New York Review of Books
An authentic pope should be a scary one. Jesus scared the dickens out of people (it cost him his life). Is Pope Francis truly scary? One might think so from the reaction of some guardians of orthodoxy, men like New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who thinks he must threaten the pope with schism to protect the sanctity of marriage, since “this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.” But ecclesiastical nitpickers have no armies of similar thinkers to summon. This is not even medium scary.
Now, however, something is looming that has billionaires shaking in their boots, and when Catholic billionaires shake, Catholic bishops get sympathetic shudders. These are the men who build their churches, hospitals, schools, and libraries. Catholic lore has made winning over such Money Men the mark of the true church leader—the Bing Crosby priest crooning dollars out of a cranky donor in Going My Way, or the J. F. Powers priest putting up with a wealthy boor to get a golf course for his retreat house.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan was recently reminded of these facts of churchly life by Kenneth Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot. The cardinal is working to restore St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, at a cost of $175 million. Langone asked why he and his fellow benefactors should raise such money when the pope is denouncing “the idolatry of money.” He said the pope’s criticism will make his fellow donors “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”
But this, too, was a minor threat. Langone was simply threatening to withhold money. Now, as the pope prepares a major encyclical on climate change, to be released this summer, the billionaires are spending a great deal of their money in a direct assault on him. They are calling in their chits, their kept scientists, their rigged conferences, their sycophantic beneficiaries, their bought publicists to discredit words of the pope that have not even been issued: “He would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate,” they say. They do not know exactly what the pope is going to say in his forthcoming encyclical on preserving God’s creation, but they know what he will not say. He will not deny that the poor suffer from actions that despoil the earth. Everything he has said and done so far shows that Francis always stands for the poor.
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