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Want to have an Anglophone Catholic mediatic response to a decision or teaching coming from Pope Francis or the Curial officials he’s appointed, and don’t know where to start? Never fear; we’ve got you covered! Just follow this handy guide and it’s difficult to go wrong the next time Pope Francis, the DDF, the DDW, or some other Vatican office says something insufficiently flattering of right-wing political priorities.

Picking your Theme

Pick a word, such as “inadmissible” or “couple,” and pretend you don’t know how to use it in a sentence. Pick another word or phrase, such as “intrinsically evil” or “union,” that the first word is being distinguished from. Claim that the first word is a Trojan horse for the second word after all, and claim that this is heretical. If you can’t convincingly do the last part, instead claim that the first word is vague or meaningless. Note that none of this should prevent you from making fine-grained distinctions yourself if it suits, such as between “participates in the magisterium” and “is magisterial,” or between “called the Pope a heretic” and “said the Pope is teaching heresy.”

Picking your Line of Attack

Point out that someone, somewhere, is “confused” by the new decision or teaching. This has the advantage of being true, because Vatican documents are confusing. They are written using specialized language, and Francis-era Vatican documents in particular often use turns of phrase developed in either a Latin American context or an Italian context. Anglophones, as empirically-minded speakers of a Germanic language, tend to be uncomfortable with this. Trade on this discomfort to make this “confusion” look like the absolute worst and most dangerous mental state possible. Tolerating or even deliberately provoking other negative mental states, such as rage or hatred, is to be preferred to allowing anybody anywhere to become or remain “confused.”

Picking your Sources

Find a previous Vatican decision that the new one conflicts with or seems to conflict with. This, again, often has the advantage of being true, because popes can and do reverse their predecessors’ decisions, or even their own decisions, on discipline and on non-irreformable doctrine. Don’t worry too much about how old the previous decision is. If it’s just a few years old, the Pope is being fickle and unpredictable. If it’s centuries and centuries old, the Pope is driving a coach and horses through capital-T Tradition of untold antiquity. If it’s somewhere in between, especially if it dates from any point in John Paul II’s pontificate, both accusations can be made at once.

Picking your Target

Bash somebody. This should start with bashing someone currently in the Vatican, ideally someone responsible for the decision you’re supposedly mad, or confused, about. If you can’t find someone directly responsible, pick anyone you don’t like — at random, if necessary. Find the most embarrassing or poorly-considered thing they’ve ever said or written and rake them over the coals for it; as above, it doesn’t matter how old or how new it is, especially if it’s even remotely connected to sex or nudity. (The person also doesn’t have to have said anything particularly bad or wrong about sex or nudity, since bringing them up in any way is more than bad enough already; after all, we’re all Americans here.)

Picking your Secondary Targets

If all else fails, expand your attack outward and make it about some demographic group that conservative Catholics tend to dislike. Jews are passé, but indigenous people still make great targets, and gay people typically make better targets than they do in most non-Catholic spaces in the West these days. Don’t be afraid to go full Indian-killer (or full Westboro Baptist Church). You’ll be surprised how much of the mainstream Catholic press will still side with you.

By following these five handy guidances, you, too, can appear on Catholic podcasts and be cited in hastily-written Wikipedia articles!


Image: Adobe Stock. By Video_StockOrg.


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Nathan Turowsky is a native New Englander and now lives in Upstate New York. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and works in the nonprofit sector. He writes at Silicate Siesta.

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