Friday, February 19, 2016

Walls to Keep Idiots in, Please

The latest statement of Pope Francis does not err in fact, but in prudence. If you are going to start singling out non-Christian policies and politicians, you have to single all of them out. And he has not.

Walls. Pope Francis is not incorrect that not sharing is not Christian, but he is incorrect not to distinguish between the duty of the US government and the duty of the individuals who make it up. IBM does not have a moral duty to share its profits with Cambodia. The people who work for it might. The US has no duty to share its wealth with Mexico, Guatemala, etc., the American people might, though. IBM has no moral duty to ensure its employees spend their money wisely, practice good dental hygiene, etc. Indeed, one might argue that the company has a moral duty not to interfere in such matters.

A pope must constantly talk about the moral duty of individuals to share. But he cannot very well insist that walls, armies, etc., are unChristian per se. The Catechism teaches us that we have a right to private property and that we have a right to defend ourselves and to live in communities of our own choosing. No one has a right to move into my house without my say-so. He has Swiss Guards, the White House has Secret Service, and good ol' Mark Zuckerberg likely has security far beyond what I have. No one has the right to come into my house, despite the fact that I have some floor space for them to sleep on and some black beans in the cupboard that I won't likely eat this week.

I have a theoretical duty to share everything that I have in excess. But what is excess and who gets to decide? I do. I might decide to share with the people in Somalia rather than the random poor dude who shows up at my house tonight and wants Doritos because he is hammered and hungry. I might decide to invest my money (all 35 cents of it) so that I can share more (i.e. $5) later.

It is one thing to say that we need to share. It is quite another to dictate the strategy that the American people must adopt in their sharing. It is not the pope's right to say that 307,000,000 Americans must share with the Mexicans and Guatemalans who show up at the border. A specific citizen may want to share his excess with those who haven't the means to even arrive at the southern border, i.e., those in Somalia.

As the father of this family the pope has no right to tell me that I must share with the Cancer Society canvassers who show up at my door. It is not unChristian not to do so. I am the pope of my family and it is my duty to evaluate the best way to live out our vocation in our immediate circumstances. For a pope who is in to decentralization, this strikes me as inconsistent overreach. I cannot go to him and say that the Vatican has a duty to pay for my children's good Christian education. Sure, that's a good thing, but it not the only good thing that the Church can do with its limited resources.

The pope's muddled references to this and to the abortion/Zika thing are not incorrect, but they are incoherent. They are the words of someone with the right principles in mind, but they are jumbled together. It is one thing to write a coherent tract on ethics (which is what Benedict always did) it is quite another thing to listen to a seminarian home on Christmas vacation after his first semester in the seminary talk about the principle of double-effect, the universal destination of goods, of proportionality, etc. He said nothing incorrect about abortion (nor about the Paul VI thing, btw, contrary to Fr. Z's opinion). But he said it like a freshly minted theology professor, not a pope.


  1. Incoherent. That's exactly what I thought of them too. All over the place...not together. I wish, as Matt Fradd said on FB, that sometimes, on his plane rides, he would just watch a movie, have a drink and a nap.

  2. In his defence, I imagine that he must be very tired after these trips when he gives these interviews. He shouldn't be allowed to take the mike on plane rides.

  3. A pope who needs constant defense. Isn't he supposed to be the defender?