The Catholic Geek network brought to my attention an interview with Andrew Napolitano, a former judge on the New York Superior Court and now a law professor and a commentator for various publications in both print and on television. The former judge’s interview centered on — as so many news stories are this month — Pope Francis.
Now, Napolitano isn’t the usual kind of fisking target we have here at The Catholic Geeks; he describes himself as a traditionalist Catholic, and it shows. However, as Lori described in a post last month on sacred music, it’s possible to go astray in the name of traditionalism; to be so focused on safeguarding the way we’ve always done things that you lose sight of why we’ve done them that way, and conclude that any change is bad.
The Catholic Church changes slowly, but it does change. Doctrine does not, but practices and disciplines are added, subtracted, or modified with each passing generation. For example, I prefer the widespread use of Latin; but there’s nothing about liturgical Latin that makes it inherently superior to other languages. If we make the case that it came first, then, well . . . the first Mass was said in Aramaic. ‘Nuff said.
In this interview with Reason TV, Napolitano is asked about his views on Francis and why the Pope is a threat to the Church. I’m not making that up; he actually says that Francis is “assaulting” the sacrament of marriage.
I transcribed the interview and will reproduce it below. Any errors are my fault; any omissions are to skip over irrelevant parts of the conversation. Please feel free to watch the interview before reading the rest of this post.
Welch: “Pope Francis, widely seen as the most charismatic head of the Catholic Church since Pope John Paul II…”
We’ve only had two popes since then. Is this supposed to be a dig at Benedict XVI?
“…is coming to the United States for his first papal visit. We thought, to get a sense of what this visit means, we’d ask one of his critics and also a Roman Catholic, our good old friend Judge Andrew Napolitano.
“This Pope, who’s a very intriguing character, seems kind of American to me on one sense, he doesn’t embrace the trappings of offices as much as previous popes did, he has this sort of humble connection with people.”
Really? We’re going to go there?
Okay, first, there’s nothing “American” about that. Yes, there are a lot of rich things handed down from one pope to another, and the trend in the last hundred years has been to reduce that. That’s due to a bunch of factors, most prominently that the Bishop of Rome no longer has to be as finely-dressed as royalty to be taken seriously. That’s a good thing. For another, even the liturgical vestments of ordinary priests used to be made of richer, heavier cloth, as Fr. Z. explains in this article (if you’ve ever wondered why altar servers and deacons lift a priest’s vestments during the Consecration, click on that link). The ability to make durable yet simple cloth for very little cost has lead to simpler clothing (because previously, it took so long to make, why not add little extra doodads along the way?), which in turn has lead to people of all walks of life expecting people to dress in similar ways, no matter their station.
Second, being “American” doesn’t mean living simply. We’re incredibly rich compared to the rest of the world; our poverty line is considered rich for most humans alive today, much less throughout history. Since the Bishop of Rome no longer has to act like royalty to be taken seriously by politicians, he can go back to living simply. Which, by the way, has been going on for a long time, more than just this pope. (Matt Welch doesn’t give a timeframe for that “previous popes” comparison, but I can’t shake the feeling he thinks that Benedict and John Paul lived lavishly.)
“At the same time, he kind of puts America at the head of the neoliberal economic order, which is highly critical of him.”
Yes, because any time the Pope suggests that the poor should have more help, he’s indicting economic neoliberalism (aka free markets where the only governmental involvement is the enforcement of contracts). I’m really not sure why Matt Welch would see an inherent contradiction in living a life with little to no personal luxuries and suggesting to the world that helping your fellow man is more important than accumulating said luxuries. I doubt Milton Friedman would find a problem with that, but unfortunately he isn’t around to give his own opinion.
“What is the importance of this trip for him, do you say?”
Napolitano: “Pope Francis is a challenge and an obstacle to traditionalist Roman Catholics, as I am.”
If that sentence makes warning bells ring for you, you’re not alone.
“I emphasize traditionalist, I wouldn’t have said that if this were pre-Vatican II, but post-Vatican II one must distinguish between being Catholic and being traditional. So by traditional I mean I attend a Latin Mass where the priest faces the altar and where sermons are traditional theological and philosophical statements, rather than comments on politics or sports or the types of things one often hears in a regular Roman Catholic Mass today.”
Okay, stop right there.
I admit, I prefer homilies that focus on theology and philosophy, not to mention history. I like context and details and getting into the depths of my faith and its thousands of years of history and accumulated thought. However, I’m also particularly and unusually trained in these topics. It’s not just that I’m interested in them; I can go into more detail because I’ve already had the groundwork laid for me. It’s like I tell my students when I guest-lecture at Christendom College’s writing club: one of the reasons I enjoy talking to them is because they share the same groundwork and I can get into more detail without sacrificing time. (*cough* When I don’t tangent off on stories . . . which happens a lot . . . like . . . every time . . . *cough*)
Basically, I can be lazy. It can be very hard work to try going into detail on complicated topics when you don’t know what your audience has studied already. That’s why priests will reach for pop culture items — and that’s been going on since long before Vatican II. Hey, just look at the Bible — Jesus Christ did it himself!
And all of that ignores the fact that Napolitano is acting like there are two different kinds of Catholics, those who prefer a Tridentine Mass and those who don’t. There’s only one kind of Catholic. I, too, describe myself as traditionalist, but I do so to distinguish myself from Catholics who want the Church to reinvent itself every few years. Napolitano seems to be using it to define “true” Catholicism on trappings that have nothing to do with doctrine. I personally prefer Latin, and for the priest to face the right direction, and for the congregation to be able to understand more than just football metaphors; but none of those invalidate the state of “being Catholic.”
Like Lori said, you can jump off the cliff from both directions.
“I don’t know why the Pope is coming to the United States, other than to spread an aura of goodwill about Roman Catholicism. He is so likable and well-liked, in part by our colleagues in the media, in part by the liberal intelligentsia, in part by the silence of traditionalists who show deference and respect to him.”
I’m really not sure what he’s getting at with that last bit. I do have a bit of a hearing problem, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he said. But when we speak without rehearsing, we tend to wander a bit in the middle of large sentences, so it’s possible he just flubbed a bit in there. If so, he probably meant to say that traditionalists shouldn’t be silent, because it makes the Strawpope narrative supreme.
Well, that’s how I’d put it. As we can see in a bit, Napolitano has bought into the Strawpope more than a little.
W: “Do you see him as sort of sharply modernizing or bucking tradition, is he making a pretty sharp turn in things like speeding up annulments and things like that?”
N: “Speeding up annulments, in the view of this traditionalist Roman Catholic, is a rejection of his papal role. One of the jobs of the Pope is to preserve tradition and to protect the Sacraments. By speeding up annulments at the same time as permitting ordinary confession to absolve the sin of abortion, which Roman Catholicism has taught for four hundred years is murder, he has assaulted matrimony. For him to make annulments easier is a back door towards permitting divorce. And that is a direct, frontal assault on the Sacrament of Matrimony.”
So is it a back door, or a frontal assault?
Sigh. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said traditionalism can go off the cliff by clinging to trappings rather than substance. An annulment isn’t a divorce; it’s only superficially similar if you assume that an annulment “ends” a marriage. It doesn’t. An annulment is only given if, after investigation, it is discovered that the marriage was never valid in the first place.
Streamlining this process is a good thing. It reduces pain, promotes healing, and keeps the participants involved in the sacrament rather than breaking it with divorce. Add that to the sad climate we have in (especially western) society where marriage isn’t given the grave consideration by young adults that it deserves, leading some into error, non-Catholic marriages, or invalid Catholic marriages not caught by the priest who witnessed the sacrament, and I think reducing the obstacles is a good thing. I haven’t heard of any details that meant Francis was going to annul valid marriages. That would literally be a violation of papal infallibility, since this is about faith and morals.
Here’s an example. About a year and a half ago, I was talking with someone I’d known for years, but hadn’t had detailed and private conversations with in that time. She told me that her husband, whom I’ve known for even longer, had recently admitted he’d been faking his Catholicism. I’d known he’d been struggling with the finer details, but what she told me was surprising. Then she told me she was going to get an annulment, and after hearing the details (which I won’t go into) I had to admit this was exactly the sort of case that the process exists for. He’d admitted to her that he’d known, going in, that he couldn’t bring himself to obey essential Catholic teachings, and I suspect that if it weren’t for this woman being in his life he’d have dropped out of the Church long before the date of the wedding.
I know, mostly through secondhand knowledge because I was friends with her sisters in college, of another woman who was trapped in an abusive relationship for a while. She got out of that, received an annulment, and got married to a graduate of my alma mater who is now her son’s stepfather. By all accounts, this is a very happy result, and while I have no direct details on this annulment I have every certainty that it was equally valid, because those around me who did know the details were rather . . . displeased with the previous man in this woman’s life. By which I mean that, in an earlier time, this man’s last date would have been with a rope and a tree. That’s not an idle observation, either.
These are why annulments exist. There are things that make a marriage invalid, and they become a detriment. I know of many other stories that friends and family have told me over the years that show how difficult it is, and how important it is to have this process available.
Divorce, by definition, is the breaking of a vow; an annulment shows that the vow was not binding. Those who seek divorce do not believe in the lasting power of marriage; those who seek annulment do. It is not “the Catholic divorce” any more than natural family planning is “the Catholic contraception.” It does not declare valid marriages invalid, but rather recognizes the invalidity of already-invalid marriages.
This in no way invalidates the concerns of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI that the annulment process was too lenient. That is an indictment on the part of the ecclesiastical judges, who should take greater care with their entrusted task. The infallibility that Francis bears, both burden and blessing, does not extend to these judges, and that is where the just condemnation of these reforms should lie. Not with Francis’ understanding of doctrine, but rather with his trust of those involved. Nothing in the reform could be considered wrong, but that doesn’t mean the results will be better. That is where Napolitano’s ire should be directed, not at manufacturing a fake “assault” on the sacraments by the Pope.
And all of that is on marriage alone; he also touched on abortion, which according to him has only been a sin for . . . four hundred years? Really? And he thinks that abortion shouldn’t be forgiven by “ordinary confession”? I’d go into that in more detail, but someone already did. The short version: it doesn’t change anything in the United States, and affects extraordinarily few people around the world.
The most important effect of this has already been achieved: people were talking about it, and many times we overlook how hard it is for people lost in sin to remember that they can get better. Spreading the news is absolutely a good thing.
W: “So you don’t like him on tradition, you must love him on economics and global warming.”
N: “The Pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth. He is infallible on faith and morals. Thank God it is limited to faith and morals. The Pope’s views on economics are what judges call dicta, that is, where a judge in a written opinion says something utterly unrelated to the argument in the opinion, and it is merely his or her opinion.”
Yes and no. I’ve encountered this before, though usually from the opposite end: Catholics telling me that capitalism is evil because of something Strawpope Frank said. (Including Catholics who should know better; but they’re usually already blinded by modern reinterpretations of distributism, which only work when ignoring G. K. Chesterton’s exact definition of capitalism. It happens to be the same definition Pope Francis seems to be using.) This usually involves said Catholics telling me that economics are part of faith and morals, so obviously it’s infallible that capitalism is wrong.
The answer is yes . . . and no. Economics as a science (in as much as it can be called a science) is not a matter of faith and morals. However, as with any human action, faith and morals impact it. To put it another way, the actions of the stock market are outside the office of the Bishop of Rome, but teachings on the moral use of your resources are not.
As such, it’s well within the Pope’s authority to exhort people to be charitable, to avoid greed, to stop accumulating wealth for the sake of wealth, or for the sake of luxuries, or to do so by underhanded practices that harm others even if they’re technically legal.
Again, click that last link on Chesterton’s definition on the subject. That’s not the economic neoliberalism or free market capitalism normally discussed by the American right. That’s the kind of crony capitalism that you find in places like South America, where bribery and the shaping of laws to benefit a few and impoverish the many are pretty normal. Oh, look, that would be where Francis is from. Perhaps he’s speaking from experience? Nah, it’s not like he angered the communists and cronyists alike when he was a bishop there or anything, speaking out against the evils of both . . . nah. That would mean Strawpope Frank is a lie.
[At this point, the video shows headlines about capitalism as the dung of the devil.]
Sigh. Didn’t I already deal with this? That “dung of the devil” thing is the purest example of headline bias I’ve ever encountered. I’ve never seen a more blatant display of confidence that not only do these media outlets assume their readers won’t look up the facts, but rather that they assume their own readers won’t even read their own articles. Please, click on that link, read the truth, and spread it around.
“The Pope is entitled to his opinion on any matter of economics; it has nothing to do with human salvation. Now, I’m in the Ayn Rand school of economics. I believe in no interference in the free market by the government. I believe the only moral commercial transactions are those that are truly and wholly and fully voluntary. Not interfered with, not provoked, not even encouraged by the government.”
I’ve heard conflicting opinions on the compatibility of Ayn Rand with Catholic teachings. I’m inclined to assume they’re not very compatible, but I can’t say for certain because I’ve never managed to actually read her stuff. Fortunately, I don’t take my marching orders from economists, nor do I try to interpret thousands of years of unbroken doctrine through the opinions of one such economist.
If you’re interested in my opinion on government control of such things, it’s shaped more by St. Thomas Aquinas on the duties of government. That is, governments are set up around human law, which is valid only if it does not violate other forms of law (natural, divine, moral, etc.), and so must support (which is not necessarily the same thing as “enforce”) those forms of law and use human reason to order society. As such, the primary duty of government is the adjudication of contracts, which is what allows society to function on a scale larger than that of a small village. (The secondary duty is national defense, and the tertiary is public safety which includes strictly necessary functions like police and fire brigades.) Yes, that means I’m looked at by liberals as a dangerous radical and by libertarians as a dangerous statist, but they’re entitled to their opinions too.
Either way, whether or not Napolitano’s views are actually possible (much less practical) on a large scale, they bear little resemblance to the matter at hand, any more than mine do. Whether we live in his ideal society or mine, we both admit that the moral law comes first. The problem is that Napolitano insists on interpreting any statement on economics through the lens of modern politics, without (it seems) any examination to see if, perhaps, the Pope is just talking about the same Catholic teachings that have been around for thousands of years. *headdesk*
Oh, but wait. It gets better.
The Pope is, by his own words, a Peronist; he is probably also a communist, lower-case C, and a Marxist, upper-case M, who does believe that the government ought to control and motivate the means of production and the means of distribution.”
I — wha– huh?
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out your window on the right side, you can see a shining example of someone who doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about. This particular specimen has become a traffic hazard, preventing the normal flow of conversation until the blockage is removed.”
Three points here.
First, I can’t find a single statement of Francis that, by his own words, shows him to be a Peronist. If someone can deliver that to me, please do so.
It’s possible he simply meant that Pope Francis just sounds like a Peronist, but that’s not what Napolitano said, and I’m disinclined to give him a mulligan on that one. It’s not the sort of mistake you make through just a slip of the tongue; this is either a complete fabrication or a shocking admission of “didn’t do the research.” After all, while trying to find evidence supporting this statement, I came across a multitude of articles which argued all sides of this issue, and every one of them boiled down to the same mistake that Napolitano made: trying to interpret ages-old Catholic doctrine through the fads of today. I couldn’t find a single reference to anything Pope Francis said on economics that wasn’t what any pope could have said going all the way back to Peter. (If you find one, then by all means, please comment below. I’m interested.)
Second point: if he’s a communist, he’s a sucky one. Moreover, if he’s an “upper-case M Marxist,” he’s doing an even worse job. He has to be the only Marxist ever to rise to both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s approval (or were they secretly Marxists too?), especially since a very important part of being an “upper-case M Marxist” is to be an atheist!
Is there a corollary of Godwin’s Law that applies here? Maybe we’ll need to create one. Godwin’s Strawpope Law: “As any discussion of Pope Francis grows longer, the probability of comparing the pontiff to a Marxist out to destroy the Church from within approaches one.”
And that just brings us to the third point, which is pretty much the same as the first: find me even one statement of Pope Francis where he advocated state control of the economy. In point of fact, he has called for the opposite: that the people come first.
It’s like Declan’s favorite description of Laudato Si’: “Save the whales, but save the baby humans first.” It only fits with some sort of leftist, statist, political agenda if you do selective editing first. Which, of course, so many people are already inclined to do, and I’m afraid that Napolitano is just adding fuel to the fire by blessing these lies.
For an alternate description of the Pope’s statements on capitalism and what they mean for the United States’ native economic philosophies, read this article from CNBC. In it, a Catholic priest named Fr. Sirico lays the indictment on those who would sit back and let others do the work or confiscate and redistribute. CNBC still tries to cast Fr. Sirico as disagreeing with Francis even as he says the same things — just translated for the typical word-choice of American pro-capitalists. If, like Napolitano, this subject has been confusing you, read that article all the way to the end. In fact, I might do a separate post on it.
W: “Do you think that these opinions, given his role, can do tangible harm?”
N: “Well, of course they can do tangible harm! Because they encourage governments in areas where there’s the open interplay of ideas to move away from the free market and towards more government control. For Heaven’s sake, the Pope says we can do this, let’s go ahead and do it! That’s the type of argument which I expect to be made, in light of his assaults on capitalism. It will be a little odd, Matt, if he comes here next week and directly, on the floor of the House of Representatives, assaults capitalism. What remains of capitalism in the world exists here. It would be bizarre for him to attack it at its core.”
Um. Why? You’re already acting like the Pope is brazenly attacking capitalism (which he is, if you accept an alternate definition of “capitalism” than both you and I prefer), and if he’s not quite as in-your-face as his last two predecessors he’s still not proven himself to be especially timid. And it’s not like he’s going to suddenly face opposition he never faced before just by saying the same thing behind a different set of borders.
Of course, he didn’t say those same things that you’re describing. And according to EWTN, he’s going to go into detail about the Strawpope’s words versus his own.
Well, he probably won’t say anything specifically about the Strawpope. But it would be absolutely awesome if he did.
W: “Let’s talk about global warming. I know you’re saying that the Pope has very specific and kind of limited duties, enumeration of duties here; but if the Pope believes the world is going to burn up because of carbon in fifty years, shouldn’t the Pope say something about that?”
My goodness, the Strawpope has really infected this interview. Where did Francis say that?
N: “Yes. The Pope is entitled to say whatever he wants. But in a papal exhortation, or in an encyclical, which for two thousand years have been used for the purposes of teaching the faithful faith and morals, that’s not the place for it. If the Pope wants to say in some gathering at the Vatican, by the way, I think global warming is out of control, we gotta turn down our air conditioners, he can say –”
W: “Or not have air conditioners.”
N: “Right, right. He can say that, and frankly, who cares.
Uh . . . really?
So, first thing to note: modern papal encyclicals have only been used since Benedict XIV (notice that’s #14, not #16) in 1740. That’s less than three hundred years, not two thousand. I suppose I’m opening myself to accusations of nitpicking with that, but from where I sit that’s an important piece of evidence that shows Napolitano hasn’t actually done much research into the topic of what amounts to the use of papal teaching authority.
That’s borne up by what he says next. It’s not okay to say something in an encyclical, but the Pope has blanket permission to say whatever he wants every other time he uses his teaching authority? No, that’s not how it works. Wikipedia, of all places, has a good list of the requirements of infallibility, but it goes further than that. Remember, the Pope will not teach that something is doctrine when it is not. He can’t do that. Even if he were a full-on Marxist like Napolitano thinks, he would be unable to teach anything that violates Catholic doctrine.
That’s the true power of papal infallibility, because it means he can’t change anything. I’ve talked about this before; no pope, at any time, has ever taught that something that was once a sin is now permitted, or vice versa. This is, I believe, why God allowed horrible, corrupted popes in the past, such as Pope John XII (who is said to have toasted Satan) to reign over His Church. Many popes have openly sinned; none of them have taught that it was okay.
None of them. In two thousand years. Is that a coincidence?
So, Mr. Napolitano, remember that popes are always on duty. If you think the pope is publicly teaching something wrong, then you have two choices. You can either reject the doctrine of infallibility, or you can accept that perhaps you don’t have the full story.
And, again: this does not mean that “global warming is real” is now a doctrine of the Catholic Church. Laudato Si’ mentions stuff about science and the impact of our practices on the environment, yes; but it’s all in the context of how we are stewards of the world and it is there for us, and we should not squander it. Nothing new there. Anyone who’s read the first few paragraphs, in which Francis mentions the other Popes who have said the same thing, would realize that.
Actually, the “climate change encyclical” is all about the purpose of the human condition and the primacy of natural law, including on the subjects of abortion, transgenderism, and the primacy of human life in nature. In fact, the encyclical specifically (paragraph 171) condemns practices like carbon credit programs.
“But when he uses the trappings of office and when he uses the means traditionally used by his predecessors to teach in matters of faith and morals, it’s the wrong place, and sends the wrong message. It gives an aura of the imprimatur, lower-case I, of the church with respect to economic and political activities, and I don’t want that and that’s not why he’s the Pope.”
So, according to you, why is he the Pope?
Also, what’s the difference between an Imprimatur and an imprimatur? Because that’s just a little odd to stress.
Regardless, as I said, economics and politics aren’t immune to morality or faith, and as such you can’t say the Pope has no authority over those areas of human life and society.
W: “I want to talk to you about the interplay between your own sense of Catholicism and libertarianism. You were talking earlier about some of the traditions that you embrace; they’re not traditionally the kind of traditions that a libertarian, socially, would embrace in the United States. How does your own sense of Catholicism inform and interplay with your sense of libertarianism?”
N: “The essence of libertarianism is the primacy of the individual over the state, and as far as conceivable, absolute freedom of the individual to make his or her own choices. That’s actually also the teachings of Jesus Christ, ‘I have come to set you free.'”
You know, any time someone tries to say that their particular political philosophy would be how Jesus Christ would vote, I find myself wondering if I could bang my head against a wall so much that I’d actually come to enjoy it.
Look, I don’t remember anything in the Gospels about Christ endorsing particular political philosophies, much less candidates. The closest He came to that was noting that government is legitimate (the whole “give to Caesar, give to God” thing, you know?). Beyond that, He said His kingdom didn’t have a local mailing address, and then went back to talking about how we’re supposed to treat each other.
You can take plenty of lessons from the latter about how we should operate when it comes to politics, but I defy you to find one system that fits around everything He said. You can’t, because His teachings aren’t focused just on this world.
That goes double for the “I have come to set you free” bit. He wasn’t talking about politics. People thought he was, because they expected a worldly messiah, one who would free Israel from all external rule. All he talked about was spiritual freedom, not freedom from government.
Napolitano does realize this, to some extent, as we see from his final words in this interview:
Now I know the Devil can quote Scriptures to suit his purposes, but the doctrine on religious freedom, the doctrine on free will, is such that free will is the greatest gift God gave us. It is so perfect a gift that we are free to abuse it; and history and the modern era is filled with examples of its abuse. So I see no inconsistency between the observation that the individual is greater than the state and the Church’s teaching on free will at all. But I’m also not unaware of the Church’s social policy; and the social policy of the Church is that I am by brother’s keeper and that I should help my brother out. I accept that and I embrace it, as long as I am free to accept it and embrace it, as long as I am not forced to do it through the mechanism of government.”
Yes. I agree with that, as long as we don’t try to shoehorn it into one particular political philosophy. Nothing created by men can encompass God.
We need to remember that when we look at the Church. Mischaracterization, and even outright lying, has been part of media coverage of Catholicism for decades. They’ve been a stuck record, constantly trying to dictate what the Church should teach every time we get a new pope; I remember it firsthand the weekend St. John Paul II died, as CNN was speculating on what the next pope would do while JPII was still breathing. They were like vultures camped outside his hospital window, camera on the curtains as if straining to see the moment his soul left for his reward, all while asking if the next pope would overturn millennia of doctrine in favor of a liberal wishlist.
It’s a mistake for anyone, Catholic or otherwise, to look at the pope as a temporary politician, no matter how much they want to see everything through the prism of politics. The Bishop of Rome is standing in for Someone Else, and he has no authority to redecorate while the owner of the house is away.
Keep that in mind — just that one fact — and it will make it a lot easier to figure out what is worth making a fuss over when it comes to the words of Pope Francis.