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Pope Francis: Left, right, left-right, not quite

Cartoon from The Spectator

Have trendy commentators fallen in love a pope of their own invention? Luke Coppen, editor of The Catholic Herald, believes so - but suggests that the real Francis will be far more interesting to watch than the fantasy Francis.

- By Luke Coppen, The Spectator

On the last day of 2013, one of the weirdest religious stories for ages appeared on the news wires. The Vatican had officially denied that Pope Francis intended to abolish sin. It sounded like a spoof, but wasn’t.

Who had goaded the Vatican into commenting on something so improbable? It turned out to be one of Italy’s most distinguished journalists: Eugenio Scalfari, co-founder of the left-wing newspaper La Repubblica, who had published an article entitled ‘Francis’s Revolution: he has abolished sin.

Why would anyone, let alone a very highly regarded thinker and writer lsuch as Scalfari, believe the Pope had done away with such a basic tenet of Christian theology? Well, since he took charge last year, Francis has been made into a superstar of the liberal left.

His humble background (he is a former bouncer), his dislike for the trappings of office (he cooks his own spaghetti) and his emphasis on the Church’s concern for the poor has made liberals, even atheists like Scalfari, suppose that he is as hostile to Church dogma as they are.

They assume, in other words, that the Pope isn’t Catholic. Last year, few left-leaning commentators could resist falling for the foot-washing Jesuit from Buenos Aires. In column after column, they projected their deepest hopes on to Francis — he is, they think, the man who will finally bring enlightened liberal values to the Catholic Church.

In November, The Guardian writer Jonathan Freedland argued that Francis was ‘the obvious new hero of the left’ and that portraits of the Supreme Pontiff should replace fading Obama posters on ‘the walls of the world’s student bedrooms’. Just days later, Francis preached a homily denouncing what he called ‘adolescent progressivism’, but people see and hear what they want to, so no one took any notice of that.

That is how the Pope has come to be spun as a left-liberal idol.

Last month America’s oldest gay magazine, the Advocate, hailed Francis as its person of the year because of the compassion he had expressed towards homosexuals. It was hardly a revolution: Article 2358 of the Catholic Church’s catechism calls for gay people to be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’. In simply restating Catholic teaching, however, Francis was hailed as a hero.

Time magazine, too, named Francis 'Person of the Year', hailing him for his ‘rejection of Church dogma’ — as if he had declared that from now on there would be two rather than three Persons of the Holy Trinity. But for cockeyed lionisation of Francis it would be hard to beat the editors of Esquire, who somehow managed to convince themselves that a figure who wears the same outfit every day was the best dressed man of 2013.

Perhaps the real challenge for the Pope this year will come from a different quarter. In his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Francis criticised ‘trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice’.

In classic Vatican style, that was a mistranslation of the original Spanish, which rejected the theory that ‘economic growth, encouraged by a free market alone’, would ensure more justice.

Such nuances didn’t concern the American conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who accused the Pontiff of espousing ‘pure Marxism’. Clearly this was just another version of the Fantasy Francis — a misapprehension of the man and his message that the Catholic hierarchy has done little to correct.

But there is a price to be paid in allowing such myths to grow — a price that may have been paid, for example, by the Archdiocese of New York, which may have lost a seven-figure donation. According to Ken Langone, who is trying to raise $180 million to restore the city’s Catholic cathedral, one potential donor said he was so offended by the Pope’s alleged comments that he was reluctant to chip in.

READ FULL ARTICLE: Sorry - but Pope Francis is no liberal (The Spectator)

Related Coverage:

Pope Francis tweet supports, prays for US pro-life march (CNA) 

Pope with the humble touch is firm in reshaping the Vatican (The New York Times)

Pope says he is not a Marxist but defends criticism of capitalism (The Guardian)

Pope Francis preaches Marxism, says Rush Limbaugh (The Australian)

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