Why the Left Wants Conservatives to View Francis as a Liberal

In an opinion piece at The Week on January 13 entitled “The Republican Party’s War with the Pope has finally started,” Damon Linker states, “It looks like 2015 is shaping up to be the year when Catholic Conservatives declare war on Pope Francis.”  Pope Francis’s soon to be released encyclical on the environment, says Linker, will touch off the war.

Linker goes on to say that Ross Douthat’s op-ed in the NY Times late last year about the possibility of schism within the Church (following the Synod on the Family) started the rumblings of war, but conservative Catholic writers managed to avert it by putting a positive spin on “papal announcements.”  However, says Linker, recent essays at First Things by Robert P. George and Maureen Mullarkey, and one in Forbes by Steve Moore, are indicators that the war is on in 2015.  The latest controversy, Francis’s comments on the radical Islamists’ attack on Charlie Hebdo, have only added fuel to the fire. 

In his The Week piece, Linker states:

The problem is simply that Francis has broken from too many elements in the Republican Party platform. First there were affirming statements about homosexuality. Then harsh words for capitalism and trickle-down economics. And now climate change. That, it seems, is a bridge too far. Francis has put conservative American Catholics in the position of having to choose between the pope and the GOP.

But has he?  Or is this a false choice that is being engineered by the left? 

Think about the ramifications of such a choice.  Conservative American Catholics can choose to follow their pope, in which case they will probably have to leave the GOP, and maybe even become Democrats, or they can choose the GOP, in which case they will have to seriously consider not following the teachings of their pope and the Catholic Church.

If this “liberal pope forces choice” scenario were actually happening (and it is not – more on that later), it would create a pretty neat win-win situation for the left. 

If conservative American Catholics choose the pope and their religion over the GOP, this might mean fewer people going to the polls and voting for Republicans.  And maybe a few more votes for the Dems.  But at least fewer votes for Republicans.

On the other hand, if the left is able to convince conservative American Catholics to choose politics over religion, because this is what such a choice implies, this may ultimately result in some Catholics abandoning Catholicism, and even possibly religion altogether, which helps bring the pure secular state a little bit closer to reality.  And the more secular the country becomes, the less pressure there is on the left on issues like abortion and homosexual marriage, since these are first and foremost religious/moral issues.

The left also wins if any combination of these two alternatives takes place. 

So any way it’s sliced, the left wins if it is successful in convincing conservative American Catholics that Pope Francis is a liberal.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter.  The left is running scared because Catholics are leaving the Democratic Party and are voting Republican.  This is a trend the left needs to reverse, and reverse quickly, if it has any hope of making gains in 2016. 

According to a recent Pew poll, Catholics voted for Republican House candidates over Democratic candidates by a 54%-45% margin in 2014, and white Catholics supported the GOP over the Democratic Party by a 22-point margin (60% to 38%) this year, similar to 2010.  An excellent analysis of this trend can be found in a piece by Anne Hendershot in Catholic World Report.

So it is every bit to the left’s advantage to pit conservative Catholics against the pope because the left wins as a result of the fallout.  And even if the win is a small one, so what?  The cost of the propaganda required to obtain the win was minuscule.  

Now let’s dissect the statements in Linker’s piece. 

First of all, Francis’s so-called “affirming statements about homosexuality” only affirmed Catholic teaching on the dignity of the person.  He said only that homosexuals, like all of us, are children of God.  They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and as such, they deserve our love.  Francis did not condone homosexuality or homosexual marriage.  In fact, he has reaffirmed the definition of marriage (that it is between a man and a woman) a couple of times since the Synod, and he has also unequivocally stated that condoning homosexual marriage would help destroy the family. 

Francis’s “Who am I to judge?” statement has also been successfully taken out of context by liberal writers and much ballyhooed by the LGBT crowd, when he was really saying that if any homosexual is trying to live a chaste life and follow the teachings of the Church, we should not judge that person. 

Secondly, Francis’s “harsh words for capitalism and trickle-down economics” were actually not harsh at all.  In fact, Francis did not even use the word “capitalism” in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which is what this statement is referring to, and his warnings in regard to “economics” were not that different from what other popes, such as Benedict XVI and John Paul II, have also said. 

Pope Francis’s “offending” quote on “capitalism” was:

“. . . some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”  He then went on to state that this theory has “never been confirmed by the facts.”

As almost any economist will point out, the many different economic factors that all came into play during Reagan’s presidency did prevent a true test of the trickle-down theory, so Francis was technically correct in his assertion that the purity of the trickle-down theory has never really “been confirmed by the facts.”  But the real message of the exhortation got lost in the furor around the trickle-down comment:

We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.

Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order.

He has clarified these comments further in a new book, Pope Francis: This Economy Kills by Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli.  According to an article in the Catholic Herald (U.K.):

While globalisation raised the level of global wealth, income disparity also increased and new forms of poverty have emerged, he said.

“This globalised economy is supported “by a throwaway culture” where policies and social behaviours have made money, not people, the focus.

“Money becomes an idol, and men and women are reduced to simple tools of a social and economic system characterised, no, dominated by deep imbalances,” he said.

An argument can also be made that he even slammed the Obama administration and Keynesian economics as well when he said:

Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power.

So Francis is simply saying what Catholic social doctrine teaches:  man does not exist to serve the economy, or the government, either, for that matter; the economy (and government) exists to serve man.  Choosing money over God is breaking the First Commandment.  Morality and ethics need to be the foundation of any economic system, and we should all work together to help those in need. 

As for his as yet unreleased encyclical on climate change, it is anyone’s guess as to what it will say, but it will most likely also mirror Catholic teaching as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#373): 

In God’s plan man and woman have the vocation of subduing the earth as stewards of God. This sovereignty is not to be an arbitrary and destructive domination.

Robert George’s essay at First Things put the upcoming encyclical into perspective:

So here we are waiting for Pope Francis to hand down his encyclical on our moral responsibility to care for the natural environment. Already there is lots of huffing and puffing, and ideological battle lines are being drawn. It seems that virtually nobody in the public media is interested in being taught by the Pope in his magisterial capacity. Instead, all the talk is about how the encyclical can or can’t be used to advance political agendas.

George goes on to say that “[t]he Pope has no special knowledge, insight, or teaching authority pertaining to matters of empirical fact of the sort investigated by, for example, physicists and biologists, nor do popes claim such knowledge, insight, or wisdom.”  In other words, Francis’s opinions on the causes of climate change may be right or they may be wrong, but, in any event, “... faithful Catholics are not bound by positions adopted by the Pope on such matters, they are bound by the moral norms he proposes for them to hold definitively.” 

In other words, we have a moral obligation to try to be good stewards of a world that was given to us by God.  So let’s put politics and cronyism and ideologies aside and try to figure out what really makes sense. 

What’s really mind-boggling in all this is that conservative writers and news and opinion sites are falling right into the trap the left has set with every piece they run criticizing Pope Francis or accusing him of being a liberal.  And either they don’t see it or they don’t care. 

If conservatives don’t see the trap, this says that the left is indeed more cunning when it comes to politics, and the right needs to smarten up!  But if some do see it and they just don’t care, that is really disconcerting.

In an opinion piece at The Week on January 13 entitled “The Republican Party’s War with the Pope has finally started,” Damon Linker states, “It looks like 2015 is shaping up to be the year when Catholic Conservatives declare war on Pope Francis.”  Pope Francis’s soon to be released encyclical on the environment, says Linker, will touch off the war.

Linker goes on to say that Ross Douthat’s op-ed in the NY Times late last year about the possibility of schism within the Church (following the Synod on the Family) started the rumblings of war, but conservative Catholic writers managed to avert it by putting a positive spin on “papal announcements.”  However, says Linker, recent essays at First Things by Robert P. George and Maureen Mullarkey, and one in Forbes by Steve Moore, are indicators that the war is on in 2015.  The latest controversy, Francis’s comments on the radical Islamists’ attack on Charlie Hebdo, have only added fuel to the fire. 

In his The Week piece, Linker states:

The problem is simply that Francis has broken from too many elements in the Republican Party platform. First there were affirming statements about homosexuality. Then harsh words for capitalism and trickle-down economics. And now climate change. That, it seems, is a bridge too far. Francis has put conservative American Catholics in the position of having to choose between the pope and the GOP.

But has he?  Or is this a false choice that is being engineered by the left? 

Think about the ramifications of such a choice.  Conservative American Catholics can choose to follow their pope, in which case they will probably have to leave the GOP, and maybe even become Democrats, or they can choose the GOP, in which case they will have to seriously consider not following the teachings of their pope and the Catholic Church.

If this “liberal pope forces choice” scenario were actually happening (and it is not – more on that later), it would create a pretty neat win-win situation for the left. 

If conservative American Catholics choose the pope and their religion over the GOP, this might mean fewer people going to the polls and voting for Republicans.  And maybe a few more votes for the Dems.  But at least fewer votes for Republicans.

On the other hand, if the left is able to convince conservative American Catholics to choose politics over religion, because this is what such a choice implies, this may ultimately result in some Catholics abandoning Catholicism, and even possibly religion altogether, which helps bring the pure secular state a little bit closer to reality.  And the more secular the country becomes, the less pressure there is on the left on issues like abortion and homosexual marriage, since these are first and foremost religious/moral issues.

The left also wins if any combination of these two alternatives takes place. 

So any way it’s sliced, the left wins if it is successful in convincing conservative American Catholics that Pope Francis is a liberal.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter.  The left is running scared because Catholics are leaving the Democratic Party and are voting Republican.  This is a trend the left needs to reverse, and reverse quickly, if it has any hope of making gains in 2016. 

According to a recent Pew poll, Catholics voted for Republican House candidates over Democratic candidates by a 54%-45% margin in 2014, and white Catholics supported the GOP over the Democratic Party by a 22-point margin (60% to 38%) this year, similar to 2010.  An excellent analysis of this trend can be found in a piece by Anne Hendershot in Catholic World Report.

So it is every bit to the left’s advantage to pit conservative Catholics against the pope because the left wins as a result of the fallout.  And even if the win is a small one, so what?  The cost of the propaganda required to obtain the win was minuscule.  

Now let’s dissect the statements in Linker’s piece. 

First of all, Francis’s so-called “affirming statements about homosexuality” only affirmed Catholic teaching on the dignity of the person.  He said only that homosexuals, like all of us, are children of God.  They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and as such, they deserve our love.  Francis did not condone homosexuality or homosexual marriage.  In fact, he has reaffirmed the definition of marriage (that it is between a man and a woman) a couple of times since the Synod, and he has also unequivocally stated that condoning homosexual marriage would help destroy the family. 

Francis’s “Who am I to judge?” statement has also been successfully taken out of context by liberal writers and much ballyhooed by the LGBT crowd, when he was really saying that if any homosexual is trying to live a chaste life and follow the teachings of the Church, we should not judge that person. 

Secondly, Francis’s “harsh words for capitalism and trickle-down economics” were actually not harsh at all.  In fact, Francis did not even use the word “capitalism” in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which is what this statement is referring to, and his warnings in regard to “economics” were not that different from what other popes, such as Benedict XVI and John Paul II, have also said. 

Pope Francis’s “offending” quote on “capitalism” was:

“. . . some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”  He then went on to state that this theory has “never been confirmed by the facts.”

As almost any economist will point out, the many different economic factors that all came into play during Reagan’s presidency did prevent a true test of the trickle-down theory, so Francis was technically correct in his assertion that the purity of the trickle-down theory has never really “been confirmed by the facts.”  But the real message of the exhortation got lost in the furor around the trickle-down comment:

We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.

Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order.

He has clarified these comments further in a new book, Pope Francis: This Economy Kills by Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli.  According to an article in the Catholic Herald (U.K.):

While globalisation raised the level of global wealth, income disparity also increased and new forms of poverty have emerged, he said.

“This globalised economy is supported “by a throwaway culture” where policies and social behaviours have made money, not people, the focus.

“Money becomes an idol, and men and women are reduced to simple tools of a social and economic system characterised, no, dominated by deep imbalances,” he said.

An argument can also be made that he even slammed the Obama administration and Keynesian economics as well when he said:

Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power.

So Francis is simply saying what Catholic social doctrine teaches:  man does not exist to serve the economy, or the government, either, for that matter; the economy (and government) exists to serve man.  Choosing money over God is breaking the First Commandment.  Morality and ethics need to be the foundation of any economic system, and we should all work together to help those in need. 

As for his as yet unreleased encyclical on climate change, it is anyone’s guess as to what it will say, but it will most likely also mirror Catholic teaching as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#373): 

In God’s plan man and woman have the vocation of subduing the earth as stewards of God. This sovereignty is not to be an arbitrary and destructive domination.

Robert George’s essay at First Things put the upcoming encyclical into perspective:

So here we are waiting for Pope Francis to hand down his encyclical on our moral responsibility to care for the natural environment. Already there is lots of huffing and puffing, and ideological battle lines are being drawn. It seems that virtually nobody in the public media is interested in being taught by the Pope in his magisterial capacity. Instead, all the talk is about how the encyclical can or can’t be used to advance political agendas.

George goes on to say that “[t]he Pope has no special knowledge, insight, or teaching authority pertaining to matters of empirical fact of the sort investigated by, for example, physicists and biologists, nor do popes claim such knowledge, insight, or wisdom.”  In other words, Francis’s opinions on the causes of climate change may be right or they may be wrong, but, in any event, “... faithful Catholics are not bound by positions adopted by the Pope on such matters, they are bound by the moral norms he proposes for them to hold definitively.” 

In other words, we have a moral obligation to try to be good stewards of a world that was given to us by God.  So let’s put politics and cronyism and ideologies aside and try to figure out what really makes sense. 

What’s really mind-boggling in all this is that conservative writers and news and opinion sites are falling right into the trap the left has set with every piece they run criticizing Pope Francis or accusing him of being a liberal.  And either they don’t see it or they don’t care. 

If conservatives don’t see the trap, this says that the left is indeed more cunning when it comes to politics, and the right needs to smarten up!  But if some do see it and they just don’t care, that is really disconcerting.