A “Low-Intensity” Pope, As the Times Demand

A “Low-Intensity” Pope, As the Times Demand

Sandro Magister
30 apr 17

The most updated diagnoses of the religious phenomenon in the West converge in defining it as “low-intensity.” Fluid, with no more dogmas, without binding authorities. Highly visible, but irrelevant in the public arena.

Even Catholicism is reshaping itself this way. And the pontificate of Francis is adapting in a spectacular way to this new phenomenology, in its successes and in its limitations.

As a good Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio instinctively goes along with the signs of the times. He is not even trying to stem the growing diversification within the Church. On the contrary, he is encouraging it.

He is not responding to the cardinals who submit “doubts” to him and ask him to bring clarity.

He is giving free rein to even the most reckless opinions, like those of the new general of the Jesuits, the Venezuelan Arturo Sosa Abascal, according to whom it is not possible to know what Jesus really said “because there were no recorders.”

And he himself has been telling some whoppers, without any fear of toppling the fundamental articles of the Creed.

Last March 17, during an audience at the Apostolic Palace, to explain what he means by “unity in difference” he even said that “inside the Holy Trinity they’re all arguing behind closed doors, but on the outside they give the picture of unity.”

On April 19, in a general audience Saint Peter’s Square, he said that the death of Jesus is a historical fact but his resurrection is not, it is only an act of faith.

On April 4, in a homily at Santa Marta, he said that on the Cross “Jesus made himself devil, serpent.”

And these are only the latest of a not-small collection of reckless statements, which however glide away like water on marble, without effect on public opinion both Catholic and not, for which this pope continues to be popular in part because he will say anything, with tranquility.

Luca Diotallevi, one of the most observant sociologists of religion, has identified a number of similarities between the pontificate of Francis and the Donald Trump phenomenon, among which is a shared resentment against the establishment.

The price has been paid by the Vatican curia, but above all by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, which today is a shadow of its former self, when it watched over even the slightest word that came from the pen and mouth of a pope. Francis ignores it altogether.

The national episcopates have also disappeared from the news, starting with the Italian episcopal conference, once powerful, now annihilated.

The metamorphosis of this “low-intensity” Catholicism is glaringly evident in the political arena. The United States and Italy are two examples.

In both countries, Catholics are present in large numbers and at the highest levels, more than in the past. In the United States vice-president Mike Pence is Catholic, as is Trump’s “chief political strategist,” Steve Bannon. Five of the nine supreme court justices and 38 percent of governors are Catholic. 31.4 percent of congressmen are Catholic, ten percent more than among the adult citizens of the country as a whole.

And yet, in spite of this solid presence of Catholics in politics, it is not the case that the inalienable principles of the Church on the matters of divorce, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality have a proportional influence on the laws. On the contrary, they are ever more removed.

In Italy it is the same way. All of the recent heads of state, from Mario Monti to Enrico Letta to Matteo Renzi to Paolo Gentiloni, have been practicing Catholics, as is the current president of the republic, Sergio Mattarella. A large number of cabinet members and parliamentarians of all the parties are Catholics.

But the Church’s influence in the political sphere is almost nil, as proven by the laws on homosexual unions and the end of life.

A “political Catholicism” on the level of a Sturzo or a De Gasperi is long gone. But there is also a pope whose deliberate intention is to hold himself and the Church back from any high-intensity engagement in political issues that divide consciences. And this is another reason why he is so popular.

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6 comments on “A “Low-Intensity” Pope, As the Times Demand

  1. Captain Kirk: Mister Spock! Pope Francis telling some whoppers and howlers and highly observant sociologists of religion identifying a number of similarities between the pontificate of Pope Francis and the Donald Trump phenomenon, including a shared resentment against the establishment…. analyze using your superior Vulcan logic which we no longer call “superior” in public discourse in order to avoid being accused of excessive rigidity and neo-Pelagian triumphalism by sensitive liberals with self-esteem issues less familiar with Aristotelian logic due to progressive curriculum changes from the Land O’Lakes conference agenda, along with attacks by crazed Leftist mobs at UC Berkeley and Middlebury College which might result in personal injuries….

    Spock: Fascinating, Captain. The whoppers served up in public statements by the Holy Father deserve special study in terms of their unusual hermeneutics and departures from orthodox moral theology. With regard to the purported sociological similarity between the Bergoglian pontificate and the Donald Trump phenomenon we may need to address the narrative and structures of modernity in some detail.

    Captain Kirk: Modernity? Will this take much time, Mister Spock?

    Spock: It is a complex topic on the theoretical level, but I can try to simplify as much as possible, Jim.

    Captain Kirk: Please do, Mister Spock.

    Spock: Well, Captain, leaving aside the theoretical explorations of Jean-François Lyotard for a moment, modernity inherently appeals to the ideology of progress and Enlightenment. As proponents of modern progress, both Pope Francis and President Trump engage in vulgarity in pandering to populist sentiment, more or less on the emotional level. President Trump does this in order to arouse nationalist and patriotic feeling, while Pope Francis appeals to antinomian Romanticism in his shameless modernist dissembling in the jargon of Situation Ethics.

    Captain Kirk: Doesn’t that cause problems for believing Catholics, Mister Spock?

    Spock: Indeed, it does.

    Sulu: Not for those of us who read Commonweal and The National Catholic Reporter, Captain.

    Captain Kirk: Spock!

    Spock: He does have a point, Captain.

    Doctor Strangelove: Ja, ja, I vuz going to say zat!

    Mr. Roarke: Tattoo, do you ever read Commonweal or The National Catholic Reporter?

    Tattoo: No, Boss. I don’t think so.

    Reverend Neuhaus: That’s my opening….Forgive me for interrupting again as aggressive and pushy professional Protestant converts sometimes do, but this might be a good time to discuss the Naked Public Square in modernity, Max Weber’s concept of disenchantment in modern culture, and Professor Taylor’s secularization theories…

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: To be fair, we should point out some of the differences between the pontificate of Pope Francis and the Donald Trump phenomenon.

    Hans Küng: “Who am I to judge?” Zat ist a difference!

    Father O’Malley: Yes, it’s only fair to point out the differences.

    Walker Percy: Alright. What would those be?

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Well, for one thing I believe President Trump is a New York Yankees fan.

  2. Küng Fu: Modernism the Legend Continues

    Master Po: What is troubling you, Grasshopper?

    Kwai Chang: I am confused, Master.

    Master Po: Oh, have our discussions of Zen and Taoism in the monastery not helped you reach enlightenment and satori, Grasshopper? Perhaps we should review the Tao Te Ching of Lao-Tzu some more tonight.

    Kwai Chang: No, Master. I am confused by this discussion of a sociological similarity between the Bergoglian pontificate of the progressive modernist Pope Francis and the Donald Trump phenomenon. They are quite different, Master.

    Master Po: Ah, Grasshopper, it is very rare for an African elephant to go Disco dancing in the style of John Travolta, but a tortoise must always look both ways before crossing a busy road even when it is raining lightly on a chilly day.

    Kwai Chang: Forgive me. I cannot be certain of what point of Zen Buddhism or Taoism you wish me to understand, Master.

    Master Po: Perhaps some attention to the Enneagram numbers of Pope Francis and President Trump will hold the answers.

    Hans Küng: Ja, ja, I vuz going to say zat!

    Captain Kirk: Which Enneagram number type best describes the personality patterns of the Pope, Mister Spock?

    Spock: I will have to consult the ship’s computer, Captain.

    Kwai Chang: Is there a clown nose type in the Enneagram, Master?

    Master Po: Strange are the ways of the cycle of karma and maya for modernism, are they not, Grasshopper?

    Captain Kirk: Which Enneagram number best fits President Trump, Mister Spock?

    Spock: The ship’s computer should have the answer in a few moments, Captain.

  3. Kwai Chang: Master, I am confused and troubled.

    Master Po: What is troubling you, Grasshopper?

    Kwai Chang: Master, why must we study and meditate on all of these confusing riddles about the cycle of karma, the mysteries of Zen, and the flow of the Tao, when Pope Francis can reduce all of that to climate change panic, social justice, and the situation ethics of “who am I to judge?” in order to please secular progressives with his annoying, passive-aggressive virtue signaling for the New Left elite?

    Master Po: Ah, Grasshopper, one day you will grow up and be in a Quentin Tarantino movie and you will wish you were back here in the monastery reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with the Shaolin Masters!

  4. Captain Kirk: Mister Spock! Do we really have to puzzle over Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance like Kwai Chang Caine in order to grasp the sociological similarities and differences between the progressive modernist Bergoglian pontificate and the Donald Trump phenomenon of anti-globalist populism?

    Spock: Not necessarily, Captain. However, there are certain ontological structures and presuppositions of the utopian gnosticism of modernity which Pope Francis and President Trump share in common with the neo-Kantian dilemmas which emerged from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought underlying the puzzles of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which could illuminate their popular appeals to pathos, Captain, in an indirect journey back to a consideration of the metaphysics of Quality.

    Reverend Neuhaus: Aha! I thought so!

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Of course, the modernist Spirit of Vatican II makes emotivist appeals to modernity without ever exploring or explaining what it in fact is…which is a little like a chimpanzee driving a hippie bus to the Woodstock Festival from New Jersey without a map…..

  5. Captain Kirk: But isn’t Pope Francis pandering to the progressive ideology favored by the globalist elite, more or less utopian and neo-Gnostic in inspiration, Mister Spock?

    Spock: Affirmative, Captain. Technically, that is correct.

    Captain Kirk: So wouldn’t that be an important difference between the progressive modernist Bergoglian pontificate and the Donald Trump phenomenon?

    Spock: It would be correct in the factual order and on the logical level, Captain. However, you must understand that Pope Francis is operating on a level which transcends or bypasses the factual and logical with his popular appeals to pathos, feeling, antinomian Romanticism, and Situation Ethics.

    Captain Kirk: A post-logical papacy? That does add a new twist to Catholicism in the modernist Spirit of Vatican II, Mister Spock.

    Reverend Neuhaus: Indeed. Forgive me for interrupting again as aggressive and pushy professional Protestant converts sometimes do, but speaking as a former, semi-recovering Lutheran familiar with the pitfalls of removing logic and reason from religion, let me suggest that this might be a good time to discuss the Naked Public Square in modernity, Max Weber’s concept of disenchantment in modern culture, and Professor Taylor’s secularization theories…

    Hans Küng: You had your chance before, smart guy! Bergoglio is in charge now!

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Please, gentlemen, please! As Father Gannon used to say to the Debating Society at Fordham back in the old days, everyone will get their turn! Now, let’s allow Reverend Neuhaus to make his points about the Naked Public Square in modernity and Professor Taylor’s secularization theories and then Father Küng, you can have your turn before we open up the discussion for questions from the audience….

  6. Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Actually, since the problem is modernity, a fact even pointed out by some conservatives before Vatican II when the modernist crisis came to a head, perhaps we could direct some attention in this debate to that, but we should also focus some attention on St. Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law.

    Walker Percy; When will someone address the problem of scientism and the neo-Gnosticism of this progressive modernist pontificate?


    Father Copleston, S.J.: That would require some adjustments to the progressive curriculum changes brought about by the Land O’Lakes conference agenda which wreckovated the Ratio Studiorum in the name of political correctness.

    Father Fitzgibbon: Why did they stop studying St. Thomas Aquinas anyway?


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