Stirring the political controversy in the Vatican, New York Times Rome bureau chief Jason Horowitz once again gleefully pitted Pope Francis against “ultraconservative” Catholics in Tuesday’s “Pope Puts Caring for Migrants and Opposing Abortion on Equal Footing.” Horowitz used the Pope's newest apostolic exhortation to sharpen the conflict:
Caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit as opposing abortion, Pope Francis declared in a major document issued by the Vatican on Monday morning.
Pushing back against conservative critics within the church who argue that the 81-year-old pope’s focus on social issues has led him to lose sight of the true doctrine, Pope Francis again cast himself, and the mission of the Roman Catholic Church, in a more progressive light.
The pope’s vision of holiness explicitly highlights migrants, whose plight he has sought to elevate to global attention perhaps more than any other issue.
“In their daily perseverance, I see the holiness of the Church militant,” Francis wrote, using a phrase that has been appropriated by archconservatives critical of his papacy. The pope’s allies have described the fringe Catholic website Church Militant as openly in favor of political “ultraconservatism.”
But a majority of the document is a rumination on what constitutes an effective and true practice of holiness.
Still, Horowitz dwelled on the jabs against the Pope’s conservative critics, which seemed sharper in his mind than in the actual document itself, which is more implicit than explicit in its criticism:
Conservatives inside the Vatican have argued for years that the pope is leading the faithful astray, especially with a previous apostolic exhortation -- “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love” -- that signaled a pastoral path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive holy communion.
Horowitz then used the Pope’s exhortation to strike at conservative Catholics websites as “vicious” and defamatory:
But some of the passages seemed intended as a rebuke to the canon lawyers and archconservative cardinals leading the opposition to Pope Francis.
He is also withering in his criticism of the hostile tenor that often reverberates throughout the conservative Catholic blogosphere.
“Christians, too, can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet,” Francis said, citing vicious examples of defamation in some Catholic outlets where “people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others.” He adds that in upholding some commandments, they ignore the forbidding of bearing false witness and vilification. “Here we see how the unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze,” he says.
At least let's give Horowitz points for honesty here:
The pope has been less critical of his liberal interlocutors, including those who sometimes put words in his mouth. One favorite, if infamously unreliable, narrator of the pope’s conversations, recently caused a controversy when he asserted that the pontiff did not believe in hell.
But in “Rejoice and Be Glad,” Francis indicated that he had no doubt the devil is real.
Speaking of putting words in the Pope’s mouth...Horowitz paraphrased the Pope with a capsule criticism of conservatives much tighter than the document from Francis himself:
In another poke at conservative critics inside the Vatican hierarchy, he bemoans those who would prefer a self-righteous and orthodox minority to the tough work of spreading peace by embracing “even those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult.”