Politically left-wing Catholic pundits seem very eager to use the words of Pope Francis to pounce on political conservatives who criticize or even question the sometimes confusing Tweets and other statements of the Pope.
The most recent example includes a swipe at Breitbart News by Michael Sean Winters, columnist for the left-wing National Catholic Reporter, a publication often at odds with fundamental Church teaching on issues of sexual morality.
On Saturday, Breitbart News executive chairman and radio host Stephen K. Bannon on SiriusXM Patriot Channel wanted to talk about the Pope’s recent statement to UN chiefs in which he called for, among other things, “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State.”
Bannon asked if Francis is a commie.
Winters took great offense at that and to the response, which he incorrectly attributed to me, that “he is a Jesuit,” the implication being, at least to Winters, that being a Jesuit was tantamount to being a commie.
What Winters missed was Bannon’s legitimate question – not the mirthful beginning about the Pope being a commie, but rather the thoughtful question about the effect of liberation theology on the Argentine Pope.
The thing that Catholic pundits should know is that even statements like “legitimate redistribution of wealth” do not translate into specific policy proscriptions. Does the statement mean he wants a top marginal tax rate of 39.6%, where it is now, or does he want something higher? The Pope doesn’t say, and he wouldn’t either. He properly leaves that to the political authorities.
Besides Breitbart, Winters goes after William Donohue, the well respected head of the watchdog Catholic League, who suggested that issues of sexual morality are not debatable but that economic approaches are. Donohue also said that the recent statements by the Pope are not infallible. After all, the teachings of the Church are not set out by Tweets and statements to UN heads. Still, Winters did not like any of this.
Winters is on target with regard to his criticism of John Moody, executive editor of Fox News, who wrote the Pope is calling for “what amounts to forced redistribution” and that “Francis grievously exceeded his authority and became what amounts to a robe-wearing politician.” The Pope called for no such thing, and popes have commented on economics for more than 100 years.
However, what the Pope means by his statements is a serious question for proper consideration. The political left at National Catholic Reporter – at least some of them dissenters from Catholic teaching on the moral issues – asked lots of tough questions during the long pontificate of John Paul II and the short interregnum of Benedict XVI.
What does the Pope mean by “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state”? Winters has his ideas though he does not tell us what they are. Robert Royal of TheCatholicThing.com has his ideas that he actually expressed Sunday, and he insists things are a great deal more interesting than Winters’s cartoon.
The fact is, as John Nolte – cultural critic at Breitbart News – alluded to on the show, the Church is there to challenge us even when we do not understand fully what the Church wants or means.
The political lefties at National Catholic Reporter were all nuance and questions when successive Popes called abortion the greatest evil of our time, but when this Pope seems to say something that gives their political and economic agenda a boost, they seem to go all Inquisition on folks like Rush Limbaugh, Bill Donohue, and Breitbart News.
These politically left-wing Catholics seem to have waited most of their adult lives for this moment, when at long last they think they have a proper stick to beat political conservatives with.
Winters and those like him are “Francis’s Bullies,” even though they probably embarrass him.