Fear of a Liberal Pontiff

Conservative Protestants react to Pope Francis.


Writing in Buzzfeed, McKay Coppins and Hunter Schwarz describe evangelicals' uncomfortable reactions to some recent statements by the pope:

I give you a Jack Chick panel, and you ask for alt-text too? WILL NOTHING SATISFY YOU?
Jack T. Chick

In a series of interviews earlier this year, Pope Francis repeatedly signaled a desire for his flock to disengage from the culture wars— complaining that the church had become "obsessed" with issues like marriage and abortion, actively seeking common ground with atheists, and even appearing to flirt with moral relativism. While the new tone coming out of the Vatican has drawn plaudits from progressives, it has also driven a wedge into the powerful political alliance between conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians that's been instrumental in electing hundreds of Republicans over the past four decades….

From the start of their unlikely alliance, Catholics and evangelicals have always made for strange bedfellows. Before the 1970s, American protestants and Roman Catholics had been locked in a religious rivalry that sometimes expressed itself in nuanced theological debates and just as often devolved into pulpit-pounding sermons rife with fire and brimstone. Considerable swaths of each faith were convinced the other side was going to hell.

It wasn't until the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision—and the sexual revolution that presaged it—that the two religions were united in an awkward but enduring marriage of convenience. For the better part of 40 years, evangelicals and Catholics stood side by side battling the encroachment of secularism, the collapse of traditional sexual ethics, and the general rot of American culture. When Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority, he insisted that Catholics be among the leadership. And the coalition only became more focused and influential after the Soviet Union collapsed, when politically minded priests in the U.S. who had spent much of their energy railing against the evils of communism shifted their homilies to pro-life commentary.

That man needs to read his Bible.
Jack T. Chick

The piece is filled with quotes from Protestants upset with the pope's path. (My favorite: "That man needs to read his Bible.") One topic it doesn't explore is the quieter seething coming from some conservative Catholics. At this point in American history, the division between socially liberal and socially conservative Christians is arguably much more intense than the division between Catholics and Protestants. If Francis continues to be perceived as one of the liberals, it'll be interesting to see how that plays out within as well as outside the American Catholic community.

Elsewhere in Reason: I discussed the right-wing Catholic/Protestant alliance in "The Accidental Modernist," and I noted some ways the liberals influenced the conservatives in "Beyond Pleasantville."

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  1. Protestants don’t like the Pope. Damn Buzzfeeds really ahead of the news-cycle here.

  2. Remind me again Why non-papists care what the pope does?

    1. Why do non-Americans care what POTUS does?

      1. POTUS controls drones.

      2. He’s the most powerful man? in the world?!? Gaze on his pout and despair!

    2. With more than 1.1 billion baptized members, the Catholic Church is the largest church representing over half of all Christians and one sixth of the world’s population. Wikipedia

      Because catholicism operates an international conspiracy to facilitate child abuse and hide perpetrators from prosecution. Yes, the current pope appears to be addressing this, albeit slowly and cautiously, but too little, too late.

      Because catholic bishops attempt to influence US legislation.

      Srsly, Archduke?

    3. Why non-papists care what the pope does

      Isn’t that exactly what this article explains? And if you are at all interested in world affairs, it’s probably good to know something about the leader of the world’s largest religious organization.

  3. I’m no Catholic, but I like Pope Frank. He seems committed to dumping the kulturkampf bullshit about abortion and gheys. I’d like to see him do more to commit the Church’s vast resources toward helping the world’s desperately poor and refugees, and encourage the faithful to do the same.

    1. Don’t be ridiculous, Hugh. I mean, is the Space Pope reptilian?

      1. The real question is will he preside over Robot marriages?

        1. The hand wringing over robot gender biases will be fun.

    2. Getting the Church (both right-wing Cestus Dei and left-wing Liberation Theology types) back into the, well, church, strikes me as an excellent idea.

      Add to that his distaste for the quasi-royal trappings of the Pope and the vast papal bureaucracy, and there’s a lot to like.

    3. Frank. He seems committed to dumping the kulturkampf bullshit about abortion and gheys.

      Collapsed Catholic here. You do realize that the Catholic Church sees abortion as more than just a boarder dispute in the culture war don’t you? They have a fairly long and inconsistent history of championing the sanctity of life.

      1. So much so that they are demanding that people who violate the commandment against murder be physically attacked by the faithful.

        Of course, they aren’t doing that to people who divorce, who commit adultery, who worship other gods.

        But I’m sure that that’s an oversight on their part.

        Because if nothing else, Jesus was a big fan of using the state to punish people for violating religious edicts. Remember when he bashed the skull of the adulteress?

        1. Last I looked murder was kind of a big deal. Perhaps wife swappers, adulterers and such are a bit less immoral or at least less of a pressing problem than mass murderers.

          1. I’d be willing to bet there’s a lot more adultery going on than abortions. And both send you to hell.

            1. What the hell is your point? Catholics don’t rate all sins equally, and murder is at the top of the list?

              Find me anyone who thinks murder is no worse than lying.

        2. And if there is one valid criticism of the Catholic Church is that it hasn’t used its power of excommunication. Pro choice Catholic legislators like Nancy Pelosi should have been excommunicated years ago. The fact that they have not been tells me that the church loves their money more than they care about abortion.

          1. Pro choice Catholic legislators like Nancy Pelosi should have been excommunicated years ago.

            She was excommunicated years ago via Latae sententiae, the problem is agents of the church are too cowardly to enforce it. When she presents herself for communion she should be sent packing with a hearty Fuck Off and Die from the priest.

            1. She totally should. And until she is, I frankly don’t believe Catholics when they talk about how horrible abortion is. They clearly don’t mean that or they would never allow someone like Pelosi into their churches.

          2. I’m not quite sure how they could enforce something like that. Someone like Pelosi is fairly likely to be recognized, but what about people without a national profile? DO you have to swipe your “I’m not ex-communicated” card before receiving the eucharist?

            1. Priests know their congregations (or should). If a priest can’t be bothered to identify a member of their congregation as a legislator who is pro-abortion, then that priest needs a good talking to by the Bishop.

              It could totally be done. It wouldn’t even be hard, and shouldn’t even be a stretch for the priests.

            2. I believe that’s called a Temple Recommend.

        3. “So much so that they are demanding that people who violate the commandment against murder be physically attacked by the faithful.”

          Cite? ‘Cause I’ve been going to Mass since I was an infant and have never heard such demands.

          1. What do you think happens when the police enforce a law?

            The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning.
            -Ludwig von Mises

            1. So you object to all laws? Any law requires that. What the hell are talking about? By your logic either no one can advocate for something to be illegal or there is something special about religious people doing so that prevents them from having the same rights you do.

              Either you think what they want to ban is should be banned or you don’t. If you don’t, fine. But them being religious has nothing to do with it.

            2. 1) Those don’t look like the Pope’s men. In fact, that photo looks like it came from a part of the county and a region not especially friendly to Catholics.

              2) That doesn’t look like an abortion clinic.

              Still waiting for a cite. You said the Church was “demanding that people who violate the commandment against murder be physically attacked by the faithful.”

              Give me a cite or go back to reading your Chick Tracts.

            3. You specifically said:

              attacked by the faithful

              Not “assaulted by the police during the course of enforcing the law (however ill conceived)”.

        4. Of course, they aren’t doing that to people who divorce, who commit adultery, who worship other gods.

          Like I said, their enforcement is often selective. When it comes to Catholics who are into idolatry there are probably bigger fish to fry but the Church can muster up some resistance to divorce and adultery so long as the last name is not Kennedy. They know what side the communion host is buttered on.

        5. they are demanding that people who violate the commandment against murder be physically attacked by the faithful.

          I’d love to see the papal decree that authorized assault and/or murder against abortion practitioners.

      2. No. To some people, everything is always about the culture war.

        1. Apparently tarran is one of them. He doesn’t think abortion is murder, so Catholics wanting to stop it are just fighting the culture war.

          1. And apparently you are ignorant.

            I’m generally opposed to abortion, actually.

            I’m also opposed to religions using the state to enforce their edicts. Especially religions whose messiah told them to stay out of politics because warning that when they did they would be acting as tools of the Enemy and not of God.

            1. I’m also opposed to religions using the state to enforce their edicts.

              Catholics consider child abuse and theft to be sins. Are laws against such things them enforcing their edicts? Catholics do support those laws and helped get a lot of the first child abuse laws passed. Isn’t that the same thing as them pushing for abortion laws?

              What you are really saying here is you don’t like religious people having the nerve to step into the political arena. Well go fuck yourself, they probably don’t like people like you there either.

              1. No John, sweetie,

                I have little problem with a guy saying I think murder is immoral.. there oughta be a law.

                I have a big problem with a priest ordering his flock to create a law.

                Because in the end, the law is only enforced through violence.

                At one time the Catholic church was fighting to keep birth control illegal. Their rationale was exactly the same as to why abortions should be illegal.

                And they are violating Jesus’ teachings in both cases.

                And it has nothing to do with liking or disliking people. It has everything to do with holding people accountable to the standards they claim apply to them.

                1. So you are okay with laws, as long as no one combines into a group to make them?

                  Is the violence which enforces the law OK if each person who supported the law never interacted with a clergyman?

                  1. LOL!

                    You don’t get it do you mr Auric?

                    I am talking about the Catholic church falling into heresy when it calls for the temporal authorities to create or enforce any laws that are designed to prevent sins.

                    Becasue Jesus made it very clear that Christians were supposed to not use violence to bring about his kingdom.

                    Of course, as an anarchist, I have a problem with all laws, although I don’t really agonize against morally OK laws like laws against murder.

                    But that is a separate issue from the fact that officers of the largest Christian church are deviating from one of Chist’s major teachings.

                    IF a bunch of Catholics hear a priest say that he thinks abortion is a sin and decide to lobby for laws outlawing it, it’s no more a problem than if they individually and without any coordination decided to lobby for that law.

                    But when the church violates Jesus’ teachings to call for a law, that’s a big problem.

                    AM I going to the barricades over it? No..

                    The Catholic Church has gone of the rails one one issue or another for most of its history. Humanity and christianity has survived nonetheless and will survive this hiccup as well.

            2. Which Catholics are trying to use the state to force people to attend mass?

              1. Who said they were?

                1. So they aren’t doing that kind of thing? Perfect. Now you can shut the hell up about it and argue against any of their proposals on the law’s own merit.

                  1. Wow! The non-sequiturs are flying fast and thick today!

                    1. Just because you are too busy hating religious people to understand an argument doesn’t mean it’s a non-sequitur.

                      Are the Catholics trying to force everyone to be a Catholic? They aren’t? Oh, then what are you objecting to? You’re objecting to them wanting laws against murder? So you are an anarchist and are against all laws? Oh, you are okay with laws against murder? So then the only reason you object to Catholics advocating for murder laws is because they are Catholic? Great, you’re an asshole.

                    2. Catholics aren’t advocating for laws against murder, they are trying to redefine personhood based on religious belief so that enforcement of the existing laws against murder applies to abortion.

                    3. Catholics aren’t advocating for laws against murder, they are trying to redefine personhood based on religious belief so that enforcement of the existing laws against murder applies to abortion.

                      I’m an atheist and pro-life. It might shock you but many educated religious pro-lifers use secular arguments as well.

                    4. Bully for them. But we are talking about Catholics, are we not? Why isn’t their faith sufficient?

                    5. Faith sufficient for what? Why can’t a Catholic make secular arguments defining abortion as murder? The entire “personhood” debate is subjective. Everyone on both sides has their own definition based on what they feel is right. I personally don’t care, human and alive is enough for me.

                    6. Why can’t a Catholic make secular arguments defining abortion as murder?

                      They can, of course. But they are arguing in bad faith at a very fundamental level. At least professing faith is honest as to their true motivations.

                    7. They aren’t advocating for laws against what you think is murder. They are advocating for laws against the willful destruction of the entirety of an alive human being. It’s not an unreasonable position to say that’s murder. They don’t even need to make up personhood to call it murder, you need to make up personhood to say it isn’t.

                    8. Give it up. Tarran fails to distinguish between the Church taking a moral position and encouraging its followers to adhere to the position and bear in mind Church teachings when electing officials versus encouraging its followers to initiate violence against others.

                    9. Advocating that something be illegal is a call to legitimize the use of force and violence by the state against individuals that violate the law. tarran is completely correct in this case.

                      But, the support of any law is the same. The only ideologically pure position is anarchism. Barring that, all of us are advocating the use of force and violence by the state against individuals that violate the law.

                    10. Yeah but being Catholic doesn’t make their arguments for use of force any different than anyone else who advocates for a law.

                      In any case, anarchists can still argue that abortion is a violation of the NAP just like murder.

                    11. Yeah but being Catholic doesn’t make their arguments for use of force any different than anyone else who advocates for a law.

                      That’s what I said.

                      NAP doesn’t mean anything but a moral judgment in an anarchy. Even if you believe it is murder, how do you defend against abortion? Lethal force is out the window; so you are left with intimidating, hurting to further intimidate, and confinement to stop a woman from getting an abortion or punishing her for one afterwards. (And this is assuming that there aren’t people who would use force against to you to defend the woman in the first place.)

    4. Jesus Tap Dancing Christ Hue, abortion is kind of a big fucking deal. I mean if they could just get past all of that pacifism and believing in charity bullshit, they would probably do better as well.

    5. I’m one of the harshest critics of organized religion here, but Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis) seems to be putting the kabosh on some of the worst financial excesses of the clergy. Credit where due.

      1. Agreed, This Pope seems to be the rare good guy who actually gets it.

        As an athiest he is someone I could support

        1. And therein might lie the issue.

    6. To be fair, the Church was already contributing its mite toward the poor and refugees, even before Pope Francis, but hopefully he’s going to reinvigorate that effort.

      And, no, he didn’t say that protecting human life and marriage is “bullshit.” See below.

  4. As an ex-Catholic, I can’t really say I disagree with the critiques of Francis. While I don’t agree with Catholic theology, I could always acknowledge its consistency and precision of thought. A lot of what I hear from the Vatican suggests rather strongly to me a focus-group tested doctrine that has all the intellectual rigor of a pop song.

    1. Francis hasn’t changed the Church’s stance on anything, just the emphasis. All he said was “Let’s ease up on the culture war shit and get focused on the charitable and evangelical mission.” Direct quote.

      1. Okay, and what exactly is the Church’s evangelical mission if not some set of moral and theological beliefs? I mean from what you’re suggesting, it almost sounds like a case of at least deceptive advertising: “Come join the Catholic Church! We might think you’re engaging in mortal sin. But, we won’t make a big deal out of it.”


    He’s right! Give us hell, Walker!

    Re: the Pope
    This is what happens when you have rule of men and not laws. It will be interesting to hear the complaints of conservative Catholics given the supposed infallibility of the Pope. Maybe they’ll declare an antipope, though that might get them excommunicated. It’s all kind of funny to non-catholics like me. I think it’s good, though, in that it might put a dent in the number of culture war advocates out there.

    1. The complaints of conservative catholics about their supposedly infallible pope is an ongoing source of lulz.

      1. The complaints (premature in my mind) don’t question his power to pronounce infallibly on faith and morals – but the Popes have never claimed that their interviews in magazines are infallible. This doesn’t mean I *disagree* with his famous interview (see below), just that I wouldn’t be necessarily heretical if I did.

      2. Pope John XII. An infallible chap if there ever was one. One in a long line.

  6. As a serious nonpracticing Catholic I have only one thing to add to this conversation, PAPA FRANSISCO UNO!


    Actually, that did.

    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

      I’m going to print some of these and start leaving them around.

  8. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t the South American Catholic Church been stressing “economic equality” for 30-40 years? Considering Pope Francis is from Argentina this pivot shouldn’t be that surprising.

    Democrats have been squealing about how Jesus would want higher taxes for years, all well simultaneously calling any opponents religious zealots. Should be interesting to watch secular Democrats sell Catholic economic dogma to voters.

    1. Never underestimate the power of doublethink. I know plenty of people who have no problem jumping back and forth between “Those teathuglicans hate separation of church and state!” and “We should have Obamacare because Jesus cured the sick!” (The massive non sequitur of the latter position is the subject of a separate rant.)

  9. First off, there’s no substitute for checking out the actual interview the Pope gave. When you do, judge for yourself which summaries are accurate and which ones…aren’t.

    Second off, if you don’t have time for the full interview, you can at least check out the famous “obsession” passage:

    “”The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. *It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.* [notice that last sentence]

    1. Third off, you may also want to read the famous “field hospital” passage:

      “”I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

      “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.”

      1. And the “don’t have to talk about it all the time” passage, which gets many people all excited:

        “”We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

        1. So he’s a son of the church, he actually believes the “bullshit” about marriage and life, but he wants to talk about that bullshit in context, and in gathering the lost sheep, he focuses first on the encounter with Jesus, as the most urgent task of the spiritual field hospital, and the moral consequences “flow” from that.

          And it’s possible for confessors to be too lenient as well as too strict – the lenient kind pretends that sins are not sins, which is not a compassionate pastoral approach according to the Pope.

          1. Finally, it’s possible that the Pope doesn’t exactly stay up nights worrying about the Republican Party coalition in the United States. Maybe he simply doesn’t care!

            1. When you do, judge for yourself which summaries are accurate and which ones…aren’t.

              If you click through the links in the Buzzfeed article, you’ll find the descriptions of the pope’s comments there are pretty nuanced. I think the point of describing his words the way the Buzzfeed writers did in their own article was to get across how they were being perceived by the Americans they were writing about.

              1. I certainly agree that the *links* show the nuance of his remarks, but the article itself is a bit more one-sided.

                For instance, the article linked to the claim that the Pope “appear[ed] to flirt with moral relativism” actually refutes the claim that he was doing such a thing. He was reiterating traditional teaching on conscience – you act according to the information you have, as processed by reason [to coin a phrase].

                1. Hence the word “appeared,” right? The point of the article being how things look to these evangelicals, not how things look to the pope.

                  1. Sure, but the illustration of the zombielike prolife and pro-marriage protesters, with Pope Francis in front wearing a T-shirt saying “Relax,” was a nice touch.

                    1. Not a T-shirt.

  10. Non-Christians and Christians here alike — I am a Presbyterian who sort of believes in God — should agree that this pope is a good man, whose theology informs him in a way that is a vast departure from his predecessors.
    Whether that will translate into Church doctrine is yet to be seen. I am skeptical.
    But I like this guy. I really do.

  11. It’s kinda funny to see predominantly atheist libertarians going wild for a religious figure simply because he’s willing to overlook the occasional traversing of the hershey highway, completely overlooking his abjectly economically illiterate advocacy for the kind of collectivist policy that would get scorched in any other context. It’s a lot like reading the justifications of the majority of the Reason editorial staff for voting for Obama.

    1. For atheists, anything that irks the religious is the greatest thing ever.

    2. I’m “going wild”?
      No, I’m not.
      Unlike you, I see the bigger picture here. And that is — or what may be — the softening of the World’s Biggest Church(tm) in social matters.
      The Poop and the Church have almost no influence over global economics. Liberal Catholics have always been economically illiterate and collectivist.
      This is a victory not FOR them, but AGAINST conservative Catholicism.
      Win all the way.

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