If it is true, as Thomas Macaulay wrote, that the survival of the Church depends on its ability to absorb and to sterilize its dissidents, then we should cherish those church leaders who stand stubbornly athwart history and the tides of tolerance. My favorite bishop of Rome was Mr Joseph Ratzinger, a.k.a. Benedict XVI, whose love of orthodoxy made opposing the Church so easy. His successor Francis, née Jorge Bergoglio, has made my job more difficult.
Since his inauguration last March, Mr Bergoglio has been hailed a “breath of fresh air” from the infernal stuffiness of his predecessor. This summer, he made news for reminding us that Christ did, after all, die for atheists too; and when asked about homosexuals, the new pope weaseled away: “Who am I to judge?”
(I have said before, but it bears repeating, that these concessions mean nothing: “universal redemption” is not the same as “universal salvation”; and of course, as all good Catholics know, it is not the pope who judges, but God.)
What then are we to make of his pronouncement this week that the church “sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules”? For some, it smells like a welcome shift in the cobwebbed corridors of dogma. But it is increasingly clear that Mr Bergoglio is the Obama of Catholicism: the imperious pretensions of old, dressed in the rhetoric of the new.
Mr Bergoglio is a master of obfuscation. Despite his wish to distance himself from crypto-Marxian liberation theologists, he commits the historicist’s greatest sin when he says, tellingly, “Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a…historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths. I am afraid of laboratories.”
And why is His Infallibility so fearful of laboratories? Perhaps because, as his proponents hope, one must see through a broader scope and not nitpick at blemishes. Or perhaps because it is only in the harsh lens of a microscope that dogma’s ugly, rotten core is made mercilessly clear.
When the pope says the Church must treat homosexuals with mercy, one nearly misses the sinister implication—that homosexuality is something to be shown mercy. When he says the Church must dwell on more than contraceptives, one almost forgets such things are still considered sinful.
Papal doublespeak is more than simply condescending—it obscures the fact that we are dealing with an antique superstition. The Church ought to stay obsessed with gays and contraceptives, if only to remind us how repugnant are its views. For the greatest enemy does not come bearing fangs, but wearing wool.