-trotting Bishop of Rome. John Paul II was no stay-at-home. A crisis of self-understanding in the papacy has arisen largely because his successors have only been able to shoulder one half each of the Pole’s inimitable oeuvre. Benedict has the intellect but not the front, Francis the front but not the intellect. Providence might be telling us it’s time for a new, older form of shepherding. More homely and less travelled. More contemplative and less immediate. Something more like the mystique of those prisoner popes.

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26 Responses to A Flop Bop-A-Lu

  1. entropy says:

    Argentineans should never pontificate on matters of law, property rights and economics.

    Unless the pontificator intends to be an object lesson in what not to do.

  2. Indigo says:

    Behold, a Marxist Pope has come amongst us.

  3. Gab says:

    Excellent analysis, C.L. Seriously.

    I have to read it again, you’ve packed so much in there!

  4. JC says:

    Brilliant piece, Cl.

  5. Tel says:

    Pope Francis is not capitulating to the Communists in Beijing … he looks up to them and wants to emulate their success.

    What did Xi do when he first got power? Anti-corruption campaign and stamp out any opposition … hey wait, that’s pretty much what Pope Francis is doing.

    You have to remember that the religion of this Pope is Liberation Theology combined with green Gaia worship … and that’s a real thing.


    The Pope’s actions make a lot more sense once you understand his religion.

  6. Megan says:

    Liberation Theology, another flawed doctrine from the Jesuits. ‘Whatever it takes’, right?

  7. Megan says:

    And yes, great post, CL.

  8. pete m says:

    CatholicFiles dot com?

  9. Nato says:

    So, I’m deeply involved in one of the protestant “sects” as you “idolator papists” call us. Even more than that, I am what many people call a “fundamentalist”(sneer quotes for collectivism)

    It seems to me that your Holy Father on earth is asking you put your faith in the powerful men of our world, when to God they are completely irrelevant. It seems to me you realise it, you glorious Berean bastard. 2 Chronicles 7:14 FTW

  10. mh says:

    I declare this the new Open Forum.

    Donald J. Trump
    Congratulations Dan. You, Breitbart and others have decimated the business at Drudge. It’s gone the way of the @NBA, ratings down 70%. People want the TRUTH! Drudge Report sold out, suffered a massive “nervous breakdown”. Happening @FoxNews also???
    Quote Tweet

    Dan Bongino
    · 13h
    Dump Drudge, it’s a non-stop hysteria machine.
    Use http://BonginoReport.com for your news, and the leave the hysteria for the panic merchants.

  11. Top Ender says:

    I claim this Open Forum for the people of Victoria.

    Feel free to have more than 5 people in.

  12. Room for me, then, but it’s time to hit the hay. Enjoy your physical freedom!

    Since Tom may prefer to wait for a proper open fred, here’s a Knight.

  13. Tel says:

    Bruce, religion is about having faith.

    Evidence based theology is also called “Empiricism”, which requires scepticism.

  14. yarpos says:

    A lot of words , about a lot of words, that mean very little ; even to the tiny percentage of the worlds population that will ever read them, let alone act on them.

  15. Cold-Hands says:

    This is a pope who thinks he knows better than Christ.

  16. notafan says:

    The Pope can have opinion on climate. Not binding on Catholics . Won’t make any difference.

    Good to see he doesn’t bother with masks.

  17. dover_beach says:

    Bruce, religion is about having faith.

    Evidence based theology is also called “Empiricism”, which requires scepticism.

    The disciples had this in abundance. All except one fleed once Christ was arrested. One famously denied him thrice. Another infamously betrayed him. Two famously ran to the tomb when told Christ had risen. Another asked to prod his wounds. And so on. But given what they witnessed, they were all prepared to be, and all but one were, martyred.

  18. Mother Lode says:

    The rancid old Argie sees the Church and its history the way marxists see it.

    He despises the faithful, snubs friends, kowtows to enemies, and is convinced the Church should be humiliated as punishment for past sins. He is the Vatican version of Obama.

    I wonder what would happen if Benedict did come out and denied ever approving such a indefensible deal? I think a lot of Catholics hold Benedict in higher esteem than this current miniscule political turd.

  19. Mother Lode says:

    Good to see he doesn’t bother with masks.

    Well, he is pretending to be a Catholic.

  20. Roger says:

    The end result is a kind of daffy anti-Veritatis Splendour. It is a paean not to the splendour of truth, as John Paul The Great’s magisterial 1993 encyclical was, but the splendour of subjectivism and cocking a snoot. The pope’s argumentation in economics – like his case-making in theology – is here characteristically lazy, cynical and vaccuous

    Quite so; but it is an Encyclical nonetheless and therefore can’t be so easily dismissed.

    Francis appears to be reorienting the Catholic Church away from Europe to the ‘Global South’ and realigning its political stance accordingly too.

  21. Grazza says:

    Actually while public dispute between princes in the Vatican is a comedy in the light of the title and thrust of “Fratelli Tutti” but “A Flop…” is jaundiced and prejudiced as have articles coming on line in the right wing conservative catholic web sites. A call to all peoples to work together to make the world a better place sounds a relevant and positive move. The same with some of my pope hating friends here – how dare he change any teaching??!! It is nit picking to complain about the length. It is wrong also to single the pope out over the change in thinking on the death penalty (these o so superior and proper traditionalists really Want the death penalty! ) when the teaching against it (morally inadmissible) has been consistent from John Paul II, Benedict XVI through to Francis. You can’t oppose abortion and euthanasia but be in favour of the death penalty! Francis deserves to be acknowledged as a great reforming pope in this regard as much as his predecessors. Defined doctrine (de fide definita) can’t be changed but have these people thought about the church changing its thinking on usury and slavery?

    And the slurs about straw man, street gangs and Chinese politburo – let’s recognise it for what it is under all the pretence – nauseous crap!

  22. C.L. says:

    Quite so; but it is an Encyclical nonetheless and therefore can’t be so easily dismissed.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “easily,” Roger.
    Nor am I dismissing it.
    I’m criticising it as the ideological nonsense of an old man still living the glory days of the post-conciliar 1970s.
    That’s all it is.

    You can’t oppose abortion and euthanasia but be in favour of the death penalty!

    That’s your opinion. It’s not the ‘opinion’ of the Magisterium.

    A call to all peoples to work together to make the world a better place sounds a relevant and positive move.

    Even if they are terrorists or Chinese mass murderers.

  23. Grazza says:

    CL you’re the one who sounds like an old man stuck back in medieval times – you should read about some of the more bloodthirsty popes which even a quick search reveals on the death penalty.

    And also have a look at the catechism of the church which has been updated to include the teaching of the last three popes against the death penalty. The pope plus all the bishops in the US are opposed to the death penalty this = the Megisteriun of the Church or don’t you know that?

    It’s not my opinion, it is the teaching of the Magesterium and, I would add, logic.

  24. C.L. says:

    The changes do not reflect “the teaching of the last three popes.”
    The previous two published the CCC – where the death penalty was considered licit in certain defined circumstances. (For example, safeguarding the public in situations where wrongdoers cannot be reliably secured). In many places in the world, this is by no means an exotic rationale.

    Francis made plain he was ‘changing’ the teaching to a per se rejection of any and all justifications on his own authority (that it, disregarding the Magisterium), citing only a ‘development’ of ‘social conscience.’

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about re medieval times. I’ve never been an enthusiast of the death penalty. It is a matter of principle, however, that vainglorious popes don’t pop along to a press conference and announce they’re overturning millennia of teaching authority because it’s a fashionable notion. Francis has now tried to do the same re just war theory.

  25. Grazza says:

    Of course the change in the teaching reflects the position of the previous two popes, have a look at what each said and did over recent decades. For instance JPII dramatically interceded for several condemned men in the USA . The old version CCC said it should be reserved for the most extreme cases similar to the exotic and unlikely scenario you suggest – can’t imagine this situation in peacetime, even in present TRUMPLAND. However the new teaching is supported by all the US bishops in conference.

    Your use of the term Magisterium is odd. Francis or any pope could go against the traditional teachings of the magisterium on a teaching but he along with the bishops constitutes the actual teaching magisterium. It is not a statue.

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