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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3 Responses to A Pope for the Descamisados?

  1. John says:

    For at least a generation, the Catholic Church has been on the left on economics and foreign policy, favoring socialism and disarmament, and on the right on social (particularly the sexual) issues like abortion and gay marriage. That being said, Pope Francis has definitely ushered in a change of emphasis. While the social issues were more salient for Benedict, Francis cares most about the economic ones.

    This is probably a good political move for the Church. I think that the social right has pretty much lost the war on sexual issues, while the economic left is still very strong. In the long run, this could cause a political shift. Connservatives would start abandoning the Catholic Church in the same way they abandoned the mainline Protestant churches, but the church could survive with support of liberals. With dwindling support in the Western world, that might be the best it can do. Right now, the Catholic vote pretty much tracks the general public. That probably won’t last forever.

  2. How far right do you have to be to qualify as “economic right”?

    Right of center, sure, but where is the center?

    By that standard, I would think a modest progressivism supportive of current safety net and social democracy measures as well as a modest regulatory state in the interests of worker, consumer, and public safety would count as “economic right.”

    But what American conservative would agree?

    Even Bismark looks too far left to them!

  3. Andrew Stuttaford says:

    Philo, it rather depends on what you mean by “modest”, and whatever modest is, that’s not, I suspect, where Francis stands. Economically speaking, he seems to tend towards a leftish ‘popular’ corporatism, something that might look quite a bit like (again, economically speaking) Peronism. Odd that!

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