[This cartoon is a piece of satire, not reportage.]
Widespread retaliation was as predictable as mass on Sunday. Enter a Pope with blunt, populist messages about redistributing wealth, worse still, the stinging downsides of capitalism. Bingo, out prance the arch-conservatives filled with cries of "socialist" and "communist." Yet has Francis ever endorsed centralized state planning, or challenged private property. or debunked the whole of capitalism? Hardly. That settled, his entrenched critics are testing new talking points: though "below the radar," they warn, see how Francis suspiciously talks up the omnipresent Satan, plus revving up outdated "mystical rites in the church" like exorcism. So much, comes the sneer, for the vaunted, progressive, reform pope.
What's next: scolding the Pope for promoting compassionate, inclusive, democratic practices for the poorest? Or his so radical commitment to make a myopic church hierarchy more of a meritocracy? Or refocusing from obsessions with genitalia to the grim conditions of hungry familias? Why not knock the Pope for agreeing this weekend to baptize alien Martians, "if they want to be baptized"? What disrupts expectations isn't a pope who acknowledges eons of Church teaching: that Satan, evil forces, and original sin are linked. More shocking would be a prelate who denied demonic possession or banished the age-old cure.
Every belief system that posits external evil mandates its invested shamans to concur up potent antidotes. So, is this the latest rightwing push to delegitimize Francis -- implying that elevating Satan's role is even more suspect than the failed "socialist" ploy? This faux outrage is about alleging contradiction and hypocrisy: here's the most modern-seeming pope falling back on medieval lore about the Old Devil, with cartoon visions of eternal damnation, fire and brimstone.
Bashing by Innuendo
Just to show yellow journalism isn't dead, Washington Post's delivers this crude hit piece, "A modern pope gets old school on the Devil." Despite its former glory, the fallen Post invests an ostensible news report with innuendo, gossip, and unverified sources, then tops it off with incantations from a doddering exorcist. The bar is so low there's even a laughable airplane smell test. The featherweight evidence and devil-may-care tone raises this query: what's in it for a secular mouthpiece to make such a shabby case against this widely-admired Pope, swimming upstream to repair a grievously-tarnished Church's image? Could this Pope's daring populism, dramatizing shocking income and asset gaps, incur the wrath of a right-leaning, elitist paper that opposes reforms to national austerity, costly neocon adventurism, or the billionaire-heavy status quo?
Setting his tone, this writer (whose Italian name oozes Vatican contacts) depicts Francis, as "darling of liberal Catholics and an advocate of inclusion and forgiveness" now allegedly ensnared in his own papal "fire and brimstone." What's more electrifying than a new pope "locked in an epic battle with the oldest enemy of God and creation: The Devil"? Note loaded language that places Francis on the "Throne of St. Peter's," hardly suitable for the most plain-spoken, non-imperial of papal fathers.
But imperial imagery fits this newly-minted "backslider" keen to rekindle "the Devil's image as a supernatural entity." When did Satan lose his supernatural status, here or across Christianity, and turn wholly symbolic? You'd think Francis' conservative critics would endorse such scare tactics, the fear-mongering response to modern defiance of rules and punishment, even its fables about heaven and hell.