The Personalist Project

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Accessed on July 09, 2020 - 7:42:21

Standing and misunderstanding

Katie van Schaijik, Jun 10, 2020

I've spilled a lot of virtual ink over the years trying to persuade fellow American conservative Catholics that they misunderstand Pope Francis. He's not the kind of leftist they imagine him to be. They are judging him too much through the lens of the political divide in our country, rather than on his own terms—terms that were formed in 20th century Latin America, where "right wing" meant something very different from what it means to us. It involved luxury and juntas, for instance. It entailed defending social injustices. It meant standing with and for the rich and powerful against the poor and oppressed. 

Now I wish I could do the reverse. I wish I could persuade Pope Francis that he misunderstands American Catholic conservatives. He is judging us too much through the lens of his Latin American and European experiences, rather than on our own terms, where "rightwing" means not protecting power and privilege, but standing up for life and marriage, for individual rights, for the objectivity of truth, free exercise of religion and things like that against the elites in power, who are working hard to replace the American system that has served so well for so long with a neomarxist ideological regime that has wrought violence and evil throughout the world since the French Revolution. In the American Church, left-leaning Catholics often use the cover of "social justice" and the vocabulary of "compassion" to align with secular elites to press for changes in the moral teachings of the Church—changes that we see lead exactly to the "throwaway culture" the Pope rightly deplores.

I get that there are nuances. Jorge Bergoglio sympathized with the cause of the left, but he rejected Marxism. At personal cost, he opposed the liberation theology that was all the rage among his fellow Argentine Jesuits. Instead he subscribed to a school of thought that went by the name of Theology of the People—a theology that I hope one day to show is almost exactly parallel to John Paul II's Theology of the Body. The difference is that while the late pope focused on the intimate union of marriage in opposing the master/slave dynamic to a reciprocal communion of self-giving love, the present Pope focuses on large social structures. On that level, he too seeks to replace a master/slave dynamic with a dynamic of reciprocity, of mutual service and enrichment.

Anyway, just as there is a range and gamut on the left that goes from Robespierre and Lenin all the way to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day, there's a range and gamut of type and opinion on the right. We have our extremists and bad guys as well as our saints. We have our characteristic short-comings, our rigid legalists, our bigots and authoritarians who have to be deplored. But, in general, we're not who Pope seems to think we are. Nor is the left as benign as the he seems to think it is, to judge by many of his words, acts and gestures. (I'm thinking, for instance, of his making a personal call to the bishop who got on his knees in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.)

I wish he would see that. But whether he does or not, when it comes to matters outside the Faith, it's up to us to stand for what seems to us right and true, even if it means opposing a bishop or the Pope.

P.S. For the record, I oppose the Black Lives Matter movement for the same reason Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed the Black Panthers. King saw that social justice can only be established on personalist grounds, i.e. on the ground of love, non-violence, and respect for individual rights. BLM, like its predecessors orgs. Black Panthers and Black Power is rooted in identity politics that reduces individuals to units in a class. It then justifies violence against the oppressor class. It's an evil movement that has fooled a lot of good and sincere people into supporting it, imo.