From Molly Worthen’s Review of Ross Douthat’s Review of Pope Francis (in the Times)

This was Luther’s point (along with a lot of other Reformers):

One might argue that the Catholic hierarchy’s entwinement with state power and wealth from the 4th century until our own time constitutes one long, largely unrepentant heretical act. It is a rebellion against Jesus’ declaration that his “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), that Christians should refrain from serving both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24) and should render unto Caesar only the things that are Caesar’s (Mark 12:17). The pope’s effort to disentangle his church from the excesses of neoliberalism and nationalist politics is a profound act of resistance against the forces of secularization and worldliness, far braver than his opponents’ defense of traditional marriage.

The problem for this reading of Pope Francis is that such “entwinement” with the things of this world has hardly gone away during this pope’s tenure. If as the old adage has it, actions speak louder than words, the Vatican will show that Francis’ words matter when it gives up the Swiss Guard, the Vatican museums, the pope becomes a bishop of a large metropolitan city like any other archbishop (and has to negotiate properties and staff with local governments), the Vatican bank becomes a branch of Bank of America, and well . . .

A lot has to change for the papacy to be its truly spiritual office.

6 thoughts on “From Molly Worthen’s Review of Ross Douthat’s Review of Pope Francis (in the Times)

  1. DGH – the review didn’t say the problem was “entwinement with things of this world,” but rather “entwinement with state power and wealth.” These are two different things. Both are problematic, but the intermingling of the secular state with the institutional Church is the biggest problem of all. I don’t have a big problem with the Swiss guard and the museums and all that, but I do have a problem with the institutional Church advocating specific secular government policies. Francis has absolutely done this, and therefore is not as brave as Molly Worthen would like to think.


  2. VV,

    But the Swiss Guard and the museums are vestiges of the Vatican’s being a secular state with an army. Now it’s just a mostly toothless state militarily.


  3. Robert – true, especially about the Swiss guards. In my view they are more traditional and ceremonial (especially their attire and title) than anything else. The museum is a somewhat different story. Part of the museum includes the Sistine Chapel and Rafael’s salons, which alone are worth the price of admission and long lines. To me the museum is the result of 2,000 years of existence, 500 of which have been in the current St. Peter’s and the Vatican. Kind of like very old hospitals (e.g. Mass General and Bellevue) collecting old horse-drawn ambulances and other historical medical devices: it’s more an artifact of age and long history than worldliness.


  4. vv, what don’t you understand about “profound act of resistance against the forces of secularization and worldliness”? Worthen’s quote.


  5. DGH – right, but the context is clearly state power and wealth. The beginning of the sentence you quote references the “excesses of neoliberalism and nationalist politics.” I doubt the Vatican Museum is what she had in mind in the fragment you quoted. In any case, she is completely blind to Francis’ polemical forays in favor of progressive politics.


  6. VV,

    True. I guess I would say, however, that the only reason why the Vatican has that stuff is because of involvement with worldly politics. Strong-arming peasants for donations/indulgences and all that.


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