Noonan Pre-Disses a Papal Encyclical

One of the abiding wonders of the papacy of Francis is the deep dismay he consistently inspires among politically conservative Catholics, especially in this country. That dismay is likely to rise to significantly next week when he is expected to release an encyclical on global climate change as the opening bell for a high-profile papal campaign on the subject that will take him to the UN and to Congress this fall.

So it’s actually kind of useful to read the anticipatory comments of Peggy Noonan, delivered in her accustomed tone of distracted rambling, but unmistakably disrespecting Francis as a bit of a dullard who’s being used by secularists and anyway he’s still on Our Team on Abortion and Contraception!

Here’s the nut graph:

[Francis] is, like John Paul, a great showman, but he is not seen, as John Paul was, as a great intellect.

When he speaks on theological things—the meaning of the gospel, the mission of the church—he is universally known to be drawing from a deep theological well of study, contemplation and experience. When he talks about politics it’s more like he is probing a tooth that hurts. When he pops off, and he likes to pop off, he causes the church he loves discomfort.

There’s a bonus chuckle-inducing claim that the first non-European Pope in thirteen centuries believes what he believes on climate change because “the European elite is all in on climate change and the Vatican is in Europe.”

But let’s get back to that tooth-ache metaphor. That’s entirely true if by “the church” which is being discomforted you mean those good loyal Catholics who have let themselves stray into the communion of the Golden Calf and its own line of pontiffs from St. Friedrich Hayek to St. Ayn Rand to St. Ronald Reagan (Peggy’s own Patron in more ways than one). And Noonan is quite possibly imagining the pain she and her friends will feel from the following scene (as envisioned a while back by Paul Ferrell at MarketWatch) when Francis comes to Washington:

When Pope Francis addresses the U.S. Congress he will confront a hostile caucus of 169 hard-line GOP climate-science deniers who dismiss the idea that global warming is human-caused, in part because collectively they have received more than $52 million in career contributions from Big Oil, coal and fossil-fuel interests, three times what the other members of the Congress, who agree climate change is a threat the survival of our civilization, received.

GOP climate-science deniers in Congress include Catholics like House Speaker John Boehner, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, as well as former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Committee, all of whom will be listening to Pope Francis. Sitting with them will be Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, author of “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”

Also listening to Pope Francis will be the GOP’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who recently tried to “undermine international negotiations aimed at combating climate change” by publicly “telling other countries not to trust President Obama’s promise to significantly reduce the United States carbon emissions.”

Now Inhofe and McConnell are Protestants, and are both old enough to remember the days when Protestant clergy (especially in the South) casually referred to the Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon and may have even quoted Luther to the effect that the Pope is the Antichrist. Those thoughts might even return as they listen to Francis commit blasphemy against the Calf.

It’s not very Christian of me to savor that future moment, but as always, reading Peggy Noonan stimulates my dark side.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.