Crazy Joe, spare me your praise of the Pope.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 29, 2016

I suppose this is a bit of a rant, but I’m tired of all the posturing. The latest is U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s praise of Pope Francis earlier today, when he addressed a conference at the Vatican.

Predictably, Biden praised Francis for his “compassion”. He claimed the Pontiff gave him comfort when his son died. That’s highly personal, of course, and it is just barely possible that this was very significant to Joe Biden. But when a nominally Catholic politician makes no secret of his opposition to Catholic moral teaching, anything good he says about the Pope amounts to damning with faint praise.

Especially when “compassion” is the only good word he can think to use.

For those who really couldn”t care less, however, the political art of praising the world’s chief Catholic serves as a cheap way to confuse lesser Catholics into thinking that the speaker is on the right side. “Hey, Biden likes Pope Francis. He and his party must be good guys!” Meanwhile, Donald Trump isn’t afraid to express open hostility to the Pope. This, at least, may be taken as a sign of honesty—I mean a temporary sign.

In American politics, Democrats (except for those honest enough to want God’s name stripped from the platform) are known for paying lip service to Christian values while actively seeking to undermine them at every turn. Meanwhile, Republicans (except for a very few figures kept around to lend verisimilitude to traditional claims) are known for a theoretical adhesion to Christian values while methodically avoiding all significant efforts to implement them socially. If you were watching from outer space and did not understand political speech, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

If you are watching from earth and do understand political speech, you will have the same problem.

This explains why there is so seldom a good choice of candidates in American politics, but it also gets me off the subject of today’s rant. What I really propose is a rule that no politician should be allowed, on any occasion whatsoever, to bask in the reflected glory of the Bishop of Rome. Pope Francis himself offered a practical application of this rule in a recent in-flight interview, when he was asked about the political meaning of his exchange with another leading Democrat, Bernie Sanders:

I greeted him and his wife, and another couple with him that was staying in Santa Marta, because all of the members of the congress, except the heads of state who I believe were staying in their embassies, were staying at the Santa Marta residence. I gave a greeting and nothing more. A greeting is an educated thing to do and does not mean to be mixed up with politics. If someone thinks that to give a greeting means to get mixed up in politics, I think he needs a psychiatrist.

Though this is expressed in Pope Francis’ inimitable style, it does have a certain decisive charm. I expect it to be added to Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum (i.e., the famous sourcebook of Catholic dogma) almost immediately.

But it is precisely politicians everywhere, and all their featherheaded followers, who would have us believe a greeting or a stray word of praise in the right quarters demonstrates their worthiness for public office.

Well, OK then. Considering the alternatives, I am quite willing to believe that questioning their sanity really is a superb instance of...compassion.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Apr. 30, 2016 3:40 PM ET USA

    Indeed, the original has been wonderfully updated by Adolf Schönmetzer, SJ. And since the Church's Magisterium is still functioning, it will doubtless be updated again in the future, hopefully many times over the coming millennia. But colloquially, I trust, it will always be called "Denzinger", much as a dictionary is still often called "Webster". It is that name that carries the power of the reference—and hence the humor.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 30, 2016 12:17 PM ET USA

    Good rant, especially the observations about the two political parties, which happen to be right on the money. Very funny closing line. The only point I would like to make is that you are behind the times. :) Denzinger became passe in the 1950s. The new numbering scheme prompts us to distinguish Denzinger from Denzinger-Schonmetzer (DS). The distinction is important because DS includes early documents left out by Denzinger, one of the most important being DS 668 against slavery, dated Sept., 873