Shea is beside himself over a searing critique of this pontificate by Maureen Mullarkey that appeared in—oh the horror!—First Things. He cannot believe it: “This was not written on a bathroom wall where it belongs. It was not published on some blog published from Ignatius Reilly’s basement. This was published by First Freakin’ Things.” Yes, First Freakin’ Things, the preeminent journal of “moderate” Catholic opinion that could never be accused of “rad trad” leanings.
A bewildered Shea wants to know: “First Things: What happened to you guys?” Francis happened, that’s what. Now, if Shea were a reasonable man he would recognize that there just might be a serious problem with this pontificate when even First Things begins voicing objections to such elements of the Bergoglian program as “his clumsy intrusion into the Middle East and covert collusion with Obama over Cuba” and his “sacralizing politics and bending theology to premature, intemperate policy endorsements”—a reference to Francis posing between two environmental activists while holding an anti-fracking T-shirt.
Like First Things, Shea—if he were reasonable—would be concerned about the Pope’s obvious penchant for useless publicity stunts (a “Soccer Game for Peace”—really?) and purely political initiatives, as if he were not content with being merely the Vicar of Christ responsible for the spiritual welfare of a flock numbering more than a billion souls. This is not to suggest that the Pope must not “meddle” in politics. Quite the contrary, the Vicar of Christ has a duty to defend the Law of the Gospel regarding political questions that implicate faith and morals. But helping the Abortion President arrange a prisoner swap with Raul Castro and endorsing the anti-fracking movement are hardly matters of that sort.
But Francis’s own Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, now expressly declares that Francis will be more “proactive” politically: “With all the conflicts in the world today, we can’t just wait.” Given what the Pope has wrought respecting Cuba, and his laughably inept attempt to bring peace to the Middle East by planting an olive tree in the Vatican gardens after the invited Imam had prayed for the defeat of the infidels, I think the Vatican should indeed just wait—and wait and wait—before Francis applies his golden touch to anything else in the realm of geopolitics.
What, then, is Shea to do now that even First Things has become strongly critical of a Pope who seems more interested in being a public figure on the world stage than he is in defending the Catholic doctrine and discipline he is constantly derogating as mere “rules” that interfere with “mercy”? Shea does the same thing he always does: hurl insults, caricature the opposing position and hide the real issue. Mullarkey’s article, he shrieks, is a “festival of crazy contempt for Francis,” a “revolting (in every sense) smear job,” a “bizarre Know Nothing rant,” reflecting a “stinking, sweaty, panic-stricken hatred of the pope,” which is “getting more and more palpable—and respectable among the increasingly deranged right wing.”
In short, Shea’s usual nuanced analysis. But as more and more Catholics beyond traditionalist circles become alarmed by the words and deeds of Francis the Great Reformer, as his fawning biographer calls him, Shea is now wildly spraying fire like a lone private defending an untenable position against an advancing battalion. It is no longer just the “rad trads” he has to calumniate in order to obscure the truth about our situation. That was easy enough. Now he has to deal with a major new threat to the success of the decades-long neo-Catholic con job: what he calls “the ‘faithful conservative’ Catholic subculture.” In other words, the “mainstream” of practicing Catholics! Wow. That was not supposed to happen, was it?
And so, on and on Shea must go, slavishly performing the function Mullarkey describes in her article with reference to the photo of Francis posing with an anti-fracking T-shirt: “Press toads hopped to their keyboards to correct the evidence of our lying eyes.” Chained to a failed narrative like Prometheus to his rock—the fate of every ideologue—Shea is almost literally screaming as the reality of what Francis is saying and doing every day tears his position apart like the eagle that comes again and again to devour Prometheus’ liver. But there will be no Hercules to relieve Shea’s torment. In this scenario Francis is no Hercules. He is more like the eagle.
Update: Shea is delighted that someone else at First Things has just taken issue with Mullarkey’s article. But her critic does precisely what she contends, arguing that we must ignore the evidence of our lying eyes:
“Nor can we conclude that Francis opposes fracking,” he writes. “Popes have their pictures taken with lots and lots and lots of people. One photo of a distracted pope with anti-fracking advocates does not a policy position make.”
Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket: Francis was distracted. He had no idea who he was meeting with in his own residence and granting a rare photo op with the Pope inside Casa Santa Marta, nor any idea that “No to Fracking” (in Italian) and a “No Fracking” icon were printed on the T-shirt he was personally holding up for the cameras so that everyone in the world could see it except him. That’s a pretty darn distracted Pope. That level of distraction would suggest nothing less than incipient dementia. Is that the way “Team Bergoglio” wants to play this?