I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution

Francis X. Rocca has a long piece at the Wall Street Journal about Cardinal Pell and his Secretariat for the Economy, recognizing what we’ve been saying for a while: the Pope’s financial reforms have not been going well. But Rocca provides some of the background to the Pope’s gradual withdrawal of authority from Cardinal Pell and the Secretariat, following some lightning reforms early in his pontificate:

In a series of moves over about 18 months, Francis stripped Cardinal Pell of control over APSA’s real-estate holdings. He declined to approve his recommendations to reorganize the management of the financial portfolio. He wrote and made public a pointed letter making clear that all hiring and transfer of personnel required the approval of the office of Cardinal Parolin. The audit was scrapped, and in July, he took away most of the management functions—for payroll, payment and procurement services—and restored them to APSA.

“When a new administrative body is created, it always takes a while until it fits into the broader organization,” said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke. “We shouldn’t be distracted by the noise.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Part of this is the usual clamor about Cardinal Pell, who is seen as a conservative. Robert Mickens, formerly of The Tablet (as some of our readers may recall), and Andrea Tornielli are quoted for context. Big surprise.

But Rocca provides some interesting information:

The real-estate move and plans for the investments raised hackles at APSA and other offices.

APSA’s president, Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, has developed a strong relationship with Francis, who over time has become more connected to insiders at the Vatican. The two frequently eat together in the dining hall at the Vatican guesthouse, where the pope lives.

Cardinal Calcagno declined to comment on Cardinal Pell’s remarks about APSA, saying only that he was “disconcerted” by the statements.

The Secretary of State also controlled extensive investments, and the powers of Cardinal Parolin over hiring and spending were under threat.

Then the pope started paring Cardinal Pell’s powers.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.


Vietnam and Christian intellectuals

A while back we commented on Alan Jacobs’s piece decrying the absence of Christian intellectuals in American public discourse. You may recall that Jacobs’s discussed Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Neuhaus’s magazine, First Things, at some length in his essay. R.R. Reno, the current editor of First Things, has commented himself on Jacobs’s essay, and he makes a couple of interesting points. First, he brings out in greater detail something we merely alluded to:

There’s something to this analysis, but I’d add another factor, unmentioned by Jacobs. The biggest shift in American religious culture in my lifetime has been the extraordinary decline of mainline Protestantism as a vital force in public life. The mainline Protestant tradition had inherited the establishmentarian mentality of New England Puritanism, along with Puritanism’s urgent moralism. As a consequence, the leaders of mainline Protestantism saw themselves as the “conscience of the nation.” In mid-twentieth-century America, as men of letters, social reformers, and political rhetoricians were transformed into “intellectuals” (itself a fascinating story), mainline Protestants came to play that role as well, and did so in theological as well as sociological and philosophical terms.

(Emphasis supplied.) He goes on to say:

The decline of mainline Protestantism was part of a larger dissolution of centrist American institutions. Universities today are far less likely to produce intellectuals. The reason for this failure is not just specialization (although that is a factor) but ideological homogeneity. To a degree that I could not foresee when I was a college student nearly forty years ago, the world of ideas has become almost entirely colonized by the political urgencies of the moment.

(Emphasis supplied.) As Matthew Sitman has noted, Jacobs is only really interested in the output of liberal protestant intellectuals from about 1945 to 1970. Of the examples Jacobs cites, Auden lived the longest, and he died in 1973. And, while we are not a sociologist of American religion, this seems to jive with Reno’s point. We certainly have the impression that mainline protestantism fell off a cliff in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Certainly we have a hard time recalling any time since then that mainline protestants have been a force to be reckoned with.

We also wonder, perhaps with a comic-book understanding of American history, whether a broader trend of antiestablishment sentiment should be considered when examining this phenomenon. Reno makes the point that liberal protestants had a strong investment in the American establishment, going back, no doubt, to colonial times. But by the end of the 1960s, the establishment was not looking so hot. If you draw bright brackets around 1945 and 1970, you include an active phase of the civil rights struggle and most of the United States’ escalation in the Vietnam War. Indeed, we wonder whether the Vietnam War didn’t have much to do with the rise of antiestablishment sentiment in the United States. For example, Operation Rolling Thunder commenced on March 2, 1965 and Operation Arc Light sometime before the middle of 1965. The Tet Offensive began at the end of January 1968. The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned into a general melee as a result of clashes between protesters and Mayor Richard Daley’s police. And more generally at about this time, radical leftist factions—especially student groups—were involved in high profile actions. Obviously, we don’t mean to set up a montage of late-1960s strife set to the strains of “Fortunate Son,” but we think it is worth considering that at about the same time Christian intellectuals—and, indeed, mainline protestantism—are disappearing, antiestablishment sentiment in the United States is reaching a fever pitch over the Vietnam War.

However, if there is a relationship between the rise of antiestablishment sentiment caused by the Vietnam War and the decline of protestant intellectuals, it is a complicated one. But perhaps there’s a link. Jacobs mentioned Fr. Neuhaus as a Lutheran, active in the civil rights movement and in opposing the Vietnam War. Reno observes:

Richard John Neuhaus was a good example. Although formed in the more isolated atmosphere of Missouri Synod Lutheranism, Neuhaus came of age politically and intellectually as a participant in mainline Protestant–dominated organizations supporting civil rights and then opposing the Vietnam War. He possessed an inborn confidence, but that confidence was reinforced by the mainline Protestant sense of ownership over the moral future of America.

(Emphasis supplied.) Perhaps it was the failure of these organizations to, well, do anything to stop the war that drove their decline. While the civil rights movement resulted in actual achievements, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the antiwar movement did not produce many (any?) similar achievements. Again, we do not want to suggest that Vietnam was the defining moment for American mainline protestants and their intellectual vanguard; however, it is difficult to maintain a sense of ownership over a country’s moral future when the country manifestly does not listen to you. To put it another way, it is passing hard “to transcend the ideological conflicts of the moment in order to speak to the nation as a whole” when the nation clearly isn’t listening.

Or maybe not. It’s an interesting question, and it would be fascinating to see an author explore the question at length.

Reno makes another point, very self-aware, and we wanted to mention it, too:

By the time Neuhaus founded First Things, it was already obvious that mainline Protestantism was finished. It had become a chaplaincy for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Neuhaus thought Evangelical and Catholic intellectuals could fill the void, providing America with a religiously informed public philosophy suited to our times. (I’m so thoroughly catechized by the First Things project that those words flow out of me effortlessly.) As Jacobs laments, however, this vision has not come to pass. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Alan were to say that folks like me have become a chaplaincy for the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

(Emphasis supplied.) We might, in an uncharitable moment, be inclined to agree that, in many ways, the First Things project has been largely Catholics, evangelicals, and others united to give the Republican Party some intellectual cover. But First Things is not alone, nor is it the worst offender. Groups like the Acton Institute seem altogether more interested in providing a theological and philosophical framework for conventional Republican ideology than First Things. And the shifting landscape of the Republican Party seems apt to draw First Things out of a cozy relationship. By this, of course, we mean: Donald Trump is mixing up the established order. Reno himself was a major contributor to National Review‘s Against Trump issue, for example. And we have heard reports that some Trump supporters have been highly critical of First Things for what they perceive as regular anti-Trump coverage.

Something else to think about, at any rate.

Shea, Fisher, politics, and the Catholic Media

We note at the outset that we did not follow either Mark Shea or Simcha Fisher all that closely. This will surprise no one, but we probably were not the target audience or the ideal reader for either of them. However, from time to time, something they wrote at the National Catholic Register (or elsewhere) would bubble into our sphere. Sometimes we agreed, sometimes we disagreed, but never especially vehemently and never often. The fact of the matter is that neither of them wrote regularly on topics in which we ourselves were interested. Over the last few days, it appears that the National Catholic Register (or its parent company, EWTN) has fired both Shea and Fisher. This has provoked a lot of reaction, both cheering the firings and lamenting them. It seems to us that the firings, which may or may not have been just considered on their own terms, say something important about the state of American Catholic media.

Shea’s firing was very strange. The Register, in a statement issued concerning the firing, stated that Shea never violated their editorial standards. However, it appears that statements he made on other websites were sufficient to cause them to terminate his employment. (It does not appear that Shea broke those other websites’ rules.) In other words, the Register admits that Shea’s work for them was at least minimally satisfactory. Strange, then, that he would be let go. Fisher’s firing was stranger still, since it remains hugely unclear to us what she was let go for. Some people have suggested that it was due to some vulgar language in a political context, others that she expressed too much support for Shea. It seems that one explanation that has been given is that Shea and Fisher can be pointed in different ways in their interactions on Facebook, but that hardly seems like a justification for firing someone, not least since a platform like Facebook encourages pointed interactions.

And we have spoken with some folks who have had less than charming interactions with Mark Shea in particular, and they believe that he could be very pointed and very dismissive of his opponents. Though we have yet to see a debate on matters of faith conducted on the internet that does not involve someone being very pointed and very dismissive of one’s opponents. Perhaps Shea exceeded the limits imposed by charity, perhaps he didn’t. That’s a matter for him and his confessor. We mention it only to say that sharp elbows seem to be a known hazard among those of us who discuss these matters on the internet. One may celebrate Shea getting at long last his comeuppance, but one shouldn’t whistle past the graveyard quite so cheerfully. We wouldn’t want to be judged on our worst interactions. Likewise, people feel that Fisher could be pointed. However, it seems to us that Fisher does not quite have the same reputation for nastiness that Shea does.

It is also, we will say only briefly, something else to see traditionally minded Catholics, who have been tone-policed and concern-trolled, to say the least, by everyone from high prelates in the Church on down at various times, engaging in exactly the same sort of behavior that was intolerable when applied to them. Error has no rights, it is true, but let us be humane about these things, even if our opponents are not.

At any rate, we have seen some gloating among traditionally minded Catholics, many of whom never had a lot of use for EWTN or the National Catholic Register to begin with, over Shea and Fisher’s firings. The thrust of it is that Shea and Fisher weren’t traditionally minded Catholics and maybe even weren’t all that conservative, and, thus, they deserved what they got. Some folks might even be able to point to specific issues on which Shea and Fisher were insufficiently orthodox or whatever, but even that may presuppose a traditional mindset. (Certainly, we have questions about NFP as it is currently understood popularly, to take one example at semi-random, but we strive to avoid discussing the matter at any length for a variety of reasons.) But it is unclear to us that EWTN or the Register is especially known for the sort of precise, clear-eyed orthodoxy that other outlets are. They seem to be, instead, the voice of a center-right, middle-of-the-road American Catholicism.

This seems to us to be the crucial problem. It seems to us that Shea and Fisher were not heterodox in a relevant way (at least from the corporation’s perspective), so much as they were inconvenient to the specific coalition that EWTN and the Register serve. A traditionally minded Catholic might call the coalition “neo-Caths on the American political right.” (The Reporter is, of course, their left counterpart. More on that in a second.) This is, of course, insider jargon, but what it means is, essentially, a Catholic for whom the doctrine of the Church begins and ends with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the platform of the Republican Party. Shea and Fisher often pitched to the left, speaking in American political terms, of this alliance, though I don’t think either of them is a leftist in conventional terms. Shea perhaps is more explicitly to the left, insofar as part of his project was rejecting the implication that Catholics have to be on the American political right. But, notwithstanding their precise personal categorization, neither of them spends a lot of time making nice with Catholics on the American political right.  And that seems to be a big part of the problem for us with the Shea and Fisher situation. Perhaps Shea is uncharitable in online interactions; perhaps Fisher uses vulgar language when she oughtn’t; but both of those things seem to be convenient pretexts for the Register getting rid of some contributors who don’t fit in with the broader political tendencies of the Register‘s constituency.

Just as EWTN and the Register is the house organ of the neo-Cath/GOP coalition, so too is the Reporter the house organ of Catholics on the American political left. And both sides have essentially guaranteed that their readers will never be challenged by a contrary view. Name one politically conservative writer for the Reporter. Try to name one politically liberal, or relatively politically liberal, writer for the Register (after Shea and Fisher got canned). There is, then, no contradiction to either publication’s contention that they represent the correct expression of Catholicism in the United States, which involves fusion with one or the other major political party, when anyone with eyes to see can identify the serious problems with either. Moreover, the ideological purification of the publications only furthers this toxic, erroneous notion that Catholics ought to engage wholeheartedly with the categories of the American political spectrum.

We have said and said, both here and elsewhere, that the alliance between Catholics and the American political right, forged largely on the basis of the Republican Party’s laudable opposition to legalized infanticide, is one of the most damaging relationships that the Church has entered. It seemingly locks Catholics into a set of policies that in many ways deviate seriously from the traditional teaching of the Church, especially on issues central to the Church’s social teaching. Consider Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s immigration platform. Are a border wall and aggressive background investigations for some immigrants consistent with the natural right of migration that Pius XII articulated in his radio address on the 50th anniversary of Rerum novarum or in his Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana? (We leave it to you to decide, though we suspect you know what we think.) And other issues could be mentioned, if you think immigration too hot button an issue. A Catholic who wants to be a good Republican is, therefore, in a bind. And Shea and Fisher, each in their way, did little to make that situation more comfortable for those Catholics.

We note in passing that Catholics who want to be good Democrats have been in a very serious bind for a very long time, and we will not rehearse all the problems with that approach, since they are all too obvious and all too well known. We don’t want to minimize this difficult, but we don’t want to bore you (or ourselves) by repeating the all the allegations of the libellus. Suffice it to say that no Catholic can wholeheartedly support—or, indeed, even support in the slightest way without the gravest reservations and for a grave cause—a political party that makes a “right” to infanticide and contraception a cornerstone of its platform.

Indeed, it goes beyond mere discomfort: Trump is causing strain within this traditional coalition. George Weigel and Robert George came out strong against Trump in March, when the Trump candidacy was still a contingent thing. (We probably criticized it here then, as little more than an objection that Trump was outside the neo-Cath/GOP consensus, which still seems a just critique to us.) And even sources that aren’t hugely in touch with Catholic thought realize, especially in the light of Steve Bannon’s comments, among other things, that Trump has a hard time connecting with Catholics. In other words, not only is the dual loyalty of this neo-Cath/GOP coalition a difficulty philosophically, but also the concrete problem of Donald Trump is a tremendous difficulty. A Catholic who wants to be a good Republican is in a very serious bind in the age of Donald Trump.

Catholics—at least Catholics who are serious about the Church’s teachings—know that all this is exactly backwards. The American political spectrum ought to engage wholeheartedly with the teachings of the Church. Catholics should not run to figure out how they can combine their political beliefs and their faith comfortably. Indeed, the only way the sickness in American culture gets better is by submitting to Christ the King and His Church, not by demanding that Christ get out of public life and that the Church accommodate whatever novelty, however wretched, people come up with.


You were there: the end of “National Review”

The Trump phenomenon—based, we acknowledge, primarily in the anxieties of middle-class whites, which is not an altogether comforting point—has whipped movement conservatives into a frenzy. And why not? They’re about to lose their grip on the Republican Party. The latest paroxysm of this frenzy is Kevin Williamson’s National Review article, “The Father-Führer.”

In this piece, which only goes downhill (if possible) from the title, Williamson argues, essentially, that the middle-class whites of America behind the Trump movement have only themselves to blame for their lot in life. Trump isn’t the answer; abandoning their doomed communities and their wastrel ways is the answer. Only he’s not as polite as that. His piece is behind a paywall, but a National Review colleague, running to save Williamson from the tidal wave of opprobrium quotes extensively from it. Williamson’s viciousness reaches its fullest expression with this nasty little peroration:

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your g——-d gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

(Expletive redacted.) If the best answer Kevin Williamson can come up with for Trump is to recite the same old conservative dogmas, but louder and meaner, then Kevin Williamson does not have an answer. Because Williamson’s piece boils down to the same old poor bashing that some conservatives resort to whenever their policies don’t produce the results they think they should. (If only the Czar knew!) That National Review thinks that that’s somehow an answer to the Trump phenomenon, then National Review is out of answers, too. In fact, we’re inclined to say that “The Father-Führer” represents the end of National Review.

It is plain that National Review is panicked by Donald Trump. We note that they did devote seemingly an entire issue—or at least a significant portion of an entire issue—to brief essays “against Trump.” And they printed that plea for help from Catholics from Robert George and George Weigel a little while back. Of course, National Review is right to be panicked by the Trump movement, because Trump has tapped into a right-wing current different than the economic and moral currents generally claimed by the conservative movement. And it is clear that many Americans no longer believe in basic, Reagan-era conservative doctrine, largely because they have noticed that that doctrine has not, in point of fact, stopped their communities from being devastated one way or another. It is no surprise that they’ve run to someone who promises something better, but it is surprising that National Review hasn’t come up with a better response.

We note in passing that we could be wrong, and this could be little more than a profoundly snotty reaction of a thought leader who has discovered that his followers have run to the other guy’s show, but, in a way, that’s worse. It means that deep suspicion of cultural and political elites that runs through the Trump movement is justified or at least justifiable. 

But the thing is, we agree: Donald Trump is not the answer to what’s wrong with America today. No politician is. The towering Pope Pius XI tells us that only the Social Kingship of Christ will cure the disease at the heart of modern American society—and modern society more generally. But even speaking in narrowly political terms: Donald Trump is not the answer. But neither is Republican Party orthodoxy, however stringently one wants to express it. As we have discussed previously, it is Republican Party orthodoxy that created the conditions that made Trump possible. Doubling down on that orthodoxy is not going to make Trump go away. And insisting that it will obliterates one’s credibility.

Just read National Review if you don’t believe us.


Some remarks on Kaveny and Neuhaus

A sharp young Catholic of our acquaintance has pointed us to an interesting exchange over the past couple of weeks. At Commonweal, Cathleen Kaveny argued that the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus sowed division in the Church by articulating a vision of conservative Catholics collaborating with evangelicals and Jews on points of agreement for political reasons. In Kaveny’s opinion, Neuhaus led conservative Catholics away from progressive Catholics for political reasons, and this fundamental rift has become more obvious since the Holy Father marked out a course in his reign not wholly consonant with the political views of these conservative Catholics. In other words, political expediency drew Neuhaus and his circle away from Catholics and toward protestants and Jews, laying the groundwork for the debates we see in the Church today.

This argument was, well, received as well as one would expect. At First Things, R.R. Reno responded with a thorough rebuttal, making the essential point that, in some respects, conservative Catholics do, in fact, have more in common with conservative protestants and Jews than they do with their progressive Catholic brethren. Robert George responded, a little haughtily, and suggested that Caveny was running at Neuhaus only because she could do so without fear of hearing back from Neuhaus. And, at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters has responded a couple of times, first by sort of coming to the point that there’s division in the Church because the conservatives are no longer in good odor in Rome, and later by suggesting that progressive Catholics also made political deals that weren’t good for the unity of the Church. (Although how Neuhaus could have sown dissent is unclear, since the conservative faction of the Church was itself in good odor in Rome from October 1978 to March 2013. But we’ll pass over the anachronism.)

Read through the posts when you get a free minute. It’s practically a who’s-who of Catholic thought leaders.

For our part, it is really unclear what Kaveny thinks her argument is, since it seems to us that she has argued, more or less, that Neuhaus agreed with people he didn’t really agree with because they took similar political positions, and he turned his back on people he really agreed with because they took different political positions. But—and this is the problem—she compares apples and oranges to get there. As for her points of commonality between conservative and progressive Catholics, she looks toward the broadest possible points of agreement:

Does honoring Jesus as the Son of God count as a commonality? Like their conservative counterparts, progressive Roman Catholics acknowledge the divinity of Jesus Christ, and find the interpretive key to the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament. Orthodox Jews do not—indeed, must not—treat Jesus as the Messiah foretold in the Book of Isaiah. It would be blasphemous for them to do so.

Does living in the grace imparted by the sacraments count as a commonality? Both progressive and conservative Roman Catholics believe that God’s grace is channeled through the seven sacraments. Many Evangelical Protestants do not have the same view of grace or the sacraments; they often view the Eucharist as a memorial of a past event, not a way of being present with Christ here and now.

(Some of these things are exceptionally weird ways of expressing these commonalities, but we will pass over that quickly and assume that she means essentially what an orthodox Catholic would mean by these expressions.) But as for the points of agreement between conservative Catholics and conservative protestants and Jews, she looks to some very specific issues to find hidden disagreements.

Neuhaus’s defenders might say that he was concerned with commonalities among conservative Christians and Jews on hot-button issues: the ordination of women, contraception, same-sex marriage, and abortion.  But how deep are those commonalities? Many Evangelical Protestants, for example, believe that women should never exercise authority over men, especially but not exclusively in an ecclesiastical context. But the Catholic Church officially and vehemently denies that its exclusion of women from the priesthood is based on their inferiority to men—and points to the centuries old tradition of powerful, independent women religious as evidence. Orthodox Jews may oppose abortion—but not because they believe the fetus is an equally protectable human being. Under Jewish law, full protection for a new human person is triggered at birth. But in Catholic circles debates about abortion are usually about when a human life comes into being biologically.

In other words, Kaveny’s argument is that conservative and progressive Catholics agree on the broadest possible issues about Christ and his Church, but conservative Catholics reach the same conclusions as conservative protestants and Jews for different reasons. (So what?) She does not contend—and could not contend—that all progressive Catholics are on the same page as conservative Catholics about women’s ordination, contraception, marriage, and abortion. They are manifestly not in many instances. That they might agree about broad issues does not change those disagreements. (However, those disagreements cast real doubt on whether the broad areas of consensus are as they appear, even though we said we’d pass over that issue briefly.) So, Neuhaus collaborated, according to Kaveny, with people he agreed with on specific issues instead of people he agreed with on the broadest issues.

Apples and oranges. (Like we said.) And, accordingly, R.R. Reno has the better argument when he notes that a doctrinally conservative Catholic may, in fact, have more in common, especially in terms of outlook and approach, with a doctrinally conservative protestant or Jew, notwithstanding some serious differences, than he does with a progressive Catholic, who, often as not, holds Modernist and indifferentist views.

But the reason why Kaveny has to compare apples and oranges is because she won’t make the (easier) argument that the traditional social teaching of the Church is actually more consistent with some things that progressives are fond of. For example, both Leo XIII in Rerum novarum and Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno express real reservations about economic liberalism and unrestrained capitalism. And Pius XII affirmed in the strongest language—particularly in La solennità della Pentecoste, his 1941 radio address commemorating Rerum novarum, and Exsul Familia Nazarethana, his lengthy apostolic constitution on migrants—the right of individuals to migrate between countries and the positive effects of such migration. Certainly economic justice and immigration have consistently been traditional concerns of the Church and progressives in the Church tend to be more in tune with the Church’s traditional teaching on these points.

In fact, this point has come up a few times in the context of the Holy Father’s contemporary social teaching. Rorate Caeli ran a piece, almost two years ago, noting that the Holy Father was not far from the traditional social teaching of the Church. (Whether “New Catholic” would make the same argument after Laudato si’ is not clear to us.) And Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., has argued that Laudato si’ contains echoes of Pius IX’s monumental Quanta cura and its annexed Syllabus errorum in the Holy Father’s devastating critique of the individualist-technocratic rot at the heart of modernity. (He later pointed out that other authors made the same connection between Laudato si’ and Syllabus, though they didn’t understand what praise they were heaping on the encyclical and may even have thought that comparisons to Syllabus were negative.) But we digress.

In other words, Kaveny could have argued that Neuhaus ought to have cooperated with socially progressive Catholics because their views (generally) are actually fairly close to what the Church has traditionally taught about income inequality, poorly restrained markets, and the social obligations of capital. (But even this argument is essentially the seamless-garment argument articulated by John Cardinal Dearden, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, and other progressive Catholics, which has not met with uniform success. Or any success.) But she didn’t. Instead, she argued that, because conservative and progressive Catholics have some broad things in common, Neuhaus and the First Things set shouldn’t have cooperated with protestants and Jews on specific points that they have common with conservative Catholics (even if they have different reasons for having them in common).

And that sounds political.

A fresh shipment of tea leaves

The Holy Father has a new book out tomorrow—a lengthy interview or series of interviews with Andrea Tornielli called The Name of God Is Mercy—and Edward Pentin has some extracts at the National Catholic Register. We found this passage particularly interesting, largely because almost no one talks about John Paul I these days:

The Holy Father also remembers being touched by the writings of his predecessor Pope John Paul I, Albino Luciani. “There is the homily when Albino Luciani said he had been chosen because the Lord preferred that certain things not be engraved in bronze or marble but in the dust, so that if the writing had remained, it would have been clear that the merit was all and only God’s. He, the bishop and future Pope John Paul I, called himself ‘dust’.”

“I have to say that when I speak of this, I always think of what Peter told Jesus on the Sunday of his resurrection, when he met him on his own, a meeting hinted at in the Gospel of Luke. What might Peter have said to the Messiah upon his resurrection from the tomb? Might he have said that he felt like a sinner? He must have thought of his betrayal, of what had happened a few days earlier when he pretended three times not to recognise Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house. He must have thought of his bitter and public tears.”

“If Peter did all of that, if the gospels describe his sin and denials to us, and if despite all this Jesus said [to him], ‘tend my sheep’ (John 21), I don’t think we should be surprised if his successors describe themselves as sinners. It is nothing new.”

(Quotation marks in original.) However, we suspect, since the anticipation is that the Holy Father will issue his post-Synodal exhortation sometime this year, that The Name of God Is Mercy will be read and re-read for hints, if one needs or even wants further hints, on the Holy Father’s inclination on the Kasperite proposal. It is our understanding, however, that the interviews took place prior to the Ordinary General Assembly in October 2015, so we wonder if the book has been tweaked or edited to reflect any shifts in the Holy Father’s thinking since then.

The spy who prayed for me

We were pleased to see Andrea Tornielli connect the dots at Vatican Insider. Just as we predicted Chaouqui and Vallejo are probably going to advance the narrative that they are helping Francis implement “real” reforms:

The two individuals responsible for leaking the documents, claim they acted in order “to help the Pope”, to “win the war” against cliques that opposed change and transparency. But Francis can’t have been overjoyed by their generous help, given that he gave his personal approval for the arrests of this odd couple, whose involvement in the whole affair did not surprise many in the Vatican.

(Emphasis in original.) But Tornielli has a long passage that draws all the threads together. We’ll quote it in full:

There are two dates that point to the origin of this last ditch effort linked to the old Vatileaks scandal. Even back then, in a series of anonymous newspaper interviews, Francesca Chaouqui backed the “poison pen letter writers”, corroborating the importance of the letters leaked by the former Pope’s butler.

The first is 18 July 2013. Francis published a motu proprio for the establishment of the commission on economic and administrative problems of the Holy See (COSEA): Vallejo was appointed secretary and to the surprise of the team in charge of screening accounts and management problems in Vatican offices and dicasteries, Chaouqui was also nominated thanks to her friend, the monsignor. Her appointment was immediately seen as too convenient: the young woman wrote a series of insolent tweets against Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and former minister Tremonti (she would later deny having written hem, claiming hackers had got into her account, only to then delete them after they had been online for months). She made no attempt to keep her links with gossip website Dagospia a secret and made completely unfounded conjectures about Benedict XVI allegedly having “leukaemia”. In an interview published on the online version of Italian news magazine L’Espresso, she announced she had access to “confidential” Vatican “papers” and that she was a good friend of Nuzzi’s. But controversies soon died down and due to the nature of her role, Chaouqui was able to freely come and go from Saint Martha’s House.

The second date is 3 March 2014. On this day, having established the Secretariat for the Economy and nominated Australian cardinal George Pell as the new Prefect, Francis announced the name of the dicastery’s number two man. Instead of appointing Vallejo Balda, as Pell had requested and believed to be certain, right up until the last moment, the Pope surprised everyone by choosing Alfred Xuereb. This came as a big blow to the Vallejo-Chaouqui duo. The Spanish prelate was convinced the position was in the bag. He had even imprudently confirmed it on a Spanish radio programme. No appointments for “commissioner” Francesca Immacolata either: while five COSEA members took up their positions in a new Vatican body, the Council for the Economy, she was left empty-handed. From this moment on, the PR woman and her tunic-clad talent scout felt they were “at war” and identified Pell as their great enemy. The friction between the Secretariat for the Economy, the Secretariat of State and the other dicasteries of the Holy See was no figment of the imagination. Francis himself intervened on a number of occasions to cut back certain powers and clearly outline duties. But for this odd couple “at war”, this was not enough.

(Emphasis in original.) As we supposed, the narrative is going to be that Chaouqui and Vallejo, honked off at being frozen out of Cardinal Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy and Cardinal Marx’s Council for the Economy, and concerned that the entrenched forces in the Curia were thwarting Francis’s reforms, went to friendly journalists to get critical information public. And this narrative is pretty common. A lot of whistleblowers are both disgruntled at being passed over for internal promotion and concerned with what they’re seeing.

However, the difficult thing for this narrative is what Magister made clear all the way back in 2013: Chaouqui was right in the middle of the original Vatileaks scandal.