52 Authors: Week 39 - Graham Greene
Liszt: Totentanz

On the Pope's Visit (2)

I mentioned in the previous post on this topic that I had seen something somewhere comparing speeches made by Francis on his recent visit to some made by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Whatever it was I saw, I couldn't find it again. So I compared speeches made by all three at the U.N. Then, because I had been struck by the favorable comments made about Francis by some non-Catholics, I posted this on Facebook:

 I was naturally pleased, but also a bit puzzled, by the positive reactions shown by several liberal non-Catholic friends and relatives to Pope Francis's speech to Congress. It wasn't all that different from similar speeches given by his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The other two never spoke to Congress, but all three spoke to the UN, so I looked up those speeches. Links below. There really is not all that much difference among them--different emphases, and JP in particular had a fairly distinctive (slightly eccentric) writing style (all those italics). But in both tone and substance they're more alike than different. All three focused intensely on respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. This tends to confirm my view that JPII and BXVI got a worse press than they deserved (B especially). And perhaps that Francis has gotten a better one. They're all about the same length, 6-8 pages, if you want to read them.

John Paul II

Benedict XVI


My hope (obviously) was that maybe they would see that Francis is not an aberration, and maybe the Church is not really so bad. I didn't get much reaction, and what I did get indicated that the effort was fruitless. I don't think there's much the Church can do to change liberal opinion at large, short of abandoning its moral teachings completely, and perhaps its formal theological teachings as well. At best it will achieve the sort of thing that Marianne described in a comment a while back: Hillary Clinton applauding the pope's support for climate change action, followed immediately by a bit of cheerleading for abortion rights.

But anyway: I think the comparison of these three speeches is also worthwhile for conservative Catholics worried about Francis. There really isn't a dramatic difference. 


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I would rather go the dentist than read a papal speech to the UN. I am sure they are all pretty much homogeneous. Papa Francis quotes Benedict and JPII all the way through Laudato Si.

In central park, where I saw the Holy Father last week, I guess maybe one in fifty people was a white middle class person like myself. I am quite sure that my companion, who is a former student of mine in the Midwest, and now works in the office where I'm having my sabbatical, was terrified that I would broadcast this thought in my quite loud voice! Maybe not, but I'm pretty sure she sensed it to and sensed me sensing it! The crowd in Central Park was Hispanic, Latino, Philippino, African American, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean. They were chanting in Spanish as we waited for the Pope to leave Harlem. I have to confess that I got the hang of the chant and chanted in Spanish too.

And although that sounds like a very warming sort of experience, I'd rather go to the dentist than be in a crowd of that size.

Well joy is enjoyable

I'm not criticizing it, it's just not the kind of situation I willingly put myself in, as a rule.

I understand the feeling: as I've gotten older I've come to like crowds less and less, irrespective of the event.

I was going to say almost that exact thing. My husband never did like crowds and I couldn't understand it, but I don't think I'd get in a crowd like that unless I had an invitation to a sit down dinner with the Pope.


I think I've always been this way.

Though if I had actually been in the crowd Grumpy describes (teleported in, preferably) I probably would have gotten into the spirit of it.

I'm afraid that if you got teleported into a crowd like that, your molecules would have gotten mixed up with someone else's.


Yeah. And it might have been my son. He was there, too.

"I don't think there's much the Church can do to change liberal opinion at large, short of abandoning its moral teachings completely, and perhaps its formal theological teachings as well."

I think we're in a duel to the death. I'm not worried about the end outcome. Just the, um, Chinese-interesting times we might continue to experience while it all works itself out.

Thanks for the links, Maclin, I will check them out soon.

I don't like crowds much, but I loved WYD in Sydney, 2008. Loved it. :)

I'm inclined to agree about the duel to the death, though I'd rather think otherwise. The pope's visit has left me disheartened, not especially because of anything he did or said, but because of what it's revealed about the state of our culture. If he's consciously pursuing a strategy of downplaying "social issues" in hopes that finding common ground with the left will draw people to the Church, I think he's mistaken. They're happy to appropriate him for their program, but they're not interested in hearing from him about anything else. All in all I think the visit was a net win for the anti-Christian forces in our society. Of course I'm just going on broad impressions from the media and the people I know. And it's not like I expected a wave of instant conversions. So maybe there will be some more subtle good effect. But the impression I've gotten is of a complete blocking out of everything he says that can't be incorporated into the liberal political agenda.

Ross Douthat wrote a piece a week or so ago in which he recalled that Pope Benedict also drew large crowds on his papal visits and then went on to wonder about just how strong the hold of secularism actually is.

First, from an article he wrote at the time of Benedict's visit to England in 2008, there's this:

Even at a time of Catholic scandal, even amid a pontificate that’s stumbled from one public-relations debacle to another, Benedict still managed to draw a warm and enthusiastic audience.
Then in the current article:
... there is a common thread that binds Benedict’s success despite low expectations and often-savage coverage and Francis’s success amid high enthusiasm and generally-fawning coverage: Secularism is weaker than many people think. ...

But how powerful, how thick really, is this secularizing trend? Is it thick enough, for instance, to speak of American society as post-Christian or effectively pagan, as some religious conservatives sometimes do? Does it have enough momentum that we can expect it to continue apace well into the future, until Christianity in the U.S. looks as weak as Christianity in America’s mother country does today?

I’m skeptical on both counts, and I think the Pope Francis phenomenon is particularly suggestive of the limits of secularism’s hold. The former Jorge Bergoglio has captured the imagination of the Western media in two major ways: First, through a series of public gestures (embracing the disfigured, washing the feet of prisoners, mourning migrants lost at sea, etc.) that offer a kind of living Christian iconography, an imitatio Christi in the flesh, and second, through a rhetoric of mercy and welcome that has made some Americans, at least, feel that Catholicism is more open to their experiences and concerns.

Set aside for a moment the difficult question of where that rhetoric, and the accompanying doctrinal debates, are taking Catholicism in the long run. Just consider these questions: In a truly post-Christian society, would so many people find an imitatio Christi thrilling and fascinating and inspiring? Would so many people be moved, on a deep level, by an image like this one [link to photo of Francis embracing a severely disfigured man]? (Wouldn’t a truly post-Christian society, of the sort that certain 20th century totalitarians aspired to build, be repulsed instead by images of weakness and deformity?) And then further, in a fully secularized society, would so many people who have drifted from the practice of religion – I have many of my fellow journalists particularly in mind – care so much whether an antique religious organization and its aged, celibate leader are in touch with their experiences? Would you really have the palpable excitement at his mere presence that has coursed through most of the coverage the last two days?

The full piece is here.

Maybe he's right. I hope so. I'm not sure that's really what's going on, though. I have some thoughts but it's late. I'll say more tomorrow.

On second thought, I'll just leave it at I hope he's right, and not spread my gloom any further.

Maybe what we need right now is 52 things we are thankful for. That is one of the tradition treatments for spiritual desolation.

For instance, stop and think about how amazing it is that we've had as many great and holy popes as we've had in the past century and a half.

I mean, like, wow, man.

But anyway: I think the comparison of these three speeches is also worthwhile for conservative Catholics worried about Francis. There really isn't a dramatic difference.


The Pope's yammer about topical questions is merely an embarrassment. This is something more serious



You can keep your fingers in your ears for a wee bit longer.

Well, I wrote a longish comment and then though it would be better to put it on my blog, but I will say something about keeping your fingers in your ears.

Jesus tells us that if our right hand causes us to stumble we should cut it off and throw it away, and if what we are hearing is causing us to fret, and despair, and be anxious (We are repeatedly told NOT to be anxious in the scripture.), then we darn well better stick our fingers in our ears and look to what we know to be true.

Again, the scripture tells us that the Lord will keep us in perfect peace if we stay our mind on Him. Do we believe this stuff or not? If we don't, then who cares what the pope does or says--it doesn't matter anyway.

When we let ourselves get caught up in this damned mess, and I use the word advisedly, we are playing the devil's game and he always wins his game.


Just to clarify: what I referred to as my "gloom" above is not about the Church, or God's long-term assurances in general. It's about the culture and politics of the USA.

Well, that's really gloomy and maybe I'm just a defeatist, but I think it's what we are stuck with, perhaps for the rest of our lives. I always come back to the fact that I can't do anything to change that, but what I can do is try to embody what Newman talks about here..


I'm a great believer in dialog, and there just isn't any in politics now. I'm having a hard time dealing with that.

You're right. It's depressing. I don't seem to be able to find anyone on the opposite side that can hear what I'm saying. It's like those robo-calls you get where the machine is programmed to make certain responses to what you say. Their dialogue is preset and unchangeable.


The same-sex marriage thing has absolutely killed dialog. If you're opposed, you're a bigot, and that's all there is to it. I do not handle being called a bigot very well.



Of course it's ludicrous.


No one has actually called me that directly, by the way. But it's their standard terminology for anyone who holds that belief.

Also by the way, I only skimmed the post Art linked to above. I looked twice, both times when I had a mild headache, and the multi-colored text and the use of whole paragraphs as links was going to make my headache worse. I did get enough of the gist to see that it's the kind of prediction that I just don't want to spend time on. If it turns out to be true, then I'll worry.

Well, it's too bad they didn't, really, because I have it on good authority that if they call you a bigot for the sake of the gospel then you are blessed.


Does the blessing still work if I'm snarling?

By the way, everybody, Janet's post at her blog about the pope's visit is really good.

I'll have to talked to a higher authority to get that answer for you.

Thanks very much.


I always tell my kids that merit comes in gold, silver, and bronze coins. If you grumble about a suffering, you get a bronze coin. If you grin and bear it, you get a silver. If you are cheerful, you get a gold one.

I have a whole bucket load of bronze coins.

I guess I do too, according to that scheme.

I meant to post this here earlier, but now that Maclin reminded me of it on my blog.


As predicted, the proverbial has hit the fan.


There's good advice in this, which Marianne posted on Janet's blog.

In the piece that Louise links to Damian Thompson says "The placing of Danneels’ name second on the list suggests the strong approval of the Pope", and he's not the first person I've seen suggesting this. But the list is quite simply in order of seniority as cardinal (Sodano and Danneels became cardinals in the early 1990s, the others on the list in and since the late 1990s). I'm surprised such a churchy journalist shouldn't spot such an obvious bit of protocol.

Yes, Paul, I agree. But I'm just unhappy he is at the synod at all. This is just another totally needless blow to the Church.

Thanks, Maclin, I saw that article.

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