Those of you who aren’t Catholic might not know that Pope Francis just dropped a 43,000 word brick of an encyclical on the world, Fratelli Tutti. Those of you who are Catholic, as I am, are frantically looking around for someone else who read and reported on the thing. So you won’t have to.
I helped edit the English translation of Pope Francis’ first book in English. At the time, I remember thinking, “I can’t discern his theology or his politics. But this guy is a nasty piece of work. I’d hate to have him in Confession.”
It’s a comical understatement to say that Pope Francis is no Pope Benedict XVI. In fact, he’s no Benny Hinn. The only Christian evangelist whom Francis really recalls, with his worldly preoccupations and self-referential digressions, is the late late-night TV rambler, the Rev. Gene Scott.
Caesar, Mammon, and Sodom
Like Scott, Francis often seems much more concerned about the Benjamins than about Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Francis spends thousands of words complaining about who has wealth and who hasn’t, and offering justifications for seizing it and spreading it around. Via, of course, the government — aided by non-profit agencies such as those run by U.S. bishops, getting forty percent of their income from Uncle Sam. He blames the free market for environmental destruction, inequality, and even the ravages of COVID.
It’s not surprising, really, that Francis doesn’t mention China’s intentional effort to spread that plague worldwide — locking down travel from Wuhan to the rest of China, but letting virus carriers fly out to the rest of the world. After all, Francis just renewed his alliance with China against the West, and reportedly collects $2 billion annually from that government. We don’t know a lot here, because large parts of this deal are still secret. Perhaps we can ask the man Francis sent to China to negotiate, disgraced pedophile Theodore McCarrick.
We do know that Francis has been completely silent on the vicious persecution of Christians and Uighur Muslims in China. When the elderly hero and survivor of Communist persecution Cardinal Joseph Zen flew to Rome to meet with Francis last week, the pope refused to see him. He was too busy writing about love, compassion, and mercy. It’s curious how the great self-styled “humanitarians” of history are rarely fond of actual people. Read Henry Sire’s The Dictator Pope for a tour of the burned bridges and deeply-stabbed backs that mark Jorge Bergoglio’s climb to the apex of the Church.
Encyclicals aren’t infallible — which is a good thing, since in the new one Pope Francis contradicts statements of many previous popes on a list of important subjects. These include capital punishment, border control, economics, and even the right of private property. Which means that Catholics have two choices.
We can weigh the merits of each pope’s statements like rational believers, or else just accept the party line of the current pope like good little Stalinists. Count on those who share the pope’s Woke, globalist views to wield this new document like a club, trying to banish from U.S. voters’ minds little things like abortion, religious liberty, and the growing power of Beijing.
Meddling in U.S. Elections
Pope Francis decided to release Fratelli Tutti on the eve of a U.S. election, as he chose to visit America on the eve of the last one. Francis is deeply worried that Trump might win, and reportedly wouldn’t meet with Mike Pompeo to talk about Chinese persecution of Christians, lest he give Trump a boost. This new Woke encyclical coincides exactly with the Biden campaign’s big push to portray the candidate as a “nuanced,” not a “single-issue,” Catholic. But I’m sure that’s a 100 percent total coincidence.
Especially since the hard-left group PICO that used George Soros’ money to spin Francis’ 2016 U.S. tour to help the Democrats is still in Francis’ good graces. See the fulsome message he sent PICO’s 2017 Modesto Meeting, where 24 U.S. bishops, plus a Vatican cardinal, urged Americans to “disrupt Trump” and help illegal aliens break our laws.
Painting St. Francis as a Hippie
I can point you to brave souls who swam through it and critiqued Fratelli Tutti from various angles. Samuel Gregg explains here that Pope Francis completely misconstrues Francis of Assisi — the saint whose name Jorge Bergoglio took. Francis makes much of the saint’s peaceful visit to an Islamic ruler during the Crusades. He completely leaves out the fact that St. Francis preached Christ to the whole royal court. He was there to proselytize, a dirty word for Francis. This pope prefers making diplomatic deals with Muslim leaders, and whitewashing their creed’s baked-in intolerance of Christians.
Jules Gomes, at Church Militant, notes that Francis doesn’t bother to quote the Bible much, or the words of previous popes. He does give a lot of space to quotes from the Quran, Muslim leaders, Desmond Tutu, and Mahatma Gandhi. Mostly, though, Francis just quotes … himself. Some 60% of the footnotes are to Francis’ own writings. When he condemns capital punishment — which God demanded in the Covenant of Noah, and popes have defended for 2,000 years — Francis reverts to his favorite go-to argument. “As I have clearly said,” Francis writes, as if that clinches the issue.
Sorry, Holy Father, the only person who gets to argue from His own personal authority is Jesus. You’re not a second Christ, just a second St. Peter. Keep that in mind.
Fighting Brexit, From Rome
Gomes notes that Francis uses those words not wasted on Jesus Christ or eternal salvation instead to talk about … the European Union and how wonderful it is. The dangers of “separatism” (Brexit), “nationalism” (Trump), and “xenophobia,” (any limits on immigration).
Francis also rides like Don Quixote on a white charger, knocking down straw men. As Eric Sammons notes, Francis has a long-time habit of portraying his critics, or those whom he dislikes, in lurid cartoonish caricatures. Once he’s finished his parody of his opponents’ views, he triumphantly demolishes them. The effect is … wearying, and frankly sophomoric.
Recycling Socialist Fantasies
The same is true of Francis’ rants about economics. Read Brad Polumbo. He shows how Francis’ grim picture of a heartless, rapacious capitalism spoiling the earth has nothing to do with reality. It’s so off, it’s not even wrong. It’s a nightmare fantasy of the kind you’d find in some North Korean textbook.
But the worst thing in the encyclical? That’s where Pope Francis directly contradicts the very words of his saintly, gifted predecessor Pope Leo XIII on a crucial topic. That is, the nature of private property rights. On Twitter, alert reader Mitch Skywalker caught this intentional slap at a previous pope.
Pope Francis, quoting himself in Fratelli Tutti vs Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, 15. pic.twitter.com/YJmyAwSSw1
— Mitch Skywalker (@pennysizedbrain) October 4, 2020
They can’t both be right. Since each was a pope, it’s pointless to try to settle this (even for Catholics, except for Stalinists) by an argument from authority. And that’s just fine by me. Economics, like other public policy issues, ought to be argued based on the natural law, which God wrote on human hearts. And the natural law case for private property rights is rock-solid and primordial.
Put simply, it’s the same case we offer against slavery. Property is nothing more or less than a person’s time, the fruit of his labors. If our labors don’t belong to us but instead to the State, or some global agency, or the next band of rioting looters, then we aren’t really free. Every day of labor that’s taken gets turned, in retrospect, into slave labor. And slavery is evil.
I’ve written about this before. Perhaps I should be more like Pope Francis, and settle the matter by quoting myself. I can even cite the Bible, “What I have written, I have written.” That has a nice ring to it.
But seriously, people. As the author of nine Catholic books, my advice to those who want to read Fratelli Tutti is this. Prepare yourself spiritually and intellectually. Brew a pot of coffee and watch the following video:
Are you done? Now find Francis’ encyclical on the Vatican website, and read it aloud in Señor Wences’s voice. Trust me, it will help.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream, and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”