Maybe the great take-away that we get from the publication of Evangelii Gaudium is that while we made much of John Paul II being a great communicator and Benedict XVI an erudite theologian, most people (Catholics and non-Catholics, admirers and opponents of both) managed quite well never to pay much attention to what they taught, at least on certain topics. “We have reached a new level of political absurdity when the right is mad at the pope and the left wants to anoint his head with oil,” wrote a Washington Post columnist this week, seemingly unaware that the only absurdity is that neither camp, despite JP2 and B16 saying the same things in more authoritative documents, gave much thought to offering the same sort of responses to those guys for the past three decades.
And so well worth our time is a very fine piece just posted by The American Conservative. “We now see the Pope being criticized and even denounced from nearly every rightward-leaning media pulpit in the land,” writes Patrick J. Deneen. He considers the reasons for this — and the reasons that JP2 and B16 did not receive similar approbrium. A snippet:
In the past several months, when discussing Pope Francis, the left press has at every opportunity advanced a “narrative of rupture,” claiming that Francis essentially is repudiating nearly everything that Popes JPII and Benedict XVI stood for. The left press and commentariat has celebrated Francis as the anti-Benedict following his impromptu airplane interview (“who am I to judge?”) and lengthy interview with the Jesuit magazine America. However, in these more recent reactions to Francis by the right press and commentariat, we witness extensive agreement by many Catholics regarding the “narrative of rupture,” wishing for the good old days of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
But there has been no rupture—neither the one wished for by the left nor feared by the right. Pope Francis has been entirely consistent with those previous two Popes who are today alternatively hated or loved, for Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke with equal force and power against the depredations of capitalism. (JPII in the encyclical Centesimus Annus and Benedict XVI in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate.) But these encyclicals—more authoritative than an Apostolic Exhortation—did not provoke the same reaction as Francis’s critiques of capitalism. This is because the dominant narrative about John Paul II and Benedict XVI had them pegged them as, well, Republicans. For the left, they were old conservatives who obsessed with sexual matters; for the right, solid traditionalists who cared about Catholicism’s core moral teachings. Both largely ignored their social and economic teachings, so focused were they on their emphasis on “faith and morals.” All overlooked that, for Catholics, economics is a branch of moral philosophy.
There is more to Deneen’s article than simply pointing out that Francis’s teaching on economic morality amounts to a restatement of what the Church has long held, so don’t let me citing a piece keep you from clicking over to read the whole thing. It’s important and well-written stuff.