The Thing That Used to Be Conservatism Puts Out a Hit on Francis
BY Mark Shea
| Posted 12/5/13 at 1:31 PM
With the publication Evangelii Gaudium, the Rightwingosphere (and by the way, only the Rightwingosphere, though not, of course, everybody in the Rightwingosphere) has begun to dial up the panic about Pope Francis. There have been a number of strategies for ignoring, minimizing and downplaying the Exhortation.
Rush Limbaugh, for instance, denounced that exhortation as "pure Marxism". One searches the exhortation with interest for the moment in which Francis declares his atheism and denounces the Faith as the opiate of the masses. Likewise, Limbaugh redoubled the attack a couple of days later by linking the Holy Father to the Voldemort of the Talk Radio consumer's imagination, the Prince of Darkness himself, Obama the Great and Terrible.
“This is the president citing the pope, his new best friend, because the pope is ripping America, the pope [is] ripping capitalism,” Limbaugh exclaimed. “And Obama’s having an orgasm. Jeremiah Wright is beside himself. Jeremiah Wright thought he was Obama’s preacher, now [the] pope somehow has co-opted Obama.”
"No, Mark! He's not attacking the Pope! He's attacking Obama's use of the pope!"
Sorry, but the game plan of the Manufacturers of Thought for the Thing that Used to be Conservatism is pretty clear. Having condemned Francis for his "pure Marxism" the coordinated strategy that is emerging in Right Wing organs of propaganda is to identify Francis with the Right's most reviled bogeyman: Obama. A particularly notable example came out on December 4 at almost exactly the same moment Rush was issuing his second denunciation of Francis: FOX's hit piece on the pope titled (signficantly) "Pope Francis is the Catholic Church's Obama--God Help Us". Like Limbaugh, FOX understands that merely to make the comparison is, of course, to signal to the FOX faithful that Francis is being denounced as Worst Pope Ever in the FOX universe of discourse. The whole strategy of the Limbaugh/FOX attack is designed to make clear to the sort of person who gets all his thinking from Talk Radio (and there are a lot of these) that Francis has been designated an Ideological Enemy.
Now, if you are going to attempt the audacity of declaring the Pope a "disaster" and somebody who regards Right Thinking People as "enemies" you need to strategize a bit since normal people would laugh and dismiss any fool who simply blurted that out.Limbaugh's great disadvantage is that he is not Catholic and, not to put too fine a point on it, has no idea what he's talking about when it comes to Catholic teaching. So his attacks on the Pope have been ill-received by the conservative Catholics he is try to poison against the Holy Father. What to do?
Well, if there is one strategy I have seen deployed more than any other in my years of experience with anti-Catholic apologists it is this: Whenever it can be done, organizations bent on attacking the Church love to put forward Catholics--preferably cradle Catholics--to say "I was raised Catholic, and I can tell you for a fact that the Church's teaching on X is garbage and you can safely ignore it". It is the strategy of everybody from atheists, to Fundamentalists, to the Democratic party whenever they trot out Pelosi and Biden and Sebelius to chatter about the glories of Planned Parenthood. And sure enough, it is the strategy of FOX who--swimming in money and able to pick from a vast pool of real talent ranging from Fr. Robert Sirico on the Right, to Fr. Robert Barron in the center, or John Allen, Jr. on the Left (all of whom have sufficient credentials to offer something like a serious analysis and critique of Francis' thought)--instead tapped a young video game reviewer named Adam Shaw to pen the hit piece. Why? Because hit pieces need no qualifications beyond "I was raised Catholic and I can tell you..." The unthinking platitudes, shallow analysis and mendacity can flow, unencumbered by the thought process when your sole goal is to poison the well. Then all you need do is make sure Drudge links it (as he dutifully has) and the conservative Catholics FOX seeks to poison against Francis are sent the clear message that this is not some Outsider attacking the Church, this is a True Catholic defending the Church from our dangerous new pope.
Let us therefore take a close look at this opening salvo in the emerging war on Francis from the Manufacturers of Thought for the Thing That Used to Be Conservatism, since it seems to deploy most of the emerging strategies for demonizing and reflexively rejecting his teaching,
To begin with, Mr. Shaw's argument is interesting as a specimen of the curious agreement between the NY Times and the panic-stricken Reactionary that Francis is the Heretic Pope bent on overturning the teaching of the Church. As Mr. Shaw again demonstrates, the only real disagreement between the subcultures represented by these organs of propaganda is whether the Pope's supposed betrayal of the Faith is a good thing or a bad thing (something CNN will no doubt analyze with its customary profundity) (Warning: NSFW language, but the point is very sound):
Here is the "argument" from the FOX bull of excommunication:
Pope Francis is undergoing a popularity surge comparable to the way Barack Obama was greeted by the world in 2008. And just as President Obama has been a disappointment for America, Pope Francis will prove a disaster for the Catholic Church.
This is an argument from association and prophecy. The mere coupling of Francis' name with Obama's is the signal that the 15 minute Hate is about to commence. The claim to know the future is... dubious. Particularly given what follows.
My fellow Catholics should be suspicious when bastions of anti-Catholicism in the left-wing media are in love with him.
Again, guilt by association. Francis is beloved by tax collectors and sinners. If he were really from God, he would know what sort of sinful woman is washing his feet.
Much is being made of his ‘compassion’ and ‘humility,’ but kissing babies and hugging the sick is nothing new. Every pope in recent memory has done the same, yet only now are the media paying attention. Benedict XVI and John Paul II refused to kowtow to the liberal agenda, and so such displays of tenderness were under-covered.
Note, particularly, the scare quotes. We are speaking about this man:
Shaw, by the scare quotes, sneeringly suggests both that Francis is an insincere and fake politician who, as Shaw says elsewhere is, "trying to impress" and that this is somehow proven by the fact that the MSM notices his beautiful words and deeds. Contemplating the juxtaposition of those sarcastic scare quotes and that photograph, one is tempted to reply in the words of Joseph Welch to Joe McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" Quite simply, the mere fact that the media notices something is proof of nothing about Francis. But for the tribalists at FOX, it is evidence for the Inquisition. Now comes the charge:
But Francis is beating a retreat for the Catholic Church, and making sure its controversial doctrines are whispered, not yelled – no wonder the New York Times is in love.
That would be the Francis who says that abortion cries out to God for vengeance and who declares that the Church will (duh) never change its teaching about this.
Just like President Obama loved apologizing for America, Pope Francis likes to apologize for the Catholic Church, thinking that the Church is at its best when it is passive and not offending anyone’s sensibilities.
The documentation for this is thin on the ground. Apparently, Shaw believes that when the pope suggests that Catholics could do a better job of proclaiming the gospel and that the way to do this is to put the encounter with Jesus Christ crucified and risen at the center and not FOX culture red meat or liturgical obsessions or adolescent progressivism or other similar idols, FOX regards this as "apologizing for the Catholic Church" when in fact, it is teaching the Catholic Church, which is pretty much Francis' job. Would that her sons would listen to their teacher.
In his interviews with those in the left-wing media he seeks to impress, Francis has said that the Church needs to stop being ‘obsessed’ with abortion and gay marriage, and instead of seeking to convert people, “we need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.”
And now for some facts: it is, not to put too fine a point on it, a lie that Francis "seeks to impress". This again is to poison the well by casting him as a politician craving the approval of a constituency. Likewise, it is a lie that Francis said that the Church needs to stop being "obsessed" with abortion and gay marriage. Let's let the screen go all wavy and the harp music sound as we travel back in time to what Francis actually said:
If you want to really understand what the pope said you need to grasp that the central issue for him is the living encounter between Jesus Christ and each human person. Here are the *real* key words from the interview:“The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”
That’s the key to understanding everything else in Francis’ interview. The whole thing was about the fact that the faith is primarily an encounter of human persons with the person of Christ, not about salvation by rules and slogans. It’s in *that* context that he makes the following remarks:We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
“This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
There are two massive ironies about this whole kerfuffle.
The first irony is that the press pored over a 12,000 word interview, zeroed in on a dozen words on the Pelvic Issues and declared “POPE SAYS CATHOLICS OBSESSED ABOUT SEX!!!!” Erm, have you checked the mirror, MSM?
That said, the Pope isn’t wrong to direct his message to Catholics. And his principal message to conservative Catholics when it comes to the Pelvic Issues is “Don’t be as cramped, narrow, and blind to the person as the world and the world’s media is. When you focus too much on fighting the world you start to think like the world, trying to run the Church by rules and laws and slogans and power and fear and punishment and not by putting first things first: which is Jesus Christ and our personal encounter with him. The press can’t be expected to get that. But we Catholics *must* get that.”
Okay. Back to the present. The second lie of that paragraph is the thorough-going lie that this intensely missionary pope has no interest in evangelization. Fr. Robert Barron explains just how massively false that lie is:
This rubbish that the Pope does not "seek to convert people" is, as I have noted previously, a favorite lie of Reactionaries who, in fact, not only have no interest in evangelization, but are positively hostile to the Church's missionary imperative. Indeed, it is precisely because Francis is evangelizing the Wrong People that they fear him. Instead of drawing lines designed to keep out the riff raff and protect the Pure within Fortress Katolicus, he is abandoning the Fortress and crossing the lines--and the riff raff are listening. What Shaw means by "convert" is what Benedict, not Francis, condemns as proselytism. No. Really. You can read all about it on the blog of that notorious modernist Fr. Z:
Benedict said:The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction“- just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfills her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.
And "attractive" is precisely what Francis is. Also orthodox. Completely. As in, "has never denied or betrayed any teaching of holy Church". That's cuz he's, you know, the pope. Meanwhile, at FOX, we read:
This softly-softly approach of not making a fuss has been tried before, and failed. The Second Vatican Council of the 1960’s aimed to “open the windows” of the Church to the modern world by doing just this.
The result was the Catholic version of New Coke. Across the West where the effects were felt, seminaries and convents emptied, church attendance plummeted, and adherence to Church doctrine diminished.
John Paul II and Benedict XVI worked hard to turn this trend around, but now Pope Francis wants the bad old days to resume.
This, being translated, means that a Council of Holy Church and its teachings, not the bad implementation of them, is what's wrong with the Church and that JPII and Benedict fought that council, not its misinterpretation. It also is a reiteration of the claim that Francis is, in contrast to his predecessors, at war with the true teaching of the Church (meaning whatever it is Shaw likes).
In fact, however, all three pontiffs have been staunch defenders of the Council and have said largely the same things. The reason for this is simple: they were, you know, popes and the pope teaches what the Church teaches.
Proof of this is Francis’ aforementioned statement of the Church being obsessed with controversial issues and the need to rebalance by talking about it less.
Except that he never said any such thing. Ever.
That Francis didn’t see that this would be translated into headlines of “Pope tells Catholics to shut up about things that offend Sandra Fluke” by every left-wing media outlet shows a terrifying naivety.
Shaw, now perhaps sensing that he is, in fact, skating very close to calling both Francis and the Council heretical, suddenly shifts to another favorite strategy: the Naivety Ploy. In this, the critic uses doubletalk to continue the assault by blaming the pope for the way in which others misunderstand him. It's like saying that because Jesus was misunderstood when he declared "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" it therefore follows that Jesus was wrong to say it. Given that the New Testament is a body of literature whose every line has been misunderstood and in need of interpretation by the Church for 2000 solid years, it seems a bit hard to demand that the pope never speak publicly until he can absolutely guarantee no news organ in the world misunderstands him. But FOX is doing a hit piece, not real analysis. So we will pass over this.
Nor do his comments reflect reality.
For years, the majority of priests didn't dare cover controversial topics in their homilies in fear of getting angry letters from pick-and-choose Catholics outraged that their pastor dared to say something out of line with the Democratic Party.
Most parishioners therefore haven’t heard the Church’s argument on controversial topics. Consequently, usage of contraception is only slightly lower in Catholics than in the general population, and support of gay marriage is actually higher in Catholics than the general population. Perhaps talking about it even less isn’t the answer?
Speaking of "not reflecting reality", from which planet does Mr. Shaw hail that he seriously believes nobody knows what the Catholic Church teaches about abortion, gay "marriage" and related FOX culture war red meat issues? Is there anybody in the world who does not know? What is at issue is not that people are unfamiliar with the Church's moral teachings, it is that they are not familiar with the gospel, which is the reason for the Church's moral teaching. The gospel is not a set of moral and ethical precepts. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. If the Church abandons that or places it a remote second to anything else, whether adolescent progressive political agendas or red meat culture war political agendas or any other creature, it becomes guilty of idolatry.
In trying to please the media and the modern world, Francis mistakes their glee for respect. Just like Obama thought he’d won over Putin by promising a reset, Francis thinks by talking vacuously about the poor, he will be respected. And it is vacuous -- the pontiff recently asked why it’s news that the stock market drops but not when an old person dies. When your leader is asking, “Why isn’t the newspaper a laundry list of obituaries?” you know you elected the wrong guy.
Here again, Shaw engages in a rather sleazy act of mind reading. How exactly does he know who Francis is trying to please? How does he know he is trying to please anybody but God? And how, in particular, does he come to the conclusion that Francis is "talking vacuously" about the poor? The anecdote he cites is, rather obviously, a restatement of the perfectly Christian sentiment that every single human being is more important than all the money in the world, not an obituary policy recommendation for the editorial boards of the MSM. Back when Catholics got their teaching from Jesus and not Rupert Murdoch, it was a commonplace that it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and lose his own soul. But at FOX, it is seriously entertained that a video game reviewer can declare that the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, "elected the wrong guy"--and only moments after denouncing "pick and choose" Catholics. And they say that Progressive Dissenters like Pelosi have a corner on hubris and chutzpah.
What effect is this having? For all we’re being told about how ‘disenfranchised’ Catholics are being brought back by Francis ‘reaching out,’ a recent Pew Research study showed that in America, the number of people who identify as Catholic has actually decreased. Lesson: rubbing the egos of Church-hating left-wingers doesn’t make more Catholics, it just makes the Church less respected.
What Shaw neglects to mention in this incredibly dishonest paragraph is that the American Church's demographics have been in decline for years due to a number of factors having nothing whatsoever to do with Francis, or indeed with any pope. Everything from declining marriage rates to the the priest scandal have contributed to the decline (see Sherry Weddell's excellent Forming Intentional Disciples for an analysis of all this, and for a remarkably Franciscan prescription for healing the problem that the good Pope gets and is implementing.) In a word, the answer for the American Church is not better popes, but Americans grasping what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and not somebody who uses him as a sock puppet for their favorite ideology. That is exactly what Francis is teaching and, if we listen, we will indeed see a change in the American Church. How do we know this? Because it has been the immemorial experience of the Church in every period of renewal. This by the way, includes the present moment. For the other fact Shaw leaves out of his analysis is that the US is not the center of the Church. In the global south where Francis comes from, the Church has, according to John Allen, Jr., grown 7000% in the past century, making this present hour, without any possible comparison, the greatest period of the Church's growth in her history. Bottom line: blaming Francis for failing to turn around a long trend in American demographics in the space of nine months is like blaming him for failing to stop an oncoming train with his bare hands. Likewise, complaining about decline while totally ignoring the explosive growth of the Church elsewhere in the world is an egregious omission excusable only by rank ignorance.
Francis not only panders to enemies and professional grievance mongers, but also attacks his allies. Just as Obama snubs Britain and Israel, Pope Francis swipes at practicing Catholics.
So not only has he insulted, and severely damaged the work of, pro-life and pro-marriage groups with his comments, he has also gone on the attack, dismissing Catholics who attend the older rites in Latin as ‘ideologizing’ and being guilty of ‘exploitation.’ Apparently “Who am I to judge?” doesn’t apply here.
All the stops are pulled out in this hatchet job. Francis is like somebody who is willing to let the Jews be driven into the sea! And the Pharisaic subtext is clear, in addition to the lie that he has insulted prolife and pro-marriage work, the claim is that he has insulted the really truly good and pure Catholics, who are not like those filthy tax collectors and sinners.
No. He has not insulted the faithful, be they the Pure or the unclean riff raff. He approved the Tridentine rite within 24 hours of the promulgation of Benedict's motu proprio. For his troubles, he was reviled and despised by Argentinian Reactionaries who managed a charming combination of whining dissatisfaction (the priest who celebrated the rite did not do so with the absolute perfection they demanded, so they had hysterics) and they combined their rage at the Church with a truly disgusting hatred of Jews and Holocaust Denial (note that Dawn Eden, who broke the story is, herself, a Traditionalist who prefers the older rites of the Church). That Shaw ignores this background is, again, explicable only by complete and utter ignorance or deliberate deception. That some Reactionaries have chosen to feel offended at Francis is not evidence that Francis has done anything offensive.
On world matters, Francis’ statements are embarrassing. About communism, a destructive ideology that slaughtered millions of Catholics, he said:
“Learning about it through a courageous and honest person was helpful. I realized…an aspect of the social, which I then found in the social doctrine of the Church."
This is, again, an absurd stab at guilt by association. It's also a dishonest twist of the Pope's remarks. Here is the exchange in full:
EUGENIO. Were you seduced by Communism?
POPE FRANCIS . “Her materialism had no hold over me. But learning about it through a courageous and honest person was helpful. I realized a few things, an aspect of the social, which I then found in the social doctrine of the Church.”
What Shaw is attempting here is like saying that since Thomas Aquinas found something useful in Aristotle and Averroes, he therefore has no disagreement with Greek paganism or Islam. It's an excellent specimen of the sort of tribal rhetoric that typifies a secularized American. But it's a million miles from the Catholic faith which teaches "Test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Not such kind words for the free market, however. In his recent apostolic exhortation he slammed unfettered capitalism, calling it ‘a new tyranny.’
Apart from the fact that there is no major nation practicing unfettered capitalism (like Obama, Francis loves attacking straw men) there is more real tyranny in socialist cesspools like Francis’ home of Argentina than in places where capitalism is predominant.
Here is a particularly fine specimen of the sort of pack journalism that leads straight to pseudoknowledge. As Josh Billings famously said, "
As author John Medaille has pointed out:
I must have read the term "unfettered capitalism" in dozens of right-wing attacks on Evangelii Gaudium. The odd thing is, neither the word "capitalism," nor the word "unfettered" appears in the document, much less the phrase. So where did the phrase come from, that it should appear as a standard feature in so many attacks? I can only assume that the critics have not actually read the document; instead, the term gained life inside the right-wing echo chamber where one critic created a straw man, and the rest dutifully repeated it.
Shaw's hit piece is, if nothing else, a dutiful repetition of the party line attack on Francis from the Right. But as he demonstrates, he has not the slightest idea what Francis has to say--and he seems remarkably uninterested in knowing given his massive misstatements and repetition of pure pseudoknowledge. The stuff about "unfettered capitalism" is one of the standard straw man ways of deflecting Francis' (very real) critique of the first world's blind devotion to Mammon at the expense of human beings.
Straw men deflection works this way. Suppose you are a member of Catholics for a Free Choice and you want to ignore the Church's obvious teaching that, as Francis says, abortion is a sin that cries out to God for vengeance. Here's what you do:
1. Invent a straw man (say, "Serving babies with apples in their mouths for dinner at posh restaurants")
2. Attribute condemnation of that straw man to Francis: "In his new encyclical, he slammed "serving babies with apples in their mouths for dinner at posh restaurants"
3. Point out that neither you nor anybody else is advocating serving babies with apples in their mouths for dinner at posh restaurants.
4. Declare that since nobody is advocating the fake thing you claim Francis is condemning, it therefore follows he is not attacking what you are, in fact, doing. In the case of CFFC, that would be "defending the murder of innocent babies". In the case of Shaw, that would be "defending a socioeconomic system that crushes the poor and vulnerable and oppresses and exploits the weak in many places all over the world": what Jesus called "serving Mammon".
In the document he rejects the free market and calls for governments to overhaul financial systems so they attack inequality. In doing so he shows himself painfully misguided on economics, failing to see that free markets have consistently lifted the poor out of poverty, while socialism merely entrenches them in it, or kills them outright.
Interestingly, Shaw having just denied the existence of "truly" free market, now insists on it. He apparently means that laissez faire capitalism is the ideal and that the state should have absolutely no role in ensuring that the market serves the common good. He seems to be unaware of the fact that Pope Leo XIII condemned laissez faire capitalism over a century ago in Rerum Novarum.
Like Obama, Francis is unable to see the problems that are really endangering his people. Like Obama he mistakes the faithful for the enemy, the enemy for his friend, condescension for respect, socialism for justice and capitalism for tyranny.
This is deeply mysterious. Francis is unable to see that failure to uncritically embrace the unfettered free market is what is really endangering his people? When did unfettered capitalism, heedless of the common good, become a dogma of the Church? Francis regards "the faithful" as enemies? Really? Francis' charity and love of people outside the FOX rolodex is fraternizing with enemies? As in "love your enemies", do you mean, Mr. Shaw? As to mistaking "condescension for respect" I confess that I am at a loss to decode what that means in any way. Likewise, I am not persuaded--given the massively inept and dishonest reading of everything else the Pope has said, that Shaw's simple Manichaean summation "socialism=justice/capitalism=tyranny" captures the depth of the Pope's thought any better than a Mr. Yuk sticker captures the essence of the Mona Lisa..
As a Catholic, I do hope Francis’ papacy is a successful one, but from his first months he seems hell-bent on a path to undo the great work of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and to repeat critical mistakes of the past.
And with this, again, Mr. Shaw captures the gigantic irony of the Francis-bashing Reactionary: he deeply believes exactly the same absurd falsehood that the MSM promulgates: the lie that Francis is bound and determined to reject what his predecessors and the Church for 2000 years have taught. As Pat Archbold showed months ago, this stupid good cop/bad cop dog won't hunt, but Reactionaries cling to it anyway, as they cling to the myth that Evangelii Gaudium talks about "unfettered capitalism". In point of fact, Francis says pretty much what Benedict and John Paul II said about pretty much everything--including the allegedly revolutionary stuff critiquing capitalism and calling for the state to ensure that the market is ordered toward the common good. It's just that nobody listened to Benedict and everybody assumed that since he was more interested in the Extraordinary Form than Francis is he must also agree with the libertarian ideology of the Thing that Used to be Conservatism. He didn't. He believed--as Francis does--in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church which, yes, says that the state has a real role in making sure that the common good is served.
CCC 1910 Each human community possesses a common good which permits it to be recognized as such; it is in the political community that its most complete realization is found. It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.
Benedict, like Francis, believed and taught this because he, like his predecessor and successor was, you know, pope.
The excuse Reactionaries always give for this kind of sleazy hit piece on Church teaching they don't like is that Francis is not talking dogma here, so we are "free to reject it". Well, truth to tell, we are free to hit ourselves in the head with a hammer too. There's no dogma forbidding it. But in fact, the Church does not function according to the axiom "That which is not forbidden is compulsory." Instead she teaches:
CCC 87 Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me", the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.
This means, in plain English, that fidelity to the Faith is not "Obey the dogma and blow off anything else you don't like." Rather, it means that unless you can find a really good reason not to, Catholics should obey, not just the dogmatic teaching of the Church, but even the fallible counsels of the Church. In the American Church, the Left invokes "primacy of conscience" and the Right invokes "Prudential judgment" as the preferred fig leaves for blowing off the Church's teaching. But, in fact, cases where the Church really puts us in a position of violating our conscience or attempting something totally impossible and immoral are very rare. Meanwhile, "prudential judgment" actually means trying your best to prudently obey the Church's teaching--including the parts you don't like. It does not mean "feel free to ignore everything but the dogmatic bits."
There is a great deal of mischief at work in Mr. Shaw's bull of excommunication against Francis--and even more in the fact that FOX chose to run it at the exact same moment Mr. Limbaugh has issued his denunciations of the Pope. But in the end, the core mischief comes down to these words, spoken not, by a non-Catholic who can't be expected to understand Church teaching, nor by a garden variety Progressive Dissenter like Pelosi, Biden or Sebelius (from whom you expect such repudation of Church teaching) but from somebody who proclaims himself judge, jury, and executioner of "pick and choose" Catholics while, with breathtaking arrogance, telling the Spirit-led Church: "You elected the wrong guy."
In reply, I refer Mr. Shaw to St. Augustine: "If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself."
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