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May/16

14

Rome, Brussels and Ventotene

Mary and 'European' StarsCross-posted on the Corner:

Writing in Britain’s Catholic Herald, Ed West reports on the attitude taken by the Vatican to Brexit. I touched on this last week in a discussion on the award to the Pope of the Charlemagne prize, the first political prize to be established in West Germany after the war. The prize was the brainchild of Kurt Pfeifer, an Aachen textile merchant, and a former, if (it is said) reluctant member of the Nazi party. It is awarded every Ascension Day in, appropriately enough, Aachen, Charlemagne’s former capital, ‘for the most valuable contribution to West European understanding.’ This year, however the ceremony took place in Rome.

Ed West (my emphasis added):

The awards ceremony, held in the Vatican, was addressed by Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council.

They must have been pleased to hear Francis identify Brussels with “the soul of Europe”. On immigration, the Pope brushed aside the fears of Eurosceptics and even the anxieties of pro-EU national politicians. Tighter border controls were a manifestation of “meanness”, serving “our own selfish interests”. It’s not hard to work out where the Holy Father’s sympathies lie in the British referendum. The Vatican’s “foreign minister”, the Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, has said bluntly: “Better in than out.”

Officially, Britain’s Roman Catholic Church is taking a neutral position on Brexit, but…

West delves into the early history of the EU, going back to the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), the body that launched the process of European integration on its current path:

[The] European Coal and Steel Community [was]formed after the Second World War by Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi. Of these, only Monnet – the French political economist who became the community’s first president – was not a conspicuously devout Catholic. (His private life was complicated: he was married to a woman who left her husband for him and had to travel to Moscow to obtain a divorce; the Monnets could not have a Catholic wedding until the first husband was dead, by which time Jean was 85. The ceremony took place in the basilica at Lourdes.)

Schuman, twice prime minister of France, and De Gasperi, eight times prime minister of Italy and founder of the Christian Democrats, were men of such personal holiness that there have been calls to canonise them. Adenauer, the scheming first Chancellor of West Germany, is not a candidate for sainthood – but he was a trenchantly Catholic statesman during a political career lasting 60 years.

For Schuman, Adenauer and De Gasperi, the European Economic Community was fundamentally a Catholic project with roots that – in their imaginations, at least – could be traced back to Charlemagne….

In 2008 the Catholic historian Alan Fimister published a book arguing that Schuman’s plans for Europe were “to a remarkable degree, the conscious implementation of the Neo-Thomistic project of Pope Leo XIII”.

Schuman, De Gasperi and Adenauer all believed that the answer to totalitarian ideologies lay in Leo’s vision of the restoration of “the principles of the Christian life in civil and domestic society”.

But Schuman went further: he subscribed to the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain’s notion of supranational democracy as the foundation for a new Christendom. “He held fast to the magisterium’s demand that the final destination of Catholic political action must be the recognition by the civil order of the truth of the Faith,” writes Fimister.

Now, I have nothing to say about, good heavens, Neo-Thomistic projects (and I can think of kinder ways to describe Adenauer, a very great German chancellor, than ‘scheming’), but what’s interesting about all this is the way that these statesmen took Roman Catholic notions of Christendom, a Christian ‘ummah’, if you like, and transformed them into the idea of ‘supranational democracy’. Democracy? The idea of a supranational ‘democracy’ was, of course, a nod to the conventional political pieties of the postwar era. But a nod is all that it was, as those founders knew. Without a European ‘demos’, there could be no European democracy. There was no European demos then, and there is no European demos now. What’s left is supranational technocracy, something that’s very different.

West, focused on the Catholic debate (his whole piece is well worth reading) does not mention another of the founding key fathers of the European Union, Altiero Spinelli. Spinelli was no Catholic, but a communist, and then (eventually) a former communist, and thus, critically, someone else susceptible to a universalist creed impatient with borders. Democracy was not so much of a priority for him either.

Here is an extract (via Richard North and Christopher Booker’s The Great Deception) of what Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, a fellow political prisoner under Mussolini, wrote in their Ventotene manifesto (1944) (my emphasis added):

During the revolutionary crisis, this [European] movement will have the task of organising and guiding progressive forces, using all the popular bodies which form spontaneously, incandescent melting pots in which the revolutionary masses are mixed, not for the creation of plebiscites, but rather waiting to be guided.

It derives its vision and certainty of what must be done from the knowledge that it represents the deepest needs of modern society and not from any previous recognition by popular will, as yet non-existent. In this way it issues the basic guidelines of the new order, the first social discipline directed to the unformed masses. By this dictatorship of the revolutionary party a new State will be formed, and around this State new, genuine democracy will grow.

Spinelli died in 1986, after a distinguished career in the politics of the emerging European Union. He remains an honored figure in the EU’s pantheon. The main building in the EU’s (Brussels) parliament is named after him. The Spinelli Group is an initiative launched in 2010 led by the likes of Guy Verfhofstadt, the eurofundamentalist (and former Belgian prime minister) who heads up ALDE, the EU Parliament’s ‘liberal’ family’ and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ‘Dany le Rouge’ of Paris ’68 infamy.

Ancient history, yes, to a degree, but only to a degree: To understand the EU it is necessary to understand its intellectual and political roots. And to understand the EU and to oppose Brexit is, I would argue, an….interesting choice.

 

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Apr/16

16

Francis & Bernie: Two Demagogues Meet

descamisadosCrux:

ROME (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said in an interview with The Associated Press that he met with Pope Francis, describing the meeting as a “real honor.”

Sanders said the meeting took place Saturday morning before the pope left for his one-day visit to Greece. He said he was honored by the meeting, and that he told the pope he appreciated the message that he is sending the world about the need to inject morality and justice into the world economy. Sanders said it’s a message he has been sending as well.

“We had an opportunity to meet with him this morning,” Sanders said. “It was a real honor for me, for my wife and I to spend some time with him. I think he is one of the extraordinary figures not only in the world today but in modern world history.”

Sanders said it was a brief meeting at the papal residence. “I told him that I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing in this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed.”

Sanders and wife, Jane, stayed overnight at the pope’s residence, the Domus Santa Marta hotel in the Vatican gardens, on the same floor as the pope. They were seen at the hotel reception, carrying their own bags.

“Carrying their own bags”!

Oh the humility.

The Vatican is loathe to get involved in electoral campaigns, and usually tries to avoid any perception of partisanship as far as the pope is concerned. Popes rarely travel to countries during the thick of political campaigns, knowing a papal photo op with the sitting head of state can be exploited for political ends.

However, Francis has been known to flout Vatican protocol, and the meeting with Sanders is evidence that his personal desires often trump Vatican diplomacy.

“His message is resonating with every religion on earth [and] with people who have no religion and it is a message that says we have got to inject morality and justice into the global economy,” Sanders said.

No, the pope’s message, like Sanders’, is a variant of the same old destructive millenarian nonsense,  a vessel for resentment, a pathway to misery for the many, to power for the few. The most important ideological difference between these two old conspiracy-theorists is that one was deeply influenced by leftist authoritarianism, the other by Peronism.

And Francis smiles more often.

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Feb/16

13

Two “Brothers”: Pope Francis and the Chekist

pope-francis-patriarch-kirillCross-posted on the Corner.

The Pope’s decision to meet his “brother”, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in, delightfully, Havana (you can find some details here of the way that the persecution of Christians has spiked since last year’s Francis-brokered deal between the Cuban dictatorship and the US) says quite a bit about Francis’ equivocal (I’ll be kind) attitude to individual liberty.

As for Kirill, well, here’s David Satter writing in Forbes back in 2009:

The installation of Kirill I as the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church last month will not end the subordination of the church to the Putin regime. On the contrary, the church is likely to emerge as an even stronger supporter of dictatorship and anti-Western ideology. Kirill, who was the Metropolitan of Smolensk, succeeds Alexei II who died in December after 18 years as head of the Russian Church. According to material from the Soviet archives, Kirill was a KGB agent (as was Alexei). This means he was more than just an informer, of whom there were millions in the Soviet Union. He was an active officer of the organization. Neither Kirill nor Alexei ever acknowledged or apologized for their ties with the security agencies…

On the day after his accession to the Patriarchy, Kirill elaborated on his ideas for “harmoniously” combining the demands of the state and human rights. He said that he wanted to base church-state relations on the Byzantine concept of “symphonia,” in which a distinction is drawn between the imperial authority and the priesthood, with the former concerned with human affairs and the latter with matters divine. The two are regarded as closely interdependent, and neither is subordinated to the other. Church scholars have pointed out that there is no example of symphonia successfully defining church-state relations in our times, and the recent history of the Russian Orthodox church indicates that, faced with the power of the Kremlin, it has no interest in becoming a moral force.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the church received official privileges including the right to import duty-free alcohol and tobacco. In 1995, the Nikolo-Ugreshky Monastery, which is directly subordinated to the patriarchate, earned $350 million from the sale of alcohol. The patriarchate’s department of foreign church relations, which Kirill ran, earned $75 million from the sale of tobacco. But the patriarchate reported an annual budget in 1995-1996 of only $2 million. Kirill’s personal wealth was estimated by the Moscow News in 2006 to be $4 billion.

Thus the affair of the disappearing watch. Disappearing watch?  The BBC explains:

The Russian Orthodox Church has apologised for showing a photo of its leader Patriarch Kirill that was doctored to airbrush out a luxury watch he was wearing. The gold Breguet watch is estimated to be worth more than $30,000 (£19,000) and was spotted by Russian bloggers.

The watch’s reflection could be seen in the 2009 photo on the church’s website.

Clearly—to borrow Francis’ term—a ‘church of the poor’.

Meanwhile, writing in The Catholic Herald last year, Geraldine Fagan explains how the Kirill’s (superficially spiritual) vision of a “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir, a term also used by Putin) that spreads beyond Russia’s current orders has given support to the Kremlin’s adventures in the ‘near abroad’, adventures that have not been good news for religious minorities:

Although ostensibly upholding religious freedom, the Donetsk People’s Republic [a ‘state’ in occupied Ukraine] retains the right to “protect the population from the activity of religious sects”. These “sects” are not defined by the territory’s constitution – but you only have to watch Russian state television to work out who they are. A popular talk show broadcast on the day of Crimea’s annexation focused on “false religions that have destroyed the Ukrainian nation and soul”, including Baptists, charismatic Protestants and Eastern Rite Catholics. Catholics and Protestants are already reporting difficulties in the pro-Moscow areas.

Protestant communities are particularly strong in south-east Ukraine, following a 19th-century spiritual revival among German settlers originally invited there by Catherine the Great. In the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, Protestants report confiscations of their churches as well as the Donetsk Christian University, previously among the largest Protestant institutions of higher education in the former USSR.

In one particularly grave incident in June 2014, four Pentecostal men known for their active mission work were kidnapped by separatists in Slavyansk and later found shot dead, their bodies showing signs of severe beatings. A small Catholic convent founded 18 years ago in the Crimean city of Simferopol was forced to close in late 2014, according to Forum 18 News Service. The convent’s three Franciscan nuns – citizens of Poland and Ukraine – were denied extensions to their residency permits. Six of the peninsula’s 12 Roman Catholic priests had similarly been forced out by the end of last year. Forum 18 also reports that only one of Crimea’s five Eastern Rite Catholic parishes currently has a priest. Being citizens of Ukraine, their seven priests may spend only 90 days at a time on Russian territory before leaving the country for a further 90 days.

Doubtless they will have been delighted by the spectacle in Havana.

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Jan/16

23

The Vatican and Brexit

henry-viiiThe Roman Catholic Church has always been somewhat suspicious of the nation-state, an institution it regards as an obstacle to its own claims of universal authority, so this story from the Daily Telegraph comes as no surprise:

The Vatican wants Britain to stay in the European Union, the Pope’s foreign secretary has declared.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See, suggested “Brexit” could weaken Europe.

In an interview with ITV, the English cleric who has a weekly meeting with Pope Francis, gave a clear signal of Rome’s view of the best outcome of the forthcoming in/out referendum on continued EU membership.

“The Holy See respects the ultimate decision of the British people – that’s for the British electorate to decide,” he said.

“But I think we would see it as being something that is not going to make a stronger Europe.”

No, Brexit would not weaken ‘Europe’, and, if it dealt a blow to the EU (which is something very different), it might well even strengthen it. The EU, based on post-democracy and an ideology imposed from the top, may appeal to the Vatican, but it has evolved into a catastrophe for the peoples of Europe. Under the circumstances, anything that might ‘weaken’ it (and, regrettably, Brexit could easily have the opposite effect) is only to be welcomed.

As to the Vatican and specific question of Brexit (the UK’s departure from the EU), perhaps it’s appropriate to revisit yet again what the British politician Enoch Powell had to say  back in 1972 about Henry VIII’s assertion of English independence from Rome:

The relevant fact about the history of the British Isles and above all of England is its separateness in a political sense from the history of continental Europe…When Henry VIII declared that ‘this realm of England is an empire (imperium) of itself’, he was making not a new claim but a very old one; but he was making it at a very significant point of time. He meant—as Edward I had meant, when he said the same over two hundred years before—that there is an imperium on the continent, but that England is another imperium outside its orbit and is endowed with the plenitude of its own sovereignty. The moment at which Henry VIII repeated this assertion was that of what is misleadingly called ‘the reformation’—misleadingly, because it was, and is, essentially a political and not a religious event.

The whole subsequent history of Britain and the political character of the British people have taken their colour and trace their unique quality from that moment and that assertion. It was the final decision that no authority, no law, no court outside the realm would be recognized within the realm. When Cardinal Wolsey fell, the last attempt had failed to bring or keep the English nation within the ambit of any external jurisdiction or political power: since then no law has been for England outside England, and no taxation has been levied in England by or for an authority outside England—or not at least until the proposition that Britain should accede to the Common Market [the future EU].

Britain did, of course, go on to join that ‘Common Market’, not least because most Britons did not understand that ‘ever closer Europe’ meant what it said.

It’s time to reverse that now.

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Apr/15

22

A View of the US (from the Vatican)

FrancisCrux has a piece on the planned canonization of Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish Franciscan celebrated as the founder of the Church on the West Coast of the United States.

This caught my eye:

Uruguayan layman Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of the Vatican’s Commission for Latin America, said that as a saint, Serra will help the Latino community in the US not to feel like “barely tolerated foreigners,” but to recognize themselves in continuity with Hispanics who have lived in the country for centuries.

“Barely tolerated foreigners”?

Carriquiry was appointed to this job by Pope Francis who hails, of course, from neighboring Argentina, and wrote the preface to one of Carriquiry’s books.

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Jan/15

1

The Vatican and Cuba: Some More Background

Benedict XVI & Raul CastroCross-posted on the Corner:

With the latest crackdown in Cuba showing just how Havana has ‘read’ Obama’s policy shift towards the Castro dictatorship, this new Foreign Affairs article by Victor Gaetan giving some background to the Vatican’s involvement in the deal that was eventually struck makes timely reading.

Here’s an extract (my emphasis added):

In Cuba, in other words, the church is still strong. Havana’s Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino has followed a strategy of reconciliation on the island, avoiding confrontation with the state while winning more independence to carry out the Church’s religious mission. Under Ortega’s 35-year leadership, the Catholic Church, to which about 60 percent of all Cubans belong, has emerged as the only national institution that functions independent of the state.

Still, Ortega was never popular with regime opponents because of his determination to avoid confrontation. While Benedict was in Cuba, Ortega refused to arrange a meeting between the Pope and opposition leaders. Instead, devout Catholic opposition leaders such as Oswaldo Paya found Cuban security surrounding his house to prevent him from attending Benedict’s public Mass. Five months later, Paya was killed in a car accident suspected of being engineered by state agents. No investigation has ever been completed. Although Ortega presided over Paya’s funeral, his family says the cardinal did nothing to protect or promote the democracy movement Paya fostered. Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo, the regime opponent’s daughter, wrote an eloquent critique of the U.S.–Cuba deal in The Washington Post. Many other dissidents are similarly disappointed with the news.

But Ortega likely isn’t losing sleep about this criticism. He has a different vision of Cuba’s future: A few days after Francis was elected, the Havana Archdiocese published a document containing 23 proposals produced by a group, Laboratorio Casa Cuba, comprised of “professors and researchers of diverse ideologies (Catholics, critical Marxists, republican–socialists, and anarchists).” It’s a Christian social–democratic program, with an anti-American cherry on top.

And that seems sort of fine with Pope Francis. Fancy that!

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NYC, Sept 2014 (AS)Independent Catholic News:

The Holy See has called for “an authentic cultural change” to combat climate change which is man-made and therefore man’s responsibility. That was the focus of an address delivered last night to the UN Climate Change Summit in New York by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

And, of course, there’s this:

For its part, Vatican City State, though small, is undertaking significant efforts to reduce its consummation of fossil fuels, through diversification and energy efficiency projects. However, as the Holy See’s delegation at the COP-19 in Warsaw indicated, “talking about emission reductions is useless if we are not ready to change our lifestyle and the current dominant models of consumption and production”

.The appeal of hair shirt and collectivist dream has not, it seems, gone away.

Of course, to the extent that there is AGW, it is not entirely unconnected with the fact that there are now some seven billion of us on the planet. I would not, of course, expect the Vatican to alter its opposition to contraception, but those who read its sermons on climate change should remember that this is one “change” that it is not prepared to countenance. That’s up to the church, of course, but it would be nice if it acknowledged that this stance comes with an environmental cost.

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Jan/14

22

A Guide to Getting Your Saints Recognized

saintsUS Catholic has a report on Pope Francis’s efforts to clean up the Vatican Bank. It comments that “Francis has repeatedly railed against corruption, and his reforms at the bank are quickly becoming a test case for those efforts”. Fair enough (and a touch belated given the Vatican’s repeated attacks on wicked financiers in recent years), but then came this:

This week, [the pope] took another, less controversial step in that direction, calling for a “spending review” that includes settling on a cap for expenses tied to the canonization causes of would-be saints. In the past, critics charged that figures backed by well-financed supporters usually became saints more quickly than their more meagerly financed counterparts.

One learns something new every day. Amazing.

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Aug/13

17

A Slip?

MysteresOver at the Guardian, Nick Cohen highlights an intriguing detail in Pope Francis’s “who am I to judge” remark about homosexuals:

Journalists wanted to know whether a “gay lobby” in the Vatican had covered up Ricca’s alleged sins. “If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them?” the pope replied. “The Catholic church teaches that gay people should not be discriminated against.”

This sounds a start: a small start, a long overdue start, but a start nevertheless. But consider the sequel. “Being gay is not the problem,” the pope continued, “lobbying is the problem and this goes for any type of lobby… political lobbies, masonic lobbies, all lobbies.” (“Lobby dei politici, lobby dei massoni, tante lobby.”)

And with that casual phrase, the pope signalled his fealty to the deep strain of reaction in European history and hardly anyone noticed. Few Anglo-Saxon readers understand that prejudice against freemasons is the founding conspiracy theory of the far right. It saw the machinations of a society that began among harmless Scottish craftsmen in the 15th century as responsible for liberalism, the enlightenment, the rights of man… everything it hated.

In the 1790s, an abbé named Augustin Barruel, an alarming combination of Dan Brown and David Icke, looked at the American and French revolutions and concluded that the masses could have overthrown divinely ordained monarchs and the holy mother church only if they were the dupes of an international conspiracy of freemasons.

The masons were not middle-aged men in fancy dress, but the descendants of the Knights Templar, who went underground in the Middle Ages and swore to avenge themselves on the church and monarchy that had persecuted them.

It sounded mad. Indeed it was mad. But a conspiracy theory that says that human rights are a sham behind which a sinister secret society manipulates the world was too useful to waste. Successive popes issued bulls against it. Pius IX included freemasonry along with socialism, liberalism and freedom of conscience as evils the faithful must fight in his Syllabus of Errors of 1864.

The antisemites and fascists of the early 20th century added that the masons were in league with the Jews. Franco and Mussolini persecuted them. The Nazis made freemasons wear red triangles and murdered them by the thousand.

Do not think these foul ideas are dead. Radical Islam echoes the European far-right’s ravings. (The Hamas charter says the freemasons are in an alliance with the Jews and – brace yourselves – the Rotary Club and the Lions as well.) Like Hamas, Luigi Negri, a Catholic bishop, believes that freemasons were responsible for the French revolution and the Russian revolution, too. Last week, the Catholic Herald took its cue from the pope’s condemnation of the “masonic lobby” to raise the “truly frightening thought” that masons had infiltrated the Vatican and were subverting the Holy See from within. These devils in aprons are everywhere.

Bergoglio, in short, was digging in over-manured soil….

Reading too much into a handful of words? Maybe, maybe

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Aug/13

10

A Pope for the Descamisados?

descamisadosOver at the National Catholic Reporter, John Allen exults over the undeniable success of the early months in office of the genial, (sort of Peronist) prelate now known as Pope Francis.

Some of the rejoicing is over the top—given the venue, what do you expect—but, I thought that this more substantive passage was worth repeating:

[W]hether it’s a matter of instinct or conscious strategy, Francis seems to be repositioning the church in the political center, after a fairly lengthy period in which many observers perceived it to be drifting to the right.

Veteran Italian journalist Sandro Magister recently observed, “It cannot be an accident that after 120 days of his pontificate, Pope Francis has not yet spoken the words abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage,” adding that “this silence of his is another of the factors that explain the benevolence of secular public opinion.”

Yet Francis has imposed no such gag order on himself when it comes to other political topics, such as poverty, the environment and immigration. It’s telling that for this first trip outside Rome, Francis chose the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a major point of arrival for impoverished African and Middle Eastern immigrants seeking to reach Europe. The pope called for greater compassion for these migrants, chiding the world for a “globalization of indifference.”

While the trip played to generally rapturous reviews, the anti-immigration right in Europe was outraged. Erminio Boso, a spokesman for Italy’s far-right Northern League, said: “I don’t care about the pope. … What I’d ask is that he provide money and land for these extra-communitarians,” referring to undocumented immigrants.

The shift to the center also seems clear in ecclesiastical terms. In Rome, the perception is that power brokers associated with moderate positions, such as Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, coordinator of the commission of cardinals, are on the ascendant, while those linked to neoconservative or traditionalist stances, such as Cardinal Raymond Burke of the United States, head of the Vatican’s supreme court, are in decline.

The church may not veer sharply in its political allegiances, but there seems a clear preference for the social Gospel over the culture wars.

That rather depends on how you define ”the center”. Allen seems to view social conservatism—to use the shorthand— as being something for those on the political right. Well, sometimes it is. And sometimes it isn’t. There are others on the right—let’s call them the ‘economic right’— who tend to be indifferent or even opposed to much of the socially conservative socio-political agenda. It’s this group who may well turn out to have the most difficulty with the new Pope. His shifts on social issues (as North Americans understand that term) will prove, I suspect, to be more a matter of tone and emphasis than anything else. This is, after all, a cleric who believes that same-sex marriage is the work of the Devil.

And to be fair, the same is true of the pope’s pronouncements on matters such as immigration and economics. They have not, in reality, strayed too far from what we have heard from the Vatican before. Nevertheless, the emphasis that Francis puts on what the religious left like to euphemize as ‘social justice’ seems set to increase. That’s an ominous development given his evident charisma, current popularity, and apparent determination not just to talk the talk, but walk the walk.

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