Cat’s cradle

A Spanish bishop, José Ignacio Munilla of San Sebastián, tweeted the picture of the pope being presented with a hammer-and-sickle crucifix by Bolivia’s Marxist president. His remark was: “The height of pride is to manipulate God in the service of atheist ideologies.” It is good to know we still have bishops who understand that.

Several correspondents have begged me to comment on the pope’s current adventures in Ecuador, Bolivia, and now Paraguay. I don’t want to.

Everything is being reported through the poison mist of the mass media. This includes quotes from Pope Francis’s homilies and speeches which may or may not be correctly translated, but which invariably omit crucial qualifications. To the Devil, whom I believe to be editor-in-chief of this world’s mass media (both Left and Right) — quotes are important. He would prefer to get them right: as accurate as possible, in order to be as misleading as possible. Example:

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

That is an accurate quote; but if we leave out “searches for the Lord and has good will” it means something other than what was more completely said. If anyone searches for the Lord and has good will — God bless him. The pope might then have added, “And if he is sexually disordered, whether outwardly ‘gay’ or ‘straight’, he will be struggling with the divine command for chastity.” The pope didn’t say that, but would, from everything he has ever said, most certainly agree with it. Nor is there any likelihood at all that the pope is going to change his “opinion,” which is incumbent upon every “son of the Church,” as it has been these last twenty centuries.

We cannot judge what we cannot know; we cannot read the interior soul of any other human being, except in glimpses, and then only through genuine, holy love. But we can know what is Church doctrine, and it is wrong to confuse it. It is also wrong to be reckless in stating it; to “play to the gallery” in a selective way. And this is especially dangerous when the gallery is full of journalists, animated by malice for the Catholic Church.

Many of the remarks made by the pope, especially in Bolivia, may be all but incomprehensible to an observer who knows little about the intense game being played there between Church and State — with its long, long history. The same, however, in Ecuador and now Paraguay, though the games and the histories vary from country to country. And the pope’s remarks do vary with the terrain.

Reading this week something on the extraordinary history of Paraguay, I began to get a clearer view of where Bergoglio was coming from, long before he became pope. It is like a good joke, where “you have to be there” to understand the punch lines fully. But when one is not the local bishop, but pope, I should think reticence would be wise. For when the remarks reach the outside world, through the filters, there will be terrible misunderstandings, and worse perhaps, terrible understandings.

A pope must present the Catholic Christian faith, universally. That is why he must remain so far as possible aloof from passing political issues; and moreover, be well and broadly informed when he must wade in — and then, not in a general “theoretical” way, but on some very specific point that needs addressing, with clarity. Usually, alas, it is something that must be condemned, and there will be no room to dance around the point. The point must be made so there can be no confusion, and every phrase must be weighed to that end.

He will inevitably be a creature of his time and place, as the pope is so obviously, as political thinker, a product of Peronist Argentina. He cannot help that, yet must constantly remember it. I am myself such a product, of different time and place. Even when I oppose a current “trend,” I am in some sense captured by it, and even my English language puts blinkers on me. We should indeed struggle to free ourselves from temporal narrowness and parochialism, but we are human and cannot break entirely free.

Joseph Ratzinger was very German, G.K. Chesterton very English. A friend writes this morning of reading the former’s Introduction to Christianity, and the latter’s Everlasting Man, back to back. He was struck how, from such different backgrounds, the two men came to essentially the same “grand philosophy of history.” The question is whether Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, from his inevitably Argentine perspective, and using the tools at his command, also leads us to the common universal.

There is a great deal of truth in much of the pope’s “critique of capitalism,” and from what I can make out a great deal of confusion, too, leading to falsehood. (For instance, to blame the capitalists for creating material poverty is to get it precisely backwards; they have created instead an empty and spiritually eviscerating wealth.) What I found in my own recent tour of his environmental encyclical, for instance, was a cat’s cradle through which are woven many golden strands. My instinct is to take the gold and burn the rest away, less because it is wrong, than because it is not useful; that engaging too carefully with the wool only complicates the tangle.

In the meanwhile, go to Mass, and cultivate the key Catholic Christian relationship, which was never with the pope of the moment, but will always be with Jesus Christ.