You might remember that I posted (on the old blog) an analysis of Pope Francis during his election; that, first of all, his entire personal history made it very, very clear that he was not a "progressive" as some people in North America and Europe hoped (and the church seemed happy to let them believe), as he was in fact the politically-active champion of the right-wing in Argentina. Second, it was very clear that why he had been chosen was specifically BECAUSE of his training in political warfare in one of the most brutal environments for that of any world democracy: Argentina. His skill would allow him to manipulate and paint a picture of the church that would play to the media; he'd know how to push all the right buttons for reporters, who would in turn push all the right buttons on readers and viewers, which would in turn convince people that real change had come to the church.
At that time, though, I never could have imagined just how good he would be at it. I never imagined, for example, that we'd be seeing Bill Maher and Dan Savage praising the Pope, as they did on the most recent episode of Real Time (and, in an amazing example of a mental disconnect, even while they were viciously condemning several US bishops)!
You have to give Francis credit: if he's fooled Savage or Bill Maher, then he's one step short of getting praise from Richard Dawkins or Marilyn Manson.
But "fooled" would, I still think, be the operative term here. Because you see, unlike most people who've been retweeting or resharing or +1ing or whatever the dripping-with-admiration news articles about how his first encyclical (read: Papal Rant) talks about how capitalism is a problem or we have to take care of the poor, I've actually studied the encyclical pope Francis wrote.
Evangelii Gaudium ("Joy of the Gospels") is a rambling kind of rant, even as far as papal encyclicals go, and doesn't have much of the intellectual rigor you saw in his predecessor Pope Rat. But of course the latter was writing deep academic texts about philosophical/theological concepts, while Francis is writing propaganda with sound-bites. This fucker is also huge. I'm quite sure that, at 51000 words, most reporters (much less most bloggers, and much much less most re-tweeters) haven't read even significant parts of it, but instead trusted in what the Vatican press releases were reporting.
Now, Francis being a spin-doctor, he knows what to share with the media and what to keep in the back, hidden from view. So he didn't run out and boldly proclaim that, for example, Evangelii Gaudium states absolutely and unapologetically that the church will never change its position on abortion. I quote: "It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.".
He also states, but will not be sharing with the media, that the church will absolutely never and cannot ever have Women Priests. Period. And yet, we hear idiots on Facebook and G+, or for that matter on MSNBC, speculating that with a "liberal pope" like Francis it will only be a "matter of time".
He won't even be sharing with the media the part where he condemns how the separation of church and state is "privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet
obscurity of the individual's conscience or to relegate them to the
enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques"; in his previous encyclical he'd stated (and somehow it never came out in the major media) that Atheists were basically selfish people who were lying to themselves... though to be fair, most of that encyclical's first draft was probably written by Pope Rat and Francis was just signing off on it.
Instead, what we will hear is that Francis said that trickle-down economics are unjust to the poor, and that we have to care for the poor (though again skipping the part where he says the REASON to care for the poor is as a central part of Evangelization, of spreading Catholicism, which is the central theme of the encyclical; its not that the poor should be cared for in and of themselves, but as a tool within the framework of Christian religion and its spread). They'll interpret this as meaning that Francis is an OWS-style progressive-liberal, even though he isn't, not even on economic matters. Remember, he viciously OPPOSED the Kirchner government in Argentina (which is a shitty, corrupt government, to be sure, but he opposed it in part because of its Chavista-style socialism). Francis is no more a "socialist" than the last two popes; he's not a liberation-theologist, he's the guy who was turning over liberation theologists to the military juntas! Or, at the very least, condemning them publically while playing buddy-buddy with the dictatorship.
His vision is of a benign kind of capitalism that has heavy state control over social issues and cares for the poor in the sense of fulfilling their most basic needs, while discouraging consumerism in general in favor of encouraging people to dedicate their money and time to spiritual pursuits (in the Catholic Church, of course). In other words, his ideal is still closer to Franco's Spain than to a hippie commune.
Now, I'm not saying that there aren't statements in the encyclical that are kind of nice. Even the WAY he says the above points are much "nicer" and "friendlier" than when those points were made in earlier encyclicals by Pope Rat or JPII. And he does talk about how the church needs to be reformed financially, and he talks about how the church also needs to be reformed in the sense of "getting dirty out on the streets", and doing work for the poor. Ok, great. But at the same time, what people are not getting is that Francis has made it abundantly clear that on matters of Church Theology and Ideology he is an absolute conservative who is not willing to bend on anything at all. There is no current ideological/theological position that the church holds that Francis plans to change.
His real work is a kind of shell-game. Because, I should note, the church has always given charity to the poor and talked about social justice. Always. So what he's doing is CHANGING NOTHING, except that he changes the ATTENTION, away from kiddy-fucking priest coverup-scandals and kicking out liberal nuns and helping to cause millions of AIDS death in africa through rabid anti-condom policies, and toward "social justice", and does this by putting on a slightly friendlier face than his predecessors. He's saying to the church hierarchy "dudes, we still believe everything we did yesterday, but let's just shut up about it in front of the reporters and talk about the defend-the-poor stuff so they all get hardons for us and think we're great now".
Who knows, though? Maybe it will have an effect in spite of it being a blatant play. Maybe even if the church doesn't change a millimeter (which, I repeat, it hasn't!), the fact that its no longer talking about how we mustn't give condoms to impoverished African prostitutes, and is instead talking about how we should feed the same; that in itself might be some kind of victory. If nothing else, given that I suspect the average Catholic teenager in the US or Europe depends about as much on major media for their religion-news as everyone else, Francis might just accidentally bring up a generation of catholics who actually believe in the stuff that he's spinning, and stop caring about the things that he's stopped talking about, and usher in a revolution in 30 or 40 years.
Of course, if that comes to pass, its not because Francis is a hero, it'll just have been an error of strategy on his part.
Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia