Garrison Keillor performed a neat trick. He gently teased and admonished his enlightened NPR (pardon the redundancy) audience, which to a man or a woman identifying as a man, thought itself above average. The tease would come when Keillor would tell tales of Lake Woebegone in which “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
It is obvious to even the meanest student of logic that this cannot be so. Considered inside Lake Woebegone itself, that is. It can, though, be true considered against the population as a whole.
And there’s the trick. Lake Woebegone residents, which is to say NPR listeners, are free to accept in good spirit the mild and humorous correction, while still believing themselves above average—when compared to non-NPR listeners.
(Incidentally, if you doubt this, you can verify it for yourself. Find yourself any habitual NPR listener and see if this person is forced to conclude he or she or it or whatever soars above the rest of us.)
Now Pope Francis. Progressives find he is above average. To them, His Holiness resides on the placid shores of Lake Woebegone. The Pope never judges—except when he is judging self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagianists. The Pope is full of love and bonhomie—except for the wrath he directs at those who deign to ask him questions.
These are nice, but the real reason for progressives love of the Pope is that this Pope “changes” constant teachings of the Church in a progressive direction.
But, of course, His Holiness does not live in Lake Woebegone: nobody does. So not all Popes can be above average. So there exists the possibility this Pope is not above average. He may even be below average. And if he is below average, he may, logically speaking, even be the worst. Is that so?
The fairest summary of the place of Pope Francis in history is provided by Henry Sire in The Dictator Pope. Francis, says Sire, is “a politician who relies on public relations”, a Peronist who is neither left- nor right-wing, but an “opportunist,” whose papacy has been one of “manipulation and deception.”
Sire says “Francis is an example of a very few Maverick popes that there have been in history who have been chosen without proper thought and who had gone completely off the rails.” A “product of a thoroughly corrupt Society of Jesus” (about Jesuits, more here). Francis’s reign will go down, claims Sire, “as one of the more disastrous pontificates in history.”
The question before us is: how far a step is it from more to most?
Perhaps none at all.
Sire thinks “There have been popes who have been complete mistakes. What distinguishes Pope Francis is that is he just not personally a mistake, but that he is trying to lead the Church in a direction which rejects tradition. None of the bad popes I was alluding to in the past tried to that.”
A Pope that tries to do the impossible, even to the extent of making the Church believe he has done the impossible, clearly moves from more to most.
A Pope cannot change the constant and infallible teachings of the Church. He can, of course, modify practice away from tradition. Meaning his successor could re-modify practice back toward tradition. But a Pope who acts on this allowable power too strenuously or too often makes his pontificate transient. He becomes like a president who rules by executive order knowing his successor can and will do the same.
The hope of progressives, though, is that Pope Francis is changing the Church’s infallible teachings (example). That he makes a move so drastic that his executive orders can’t be walked back. Francis, to the extent he has an intelligible plan, gives no indication he doesn’t believe in this forbidden and impossible power himself.
It’s 2018, so why shouldn’t the Church preach the goodness and pleasures of sodomy? The popular culture is convinced of the sinlessness of sodomy, so why not the Church? It should evolve as the enlightened have evolved.
Why shouldn’t the death penalty, seen as a just and even necessary penalty for thousands of years, be eliminated? About the specifics of the death penalty, and why it is worth keeping, we’ll redo again soon. But the possibility it can change from absolute right to absolute wrong is what interests us.
A new Catechism was issued (actually a revision) in which the death penalty was squashed (thanks to reader Mark Charters for the link). Here is what the new passage says:
2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
One immediately suspects Anthony Kennedy, in his retirement from SCOTUS, was asked to draft this passage. Increasing awareness—-not all are yet brought to enlightenment—that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. Even after!
What in the unholy hell has the dignity of the criminal have to do with the death penalty? There is decreasing awareness that the answer is nothing at all. Traditionally, the Church’s concern was for the soul of the criminal, his eternal state, and not his “dignity.” Dignity forsooth! As for salvation, a hanging sharpens the mind, as the saying goes. Whereas a prison sentence, which might in enlightened times, be turned into freedom, does not.
The new Catechism language is pure Kennedyism, representing a fundamental and awful change in Church tradition. It is not a concern, I must emphasize, that the death penalty is to be held in abeyance (by Catholics) during this pontificate, because it has been in abeyance for decades. Since the pontificate is seen as a shiftable presidency, traditionalists can look for a time when the death penalty is again allowed.
No. The problem is the shift of concentration from Heaven to Hell. The Church has moved from the old longing that even the criminal is not cast into the eternal fire, to the pleading that his earthly existence does not offend his dignity.
Any Pope that attempts a change like that is clearly the worst.