The other day I ran into a high-ranking churchman in New York City and we chatted about the state of the Church. Though appointed by Pope Francis, he shared some of my distaste for this pontificate. He found the pope’s “vindictive” side disappointing and dislikes the pope’s lack of spiritual seriousness. The latter is evident in his absurdly casual “living arrangement” at the Vatican hotel, the prelate said with a grimace. “A pope needs contemplative silence,” he said. He described a pope who spends his days not deep in prayer but hanging out at the Vatican cafeteria, engaging in silly political chitchat with anyone who happens upon him.
A pope sauntering over to the salad bar while shooting the breeze about Donald Trump is an image that perfectly fits his temporally-minded pontificate, so preoccupied as it is with the politics of the moment. Into this pathetic milieu has returned, appropriately enough, Eugenio Scalfari, the doddering Italian socialist and atheistic journalist whom Francis insists on treating as his Boswell.
Scalfari doesn’t use a tape recorder, preferring instead to reconstruct his interviews from “memory,” a comically slipshod method that doesn’t bother Pope Francis in the slightest, since they think similarly on most matters anyway. Pope Francis thought so highly of Scalfari’s previous reconstructions of their exchanges he had them included in a book issued by the Vatican publishing house — a work some future pope will probably put on the Index of Forbidden Books.
In a 2013 interview with Scalfari, an apostate from Catholicism, Pope Francis said that he had no interest in bringing him back to the faith and that he should just follow his own conscience. Don’t trouble yourself with the “solemn nonsense” of Catholic evangelization, he told him. Scalfari was so impressed by this counsel that he gushed after the interview, “The most surprising thing he told me was: ‘God is not Catholic.’”
During the interview, a starry-eyed Scalfari praised the pope for his relaxed approach to relativism and atheism: “Your Holiness, you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that is one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope.”
Flattered by this review of his courage, Pope Francis told Scalfari exactly what he wanted to hear: “And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”
In his latest interview with Scalfari (the pope summoned him to the Vatican last week), Pope Francis offers another stunningly silly suggestion on how to make the world a better place: create a United States of Europe to stop powers, such as the United States, that suffer from a “distorted” view of the world. The pope told Scalfari that he wants Europe to develop a “federal” structure.
What set the pope’s panicky remarks off was the Trump-dominated G20 meetings. With his usual dose of oblivious demagoguery, the pope said to Scalfari that the “G20 worries me,” as it “hits migrants” in “half of the world” and is motivated by alarmism about an “invasion of migrants.”
The pope’s swipe at America pleased the media. They regard his anti-Americanism as one of his more winning qualities. He picked that bug up from the communist and leftists in Argentina, for whom hating Yankees is a national pastime.
Even his sympathetic chroniclers in the Catholic press, such as John Allen, have noted his disdain for Americans. Save for a few fellow political and doctrinal liberals (such as D.C.’s Wuerl, Boston’s O’Malley, Chicago’s Cupich, and Newark’s Tobin), Pope Francis has given few Americans clout at the Vatican. He took special delight in humiliating the American Cardinal Raymond Burke, whose traditionalism represented everything Francis dislikes about American Catholics. “The pope hates American conservatives,” a priest said to me.” The stripping of Burke’s power, he said, shattered morale within priestly American circles: “From then on we knew that we would have targets on our backs.”
Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the Society of Pius X, has made the remark that Vatican officials have told him that most of the pope’s anti-conservative gibes are directed at Americans.
The pope’s weakness for Latin American liberation theology — he has been rehabilitating many of its most checkered proponents, such as Leonardo Boff (who shared his plans for socialist world government with the pope at his urging before he wrote his environmentalist encyclical) — also drives his anti-Americanism. Liberation theology was concocted, at least in part, by communists who wanted to turn the religious peasants of Latin America against the United States during the Cold War. The pope’s obtuse apologists say that he rejected this movement. But he didn’t. He came out of it.
George Neumayr is author of The Political Pope: How Pope Francis is Delighting the Liberal Left and Abandoning Conservatives.