“This document has 43,000 words. 43,000 words. So that’s a lot. This is—I believe this is his longest encyclical. I didn’t compare it, but it feels like the longest. And I’m going to throw something up on the screen that I find rather offensive. I’m not the first one to notice this. So there’s 43,000 words in the document.
Look at this: God the Father is mentioned zero, Jesus Christ two times, Holy Spirit twice. This document is not about our faith. This document is not about the Trinity and not about Catholicism.
It’s about humanism. It’s about globalism, naturalism, et cetera.”
Live YouTube broadcast
Oct 6, 2020
In his response to Pope Francis’s new encyclical Fratelli Tutti, the reactionary Catholic YouTube personality Taylor Marshall employs a rhetorical tactic that has been popular with the detractors of Pope Francis since early in his papacy. I first noticed this at play in 2013 on the blog of traditionalist Louis Verecchio, in his “analysis” of Evangelii Gaudium. He gripes: “I took a look at the footnotes to this 50,000+ word document, and lo and behold, of the 217 references, a grand total of 20 predate Vatican II.” He contrasts this with Pope Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei: “The footnotes to this document overwhelmingly reference Sacred Scripture, with a number of references from Church Fathers.”
Let’s take a closer look. Yes, of the twenty-seven footnotes in Immortale Dei, an impressive 21 are scripture citations. And he is correct. Not a single one of the footnotes in Evangelii Gaudium is a scriptural reference. Why? Because the scriptural references there are made with in-line citations. If Verrecchio (whose drift has since apparently led him to sedevacantism) had bothered to read the document attentively, he might have noticed them. The in-line scriptural references in Evangelii are not numbered, so I took the trouble to count them. Evangelii Gaudium contains a whopping 207 (give or take) references to scripture: an impressive ten times the number of scriptural citations in Leo’s encyclical. And since Leo’s document only has 27 footnotes altogether, that means he only offers six other references, compared the 20 pre-Vatican II references in Francis’s document.
Since then, this inane rhetorical game (using word searches to cherry pick and bring attention to “omissions” in criticism of Church documents) has been employed repeatedly by detractors of the pope. For example, earlier this year, LifeSite published an essay from a scientist decrying a document from the Pontifical Academy of Life on responding to the Covid pandemic, in which she criticized the Academy for only using the term “hope” six times, “faith” once, and omitting the term “grace” altogether. In her mind, this meant the document was saying, “Without a word about grace, the document de facto is suggesting that humans can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to achieve conversion.” The missing terms, according to her, amounted to the document presenting “a reductionist visIon of a merely earthly utopia where all inhabitants can ‘enjoy good living.’” This is indeed a bold assessment about a document that makes explicit and repeated calls for conversion of our minds and hearts.
Over the years, I have come across many more examples of papal critics employing similar tactics. For example, in his harsh critique of the 2018 final document drafted by young adults at the pre-Synod youth meeting, Matthew Schmitz grumbles about the words that do appear in the document, rather than the words he wants to see: “They further mention ‘bars,’ ‘gyms,’ ‘parks,’ ‘coffee shops,’ ‘stadiums,’ ‘the workplace,’ ‘prisons,’ ‘orphanages,’ ‘hospitals,’ ‘rehabilitation centers,’ ‘red-light districts,’ ‘war-torn regions,’ ‘marginal neighborhoods,’ ‘rural areas’ … apparently the Church should be everywhere but in the churches. At points, the document’s attitude toward sacred ground seems almost hostile.” According to Schmitz, “All this amounts to a kind of functional Arianism, a stress on the Church’s human dimension at the expense of the divine.” I suppose the idea of “meeting people where they are” is not a priority to Mr. Schmitz.
Another perpetrator of this lazy approach is St. John Paul II’s biographer, George Weigel. He’s used it to nitpick Francis’s statement about the importance of the family in his 2015 address to the US Congress (“He did not mention ‘man and woman’ or ‘father and mother,’ turning instead to the vulnerability of children.”) He also complained that, “Francis used the word ‘dialogue’ too many times.” One begins to imagine that if Francis had used “dialogue” only twice, his critics would have found another word to deem overused.
Many critics of Amoris Laetitia expressed dismay that Pope Francis did not explicitly cite John Paul’s Veritatis Splendor. Despite the fact that when properly understood (as Brian Killian demonstrated in May 2019), the two documents are in harmony with each other, Fr. Raymond de Souza wrote, “There is not a single reference, in the main text or even in the footnotes, to Veritatis Splendor.” This was also one of the main arguments behind the dubia. Let it be known, however, that the pope is under no obligation to cite anything in a Magisterial document. In this case, it seems that the critics are upset that he didn’t write what they wanted him to write, and that this somehow constitutes a sin of omission.
Which brings us to Fratelli Tutti. In his attack piece on the papal document, Phil Lawler decries a number of omissions that he observes:
Other Pontiffs stressed the crucial importance of healthy marriages and strong families as forming the basis for a healthy society. Fratelli Tutti never mentions marriage, and when the word “family” appears, it is invariably a reference to the whole human family, not the nuclear family.
While the failure to invoke previous Pontiffs is a defect in Fratelli Tutti, it is just one sign of the encyclical’s fatal flaw: the absence of any distinctively Catholic perspective. The word “new” appears twice as often as the name “Jesus.” There is little or no mention of prayer, the Gospel, or the sacraments. Pope Francis writes a great deal about the economy of the marketplace, very little about the economy of salvation.
Let’s take a look at these claims. First, it is true that the word “marriage” does not appear in the document. If you want his take on marriage, however, there is a 260-something page document on the Vatican website called Amoris Laetitia, written by Pope Francis only four years ago, that focuses exclusively on marriage and the family. If anyone really wants deep insights into Francis’s thoughts on the family forming the basis of a healthy society, that’s a good place to start. “Family” does appear in Fratelli Tutti 41 times. And yes, a quick scan suggests that most of these are references to our human family, but not all. For example, paragraph 19 says, “by isolating the elderly and leaving them in the care of others without the closeness and concern of family members, we disfigure and impoverish the family itself.”
Paragraph 230 focuses on the family unit as well, with five references. In one passage, it advises, “In a family, parents, grandparents and children all feel at home; no one is excluded.” But I suspect Mr. Lawler did not search for the plural “families,” which appears 17 times and refers to the individual family unit in every instance.
His next claim, “The word ‘new’ appears twice as often as the name ‘Jesus’,” is misleading. “New” comes up 66 times, and Jesus appears 33 times. I suppose he has passages in mind like this sentence in paragraph 77: “Each day offers us a new opportunity, a new possibility.” This is the sort of statement that makes Francis’s critics wince. (“How dare he say something positive or motivational! That sounds like the modernism and the spirit of Vatican II!”)
But the word “new” is used in many ways, from “New Testament,” to “New York” five times in the footnotes. And more often than not, it is used to decry the forms of injustice and immorality that pervade our present age. In paragraph 14 he writes, “These are the new forms of cultural colonization.” He criticizes “new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society” in paragraph 66. Lawler says there’s “little or no mention of prayer,” which is odd, given that he ends the encyclical with not one, but two prayers. Likewise, the word “Gospel” appears seven times, there are many references to Gospel passages, and Christ’s message is clear throughout.
He is correct, the document does not dwell extensively (at least explicitly) on the economy of salvation. In paragraph 6, Francis explains why: “Although I have written it from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.” But the encyclical does refer to “Our Saviour” and “the risen Lord.” Furthermore, the second chapter of the document reproduces in full the Gospel passage (Luke 10:25-37) that best articulates the Christian understanding of the economy of salvation. It is when a lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus then proceeds to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminding us to “go and do likewise.”
Finally, we come to Taylor Marshall.
His has to be one of the most petty, intellectually dishonest, and willfully deceptive attempts at calumniating Pope Francis that I have ever seen. As I quoted at the beginning of this essay, Marshall asserts that “God the Father” is never mentioned in the document. He also states that “Jesus Christ” and “Holy Spirit” are each only mentioned twice. I suppose he might claim that he is not technically lying, because in a way he is correct: a word search of those exact phrases does only yield the results he claims (well, almost).**
What Taylor Marshall fails to mention is that “Jesus” appears 33 times (as I mentioned above). “Christ” appears 6 times. For good measure, “Christ Jesus” even appears once. “Holy Spirit” actually appears three times, not twice as Marshall claims, and there are two more mentions of “Spirit” that are clearly references to the Holy Spirit. While “God the Father” does not appear precisely in that word order, there are several references to “Father” in the encyclical. There are also 80 references to “God,” nine references to “Lord,” two references to “Creator,” and one reference to “Trinity.”
In other words, he’s being deceptive. I am absolutely serious when I say this: this is religious commentary for ignorant and gullible people. I won’t deny it works. But it’s wicked. He’s deceiving people and he knows it. He is counting on the fact that most of his fans don’t do their own research or check the facts, they just trust him. It’s a ridiculous and dangerous game he plays, and he is very talented at it. He knows how to exploit the serious lack of critical thinking skills of many Catholics. Sadly, this is the state of much of our Church and our country right now.
Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of well-meaning, committed Catholics in our parishes and communities are being led toward schism by Taylor Marshall and others like him. I worry that our bishops haven’t a clue about the depth and the scope of this problem. It’s not only growing exponentially in the parishes, but also among priests and seminarians.
Finally—and to end on a slightly more amusing note—I would like to share some more “startling” discoveries from other papal documents made (and designed) by our own Carlos Colorado, using little more than the CTRL and F keys on his keyboard.
** I realize now that Taylor Marshall did not miscount when he said the Holy Spirit is mentioned only twice.
Yes, “Holy Spirit” appears three times, but look closely at the graphic. It doesn’t say “Holy Spirit,” but “The Holy Spirit”:
This is even further evidence that his deception was intentional. I searched for “Holy Spirit,” and three instances appeared:
But when I searched for “The Holy Spirit,” there are only two:
And it’s true, the article “the” only appears in front of two of the three examples. Marshall’s clear dishonesty is extremely troubling: