In Which the Pontiff Admits That—Is There Any Other Way to Put This?—He Has Not the Slightest Idea What He’s Talking About

 

FrancisFrom an article in the New York Times about the conversation Pope Francis had with journalists as he flew back to Rome from his trip to Latin America:

[T]he pope expressed “a great allergy to economic things,” explaining that his father had been an accountant who often brought work home on weekends.

“I don’t understand it very well,” he said of economics, even though the issue of economic justice has become central to his papacy.

Hat tip–and this is significant–to the friend who pointed this out to me. You see, he’s one of the most devout and intellectually impressive priests I’ve ever met.

Published in Economics, General, Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Irene F. Starkehaus:

    Misthiocracy: Forgive me if my inference, that to be “allergic” to a topic (i.e. “to avoid it at all costs”) is meant to be synonymous with equivocating on it, was incorrect.

    My dear, you are so hot and bothered about getting your quick gotcha in on everyone and anyone who comments that you willfully ignore the point being made and the human being who is making it. If that’s what you mean when you are asking forgiveness then I accept it wholeheartedly.

    I don’t think I’m hot and bothered. I’m quite comfortable.

    So far, the points I’ve heard being made are not merely that people disagree with the Pope’s opinions, or that he is unwise to express uninformed opinions. If these were the points being made I would readily agree.

    Instead, the points I’ve heard being made are that he has a “duty” and a “responsibility” to refrain from expressing these opinions, either because they are uninformed or because people disagree with them.

    I say I am not convinced, and I ask questions (calmly and at a moderate temperature) to gather additional insight.

    • #31
  2. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Irene F. Starkehaus: I would suggest that the tone of his papacy indicates his allergy to discussions on gay marriage, divorce and contraception.

    I would suggest the mainstream media ignores him when he discusses such topics:

    Pope Francis took the opportunity during an address to families in the Philippines to praise Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical opposing contraception and affirming Church teaching on sexuality and human life.

    After discussing various threats to the family, including “a lack of openness to life,” he deviated briefly from his prepared remarks, transitioning from English to his native Spanish in order to speak from the heart about the subject.

    “I think of Blessed Paul VI,” he said. “In a moment of that challenge of the growth of populations, he had the strength to defend openness to life.”

    “Paul VI was courageous. He was a good pastor, and he warned his sheep about the wolves that were approaching, and from the heavens he blesses us today.”

    Pope Francis’ comments come in the wake of Philippines president Benigno Aquino’s signing a highly controversial reproductive health bill in 2013 that drew strong protest from local bishops and members of the faith.

    Elsewhere in Pope Francis’ address, he spoke about the threats to family posed by natural disasters, poverty, migration, and a redefinition of marriage.

    He called for “good and strong families to overcome these threats.”

    “Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death,” he urged.

    • #32
  3. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    As an Episcopalian, I sometimes cast an eye at Holy Mother Church and wonder—am I ready to set out for Rome? Is it time? Alas, this pope is closing off that avenue. How is the Orthodox church doing these days?

    • #33
  4. zepplinmike Inactive
    zepplinmike
    @zepplinmike

    Misthiocracy: In my mind, words like “duty” and “responsibility” imply things that can be enforced.

    It could also easily imply giving negligent advice to someone, like if you were to urge a particularly impressionable person to do something dangerous. Ultimately, they are responsible for their own actions, but it isn’t as if you didn’t play a role and don’t have some level of blame for the consequences.

    Whether or not they should, a lot of people take what people in positions of authority (or people who are simply famous) to heart, so it’d be nice if those people had the self-discipline to refrain from giving advice on matters that they admit ignorance on.

    • #34
  5. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Mate De: He said that? Then Why write an entire encyclical about it??

    If you’re referring to Laudato Si, the encyclical is about the environment, not economics.  The subtitle is On Care For Our Common Home.

    • #35
  6. Ricochet Coolidge
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    The Holy Father should just stop embarressing himself.

    • #36
  7. Ricochet Coolidge
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    Suspira

    As an Episcopalian, I sometimes cast an eye at Holy Mother Church and wonder—am I ready to set out for Rome? Is it time? Alas, this pope is closing off that avenue. How is the Orthodox church doing these days?

    Oh please don’t do that because of the Pope’s economic ignorance.  There’s so much more to Catholicism that that.

    • #37
  8. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    Suspira:As an Episcopalian, I sometimes cast an eye at Holy Mother Church and wonder—am I ready to set out for Rome? Is it time? Alas, this pope is closing off that avenue. How is the Orthodox church doing these days?

    No, no, no, Suspira! Don’t let that happen! By comparison with quite a few popes–Alexander VI comes readily to mind–Francis isn’t bad at all. He’s a sweet man, a very good pastor, personally holy. He’s simply absorbed quite a lot of liberal nonsense. The Church has withstood much, much worse–for that matter, consider the first pope, St. Peter. He knew Christ perhaps better than anyone but Our Lady and St. Joseph–and still he denied Him three times. Behaving foolishly, even sinfully–demonstrating almost more than one man’s share of human weakness–that, down through the ages, has practically been part of the papal job description. The whole grandeur of the thing is watching the way God works through flawed men–even very silly men.

    • #38
  9. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Misthiocracy: Whenever a pope says something without invoking papal infallibility, one is quite free to assume they don’t know what they are talking about. If they were truly confident in the truth of their words, they would have invoked infallibility.

    The doctrine of papal infallibility only applies when under certain narrow conditions a pope “defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals,” so I don’t see how a pope ever could invoke infallibility when speaking about economics no matter how confident he might be.

    • #39
  10. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Peter Robinson:

    Johnny Dubya:I defer to the expertise of Alec Baldwin in matters of dramatic and comedic acting on stage and in film, I defer to the expertise of my mechanic in matters of automobile maintenance and repair, and I defer to the expertise of the Pope in matters of Catholic theology and morality. I have little use for anything any of them has to say on the subject of macro-economics.

    You know what? That is very, very well put.

    Indeed, but: His accountant father brought work home so he’s “allergic” to economics? That’s puerile. And I thought solipsism wasn’t compatible with his theology.

    • #40
  11. Irene F. Starkehaus Inactive
    Irene F. Starkehaus
    @IreneFStarkehaus

    Joseph Stanko: I would suggest the mainstream media ignores him when he discusses such topics: Pope Francis took the opportunity during an address to families in the Philippines to praise Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical opposing contraception and affirming Church teaching on sexuality and human life. After discussing various threats to the family, including “a lack of openness to life,” he deviated briefly from his prepared remarks, transitioning from English to his native Spanish in order to speak from the heart about the subject.

    Quoting from Father Linus Clovis in his remarks to the Rome Life Forum in May of 2015:

    “The Rabbitgate affair was particularly hard on Catholic mothers worldwide, especially those who, at great personal sacrifice, had given birth to their children.  The pope who had said “who am I to judge” now says, “I rebuked a woman some months ago in a parish who was pregnant eight times, with seven C-sections (cesareans). ‘But do you want to leave seven orphans?’ This is to tempt God! He [Paul VI] speaks of responsible parenthood.”  Not content with rebuking this particular woman, he extends it worldwide: “God gives you methods to be responsible. Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits.”

    To this, I can only say that I would like the pope to be clearer on matters where Church teaching is relevant and clearer still in matters where he deviates from Church teachings.

     

    • #41
  12. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    Joseph Stanko:

    Misthiocracy: Whenever a pope says something without invoking papal infallibility, one is quite free to assume they don’t know what they are talking about. If they were truly confident in the truth of their words, they would have invoked infallibility.

    The doctrine of papal infallibility only applies when under certain narrow conditions a pope “defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals,” so I don’t see how a pope ever could invoke infallibility when speaking about economics no matter how confident he might be.

    Joseph, I didn’t mean to do this to you again–honest, I didn’t. But thanks for stepping in and tidying up. You’re determination and humility in making good and certain the people of Ricochet understand just what the Church does and doesn’t teach are marvelous to behold. Thanks. Really.

    • #42
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Joseph Stanko:

    Misthiocracy: Whenever a pope says something without invoking papal infallibility, one is quite free to assume they don’t know what they are talking about. If they were truly confident in the truth of their words, they would have invoked infallibility.

    The doctrine of papal infallibility only applies when under certain narrow conditions a pope “defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals,” so I don’t see how a pope ever could invoke infallibility when speaking about economics no matter how confident he might be.

    I believe he could, in theory, invoke an infallible decree prohibiting Catholics from engaging in all sorts of economic activities, such as the charging of interest for example.

    • #43
  14. LilyBart Inactive
    LilyBart
    @LilyBart

    Peter Robinson:

    God works through flawed men–even very silly men.

    Yes, that can be very true.   Thank you for the reminder.

    Sometimes I need to be reminded that God is on his throne.  He’s not worried – it’s under control.

    • #44
  15. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Irene F. Starkehaus:

    To this, I can only say that I would like the pope to be clearer on matters where Church teaching is relevant and clearer still in matters where he deviates from Church teachings.

    Hear, hear!

    • #45
  16. J Flei Inactive
    J Flei
    @Solon

    Better, one supposes, than a president who doesn’t understand how money works.

    • #46
  17. Matede Inactive
    Matede
    @MateDe

    Yes Joseph you are correct that the encyclical was mainly about the environment and climate change (which is probably another subject the pope doesn’t have a vast amount of knowledge on) but he does delve into economics or at least economic systems.

    • #47
  18. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Peter Robinson: Joseph, I didn’t mean to do this to you again–honest, I didn’t. But thanks for stepping in and tidying up. You’re determination and humility in making good and certain the people of Ricochet understand just what the Church does and doesn’t teach are marvelous to behold. Thanks. Really.

    Thank you Peter, I’m flattered!

    I suspect papal infallibility is a widely misunderstood doctrine, even among Catholics.  For instance I think a lot of people in and outside the Church would be surprised to learn that popes have invoked infallibility a grand total of one time since the doctrine of papal infallibility itself was first formally defined at the First Vatican Council.

    • #48
  19. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Irene F. Starkehaus: This is to tempt God! He [Paul VI] speaks of responsible parenthood.”  Not content with rebuking this particular woman, he extends it worldwide: “God gives you methods to be responsible. Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits.”

    To this, I can only say that I would like the pope to be clearer on matters where Church teaching is relevant and clearer still in matters where he deviates from Church teachings.

    When Pope Francis goes off script his choice of words sometimes makes me wince, such as here.  Still in this instance he is not deviating from Church teaching.  Paul VI did speak about “responsible parenthood” in his encyclical on contraception and approved of methods (such as NFP) for limiting family size.  It is true that good Catholics don’t have to “be like rabbits,” though I agree it’s a rather blunt and insensitive way of saying it.

    • #49
  20. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Joseph Stanko:

    Peter Robinson: Joseph, I didn’t mean to do this to you again–honest, I didn’t. But thanks for stepping in and tidying up. You’re determination and humility in making good and certain the people of Ricochet understand just what the Church does and doesn’t teach are marvelous to behold. Thanks. Really.

    Thank you Peter, I’m flattered!

    I suspect papal infallibility is a widely misunderstood doctrine, even among Catholics. For instance I think a lot of people in and outside the Church would be surprised to learn that popes have invoked infallibility a grand total of one time since the doctrine of papal infallibility itself was first formally defined at the First Vatican Council.

    I knew that!

    • #50
  21. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Joseph Stanko: It is true that good Catholics don’t have to “be like rabbits,” though I agree it’s a rather blunt and insensitive way of saying it.

    Wouldn’t it also be true that good Catholics are not prohibited from being “like rabbits”?

    I think this could sum up my point of displeasure with this pope: He tells people how they “should” or “should not” behave, without going so far as to say that these behaviours he happens to dislike qualify as sins, but then again he doesn’t say they aren’t sins either.

    Was it a sin for this woman to have an eighth baby, or merely something he didn’t agree with? Since she was a Catholic, the distinction is not trivial.

    Basically, he has a tendency towards being vague at the same time that he’s adamant. He’s sorta like a bad girlfriend/boyfriend. “I shouldn’t have to tell you to do the dishes. I want you to want to do the dishes!”

    • #51
  22. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Suspira:As an Episcopalian, I sometimes cast an eye at Holy Mother Church and wonder—am I ready to set out for Rome? Is it time? Alas, this pope is closing off that avenue. How is the Orthodox church doing these days?

    I have worked on a response to James of England, an Orthodox churchman.  Once he is ready, which should be late July / early August, perhaps I’ll have an answer for you.

    • #52
  23. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Here’s a secular observer’s question which some of Ricochet’s considerable and informed Roman Catholic sub-community may be able to answer.

    Suppose there was an important Cardinal who didn’t challenge any of the theological doctrine, but openly quoted the Pope’s own words on his ignorance of economic matters while loudly praising the accomplishments of Saint John Paul II in obliterating Communist states, and ex-Pope Ratzinger for smacking down liberation theology. Not sure that could happen, but if it could …

    Would it be feasible for Catholic intellectuals to openly acknowledge that this Cardinal was really their spokesman, and that Pope Francis was just an economically ignorant idealistic soul from the other side of the aisle who managed to slip in for a term, and maybe didn’t deserve so much unchallenged publicity for his non-theological statements?

    I ask because in the media (and sometimes even here) the push back to his socialistic policy formulations is decidedly muted from the Catholic ranks. He’s been a one-man world wide anti-capitalist propaganda machine, even as socialist Greece declines while the profit motive turns once poor countries from Estonia to Singapore into prosperous ones. Why not call him out, pointedly, for his highly fallible opinions? I’m sure the media would cover it, especially if the criticism came from someone wearing a red hat.

    It sort of confuses me why even conservative RC voices tread so gingerly around this Pope. His ascendance was no surprise. He was second in the balloting which elected Ratzinger; Church membership is heavily weighted to South America; he’s multilingual, Italian ancestry, not media shy, and his actions convey humility and holiness. He didn’t need David Gregory, Karl Rove, or supernatural “Big Magic” to get elected. Given the fact that he’s a Jesuit, the “social justice” agenda should be no surprise, either.

    I don’t understand why so many conservative Roman Catholics give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt. Should the job come with a free pass from criticism? If so, watch out for another Rodrigo Borgia.

    Of course, I also didn’t understand why Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI didn’t pack the College of Cardinals with more conservatives like themselves. Jorge Bergoglio reminds me of David Souter.

    • #53
  24. Irene F. Starkehaus Inactive
    Irene F. Starkehaus
    @IreneFStarkehaus

    Joseph Stanko: It is true that good Catholics don’t have to “be like rabbits,” though I agree it’s a rather blunt and insensitive way of saying it.

    I have known a good many married couples who – in their fidelity to one another, to Church teachings on life and to God – have been publically humiliated over the number of children they have welcomed as the gift that they are.  Eight children might seem like a lot in this world of one child policies, but it wasn’t so long ago that eight was the norm.  No, God doesn’t command us to reproduce like rabbits, but it would be wrong to assume that the woman did any such thing.  Making her the focus of the world’s derision – especially in light of one child policies – is tragic.  This is a prime example of how the pope fails to control the message.

    I respect what you are saying, Mr. Stanko, and I apologize for taking the thread off topic.  I truly am, but this woman should have been blessed and hugged, and the populist pope should have offered to babysit for a while so she could catch a nap instead of taking her to the woodshed. If he would get his mind off his imagined environmental apocalypse and focus on the miracle of the world around him, he would find the blunders would be fewer and farther between.   Honestly.

    Anyway, please forgive my impertinence.

    • #54
  25. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    @Jim Kearney,

    I think your perspective is, quite naturally, American politics-centric. If, say, 5% of what Pope Francis says and does is comment on economic/political matters — erroneously, from the conservative pov — what do you suppose the other 95% of his day involves?

    The bulk of his time is spent shepherding the Church. But, the secular liberal western media (repetitive) is only interested in the sensational stuff which just so happens to bolster their worldview.

    As Catholics, we tend to take the long view and shrug off today’s headlines. Misrepresentation of the Church’s mission is as old as the Church. I feel perfectly free to say the Pope is ill-informed about politics and economics. And I agree with AB Chaput (not a Cardinal — yet) when he says “confusion is of the devil” (in reference controversial leaks from the Synod on Marriage and the Family). That doesn’t mean Pope Francis isn’t in Peter’s seat for a reason, and that I’m not obliged to listen carefully for the good and righteous things he has to teach. I find his message of Mercy both timely and essential.

    • #55
  26. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Western Chauvinist:@Jim Kearney,

    I think your perspective is, quite naturally, American politics-centric. If, say, 5% of what Pope Francis says and does is comment on economic/political matters — erroneously, from the conservative pov — what do you suppose the other 95% of his day involves?

    The bulk of his time is spent shepherding the Church. But, the secular liberal western media (repetitive) is only interested in the sensational stuff which just so happens to bolster their worldview.

    As Catholics, we tend to take the long view and shrug off today’s headlines. Misrepresentation of the Church’s mission is as old as the Church. I feel perfectly free to say the Pope is ill-informed about politics and economics. And I agree with AB Chaput (not a Cardinal — yet) when he says “confusion is of the devil” (in reference controversial leaks from the Synod on Marriage and the Family). That doesn’t mean Pope Francis isn’t in Peter’s seat for a reason, and that I’m not obliged to listen carefully for the good and righteous things he has to teach. I find his message of Mercy both timely and essential.

    Thanks for your viewpoint. I was actually thinking of Chaput (and Pell) when I wrote this, because they’re both willing to do media forcefully.

    When Pope Francis is on these shores, you can bet the media will amplify his economic/political views, especially if he voices them before a joint session of Congress. I hope Catholics in that crowd (from Congressman Ryan to Senator Rubio) will hit the right note of respect and disagreement. It pained me when Obama scolded the Court over Citizens United, and the most we got was a shake of the head from Alito. They should have walked out.

    More forceful blowback from Catholic conservatives ahead of time would put Ryan, Rubio, etc. in a better position to dispute the Pope’s admonitions when that day comes.

    • #56
  27. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Jim Kearney: I don’t understand why so many conservative Roman Catholics give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt. Should the job come with a free pass from criticism?

    Well for one thing he is the pope.  He’s not immune from criticism, but I certainly do give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Another aspect of the confusion over papal infallibility is that it can easily lead to a “cafeteria Catholic” mentality.  “Is it infallible?  No?  Then I can just ignore it!”  You see this on both sides of the aisle, conservatives ignoring Catholic Social Teaching and liberals ignoring Catholic sexual morality.  Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control didn’t invoke papal infallibility either, but it’s still part of the body of Church teaching.

    In Catholic thought there are different levels or degrees of authority, with infallibility at the highest level applying to a small set of dogmas believed to be part of divine revelation.  That doesn’t mean everything else is purely optional.  For instance a papal encyclical carries a level of authority that falls below infallible but above mere opinion — and also above “unscripted response to a question at a press conference.”   Pope Francis says some silly and stupid things to reporters, but when he issues a formal encyclical I feel obliged to give it the benefit of the doubt, at least read it carefully and prayerfully and examine my own conscience before venturing to criticize it.

    • #57
  28. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Irene F. Starkehaus: Anyway, please forgive my impertinence.

    Nothing to forgive!

    Irene F. Starkehaus: but this woman should have been blessed and hugged

    I agree.  It was a foolish and hurtful comment.

    • #58
  29. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Western Chauvinist: The bulk of his time is spent shepherding the Church…

    …which may help explain why so few priests are willing to contradict him publicly, since I presume a large proportion of that shepherding includes decisions on personnel and staffing.

    It doesn’t help explain why lay Catholics don’t speak out, of course.

    • #59
  30. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Misthiocracy:

    Western Chauvinist: The bulk of his time is spent shepherding the Church…

    …which may help explain why so few priests are willing to contradict him publicly, since I presume a large proportion of that shepherding includes decisions on personnel and staffing.

    It doesn’t help explain why lay Catholics don’t speak out, of course.

    Um, no. Pope Francis isn’t spending time deciding who pastors the local parish.

    Maybe lay Catholics don’t speak out more (we speak out on this very website — including one Rachel Lu — Contributor!) because politics doesn’t play a central role in how we practice our faith. It’s kind of a side show in the grand scheme of things.

    • #60
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