R.R. Reno’s Tirade: The Fisk

No More Tirades


As my friend and co-blogger Paul Zummo has noted here, First Things has given the ax to Maureen Mullarkey’s blog due to her outspoken criticism of Pope Francis. They have every right to do this if they wish.  However, I have every right to fisk the editor of First Things’, R.R. Reno, statement announcing this, hilariously entitled No More Tirades, if I found the statement fatuous, which I did.  Herewith the fisk:

First Things stands for something.

That is a relief.



Many things, actually.

Considering the heterodox leanings of many people after working at First Things (I am looking at you Damon Linker and you Jody Bottum), I would say that is an understatement.




One of them is a commitment to reality-based conservatism, both in matters of faith and of public life. I mention this, because I’ve decided to end our hosting of Maureen Mullarkey’s blog.

“Reality -based conservatism.”  Way to borrow the charming habit of the left of calling their adversaries delusional.

Maureen has a sharp pen and pungent style. Her postings about Pope Francis indicate she’s very angry about this papacy, which she seems to view as (alternately) fascism and socialism disguised as Catholicism. This morning she put up a post that opens with the accusation that the Vatican is conspiring with the Obama administration to destroy the foundations of freedom and hobble the developed world. I’ve had my staff take it down.

I do not ascribe to the view that Catholics should not criticize the papacy.

Unless, apparently, the criticism is barbed and attracts attention.

When Catholicism was derided by an ascendant Protestant elite, it made sense to close ranks.

Actually, as a matter of historical fact, Catholics in this country have always fought like cats and dogs.

Today we’re very much a part of the elite.

Only if we sneer at our religion.  For those who don’t and who achieve high office, they are under continual assault.  Google Antonin Scalia for a good example of this.


When Francis spoke to Congress, he shook the hands of a Catholic Secretary of State.

The pro-abort John Kerry is about as Catholic as his late senior senator Ted Kennedy.


When he spoke he was flanked by a Catholic Vice President and a Catholic Speaker of the House (who had succeeded a Catholic Speaker).

Pro-abort Joe Biden is on a par with Kerry.  Boehner’s last major action as Speaker is brokering a deal for the continued funding of Planned Parenthood.


In the front row sat Supreme Courts Justices, the majority of whom are Catholic.

This after the Court just mandated gay marriage throughout the nation, with two of the “Catholics” happily signing on.


There’s no cultural need today for Catholics to maintain an artificial united front.

Only if Catholics are concerned about the Faith rather than using Catholicism as some sort of ethnic identifier.

I’ve criticized Pope Francis and his encyclical, Laudato Si. However, Maureen’s commentary on Francis goes well beyond measured criticism.

Measured criticism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.


She consistently treats him as an ideological propagandist, accusing him of reducing the faith to secular political categories.

A sadly accurate assessment in many areas.


This is her way of reducing him to the political terms she favors.

Actually, the Pope by his language and actions has done that.  His speech to Congress, in which he gave a big air kiss to most issues embraced by the left, is a prime example.

And those terms are the ones used by radio talk-show hosts to entertain the public with mock-battles against various Empires of Evil.

You don’t listen to many radio talk shows do you?  Of course when bashing someone on the basis of stereotypes, it does not do to engage in accuracy.

I don’t want First Things to play that game.

Your call, just as it is our call whether we read First Things.  Mullarkey has brought more attention and readers to First Things than any other writer for you in many a moon.

More is at stake here than decorum.

One would hope.

I’m much more favorable to free markets than Francis seems to be.

That is a pretty low bar.

That’s something worth spelling out. But it’s a sign of moral blindness and intellectual poverty if we fail to recognize an important truth in his harsh words about the global system organized to promote capitalism, and with it largely American interests. That system—our system—does not shower blessings on everyone.

But it does far more than any other system devised by the mind of Man.


To point that out, as Francis does, in no way makes him a supporter of the Castro brothers or a disciple of Che Guevara, as Maureen implies.

No, but some of his statements do align him with devotees of Castro.  (Evo Morales nods in agreement while holding his Commie Cross.)

Enough! We need to think about the church and the world as they actually are, not by way of caricatures.

Please, your citations of the alleged strength of Catholicism in the US bear no relationship to the reality of a large portion of Catholic elites in this country being in open rebellion against the teachings of the Church on abortion, gay marriage, etc.

I was recently interviewed about Francis by America magazine.

One of many mistakes no doubt.

The interviewer asked whether American conservatives were not now the “cafeteria Catholics.”

Only because America confuses core Catholic teachings with leftist wish lists.


I answered that, in a certain sense, yes, we are. We’re all at odds with some aspect of the Church’s leadership. It’s not possible for Rome to teach in a way that entirely satisfies the social, moral, intellectual, and spiritual needs of more than one billion people. There’s a hierarchy of truth that helps us understand why some things are obligatory, while others are recommended to us for our consideration.

The Church has left most matters in this Vale of Tears up to the wisdom of the laity.  That whole render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s thing, and Christ refusing to play arbiter over a disputed estate.


What matters most, however, is our spiritual disposition. Are we docile to our bishops and their fraternal head, the pope? Are we willing to see and learn what they want to teach us? Will we accompany them, to use one of Francis’ favored images?

Why in Heaven’s name?  When a man is speaking rubbish it does not matter if he is a Pope or a janitor.  A Pope has an extremely limited charism of infallibility.  Outside of that his ideas stand or fall just like anyone elses.

The Church asks us to be docile. That’s my goal. I don’t need to agree with Francis in all instances, even most. But I need to be open to instruction. I need to try to see what he’s trying to get us to see.

“Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations.” 

Bishop Melchior Cano

In a much, much more limited way, the same is true of our political adversaries.

Actually most leftists think that conservatives are evil and should be shouted down.

Citizenship is a kind of friendship, a mutual commitment to share the public project of our nation.

Actually Americans have disagreed bitterly about the nation from the foundation of the Republic.

We certainly disagree, debate, and try to win arguments as well as elections. But in all this we need to have the moral and spiritual generosity to enter into our adversaries’ ways of thinking, if but for a moment.

Putting yourself into the shoes of an adversary is not a bad ability to have, so long as it is not an excuse for selling out to the other side, which right now has very much the dominant position in our culture.


We’re in this American project together. We need to accompany each other, even as we contest for the future.

I find this ending odious when it is recalled that Reno just fired someone for having views different from his.  Go here to read Ben Domenech’s reaction to this debacle at The Federalist.


More to explorer


  1. “Considering the heterodox leanings of many people after working at First Things (I am looking at you Damon Linker and you Jody Bottum), I would say that is an understatement.”

    You can add Joe Carter’s awful smearing of Marc Theissen when Theissen dared defend the morality of the Bush Administration’s Enhanced Interrogation Program to that list.

  2. “Only because America confuses core Catholic teachings with leftist wish lists.”

    A thousand times yes. The cafeteria can only admit cinos. American conservatives who are faithful to the Magisterium get served at another Table.

  3. “Likewise, sane conservative Catholics need to stop coddling those twisting themselves in pretzels of hatred and defiance for a pope who has done and said nothing heterodox, all in defiance of the Church’s social doctrine need to repent or they need to be repudiated by Catholics of good will. It would be a nice bonus if sane conservatives beyond FT also pressured the nuts to repent smearing a good man as an accomplice to murder (which is what “Che Guevara’s Pope” means) in their zeal to declare their non serviam to the gospel. But the person of Francis is less crucial than the office of Peter and it doesn’t do to ask too much of hard hearts all at once. But the bottom line is, the enemies of Peter need to take responsibility for their actions, repent, and believe the good news–and those who have hitherto enabled them should take responsibility for the fact that they did not spring up like topsies overnight but have been cultivated for a good long time. That cultivation must end.”

    For Mark Shea it is always let a thousand flowers bloom so long as they all smell like him.

  4. “A Pope has an extremely limited charism of infallibility. Outside of that his ideas stand or fall just like anyone elses.”

    The Pope’s authority extends far beyond the “charism of infallibility.”

    Thus, the Council of Florence teaches, “The Roman Pontiff stands as the true Vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church and the father and teacher of all Christians; to him has been given, in Blessed Peter, by Our Lord Jesus Christ, the full power of shepherding, ruling and governing the universal Church”
    Also, Vatican I, “We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all causes, the decision of which belongs to the Church, recourse may be had to his tribunal, and that none may re-open the judgment of the Apostolic See, for none has greater authority, nor can anyone lawfully review its judgment…” and “If anyone, then, shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the Universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the Pastors and the faithful; let him be anathema.”
    An excellent illustration of this can be foundin the Formulary Controversy, when Alexander VII imposed a formula on the clergy assenting to a judgment that was not (and could not be) infallible and severing from his communion those who refused it (Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem 16 October 1656 and Regiminis Apostolici 15 February 1664)

  5. And R.R. Reno returns to the oblivion from whence he came. I subscribed to FT for years when I discovered how wonderful Father Neuhaus was. It was such a treat to get it in the mail. I always read the letters to the editor first and was usually impressed with the intelligence of its readership. When Father died, so to did FT. At first I noticed its creeping heterodoxy as far as its conservatism. Then I began to notice its faithfulness to the fullness of truth was becoming less as well. I cancelled my subscription. I’d only really been back to the website for Maureen. I was always shocked they let her post anyway. One PeterFive is much more like FT under Father Neuhaus than FT under Reno is.

  6. Pray tell us MPS where any of what you quote binds me to the Pope’s views on global warming, economics or his merchant of deaths cause wars meme?
    You might be waiting a while. As far as I can tell, this is the key point from Michael’s latest Ctrl-V comment:
    …the Roman Pontiff has … the the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the Universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world
    So nothing new: the pope has authority over matters belonging to faith and morals (not climatology or economics or weapons manufacturing or countless other prudential situations) and he is the supreme legislator of the Church. It just sounds better if you wrap it up in a lengthy quote from some historical figure.

  7. Pray tell us MPS where any of what you quote binds me to the Pope’s views on global warming, economics or his merchant of deaths cause wars meme?

    It was the French philosopher Marquis de Chardonnay who, in his 18th century tract, “Of the Sublime Universe and its Minions,” spoke of papal infallibility. Like the wings of a dove, soaring over the mountains and over the hills, so to, does the spirit ascend in the wonderful majesty – purple mountains majesty, if you will – of the universe, standing guard and shepherding his flock, seeing to it that no word of error escape from the papal tongue or from his tender fingertips.

    These words would be echoed in the encyclical Hoc non realiter probare intentum, in which the Hessian heresy was stamped out.

  8. ….did he ever provide any support for the slander about Cafeteria Catholicism?
    That means picking and choosing among the binding teachings, not what happens to be popular this week.

  9. Mac, I don’t have the energy or patience to fisk huge volumes of such stuff. It winds up being two or three times as many words and I still haven’t adequately addressed the totality of distortions, exaggerations, fabrications, fantasies, omissions and outright lies.

    I find the most effective means of addressing such dishonest nonsense is to quote Joe Pesci from the movie, “My Cousin Vinnie.” He succinctly said, “Everything that guy just said is bullshit.” It works for me.

  10. To answer your question, Mark — yes, little if any of the Holy Father’s statements re global warming, economic systems, etc., can properly be regarded as infallible, and therefore they certainly can be criticized. But criticism should be measured and reasoned, not angry emoting, which is the practice of the Left. Reno was correct that MM’s criticisms were over-the-top and not fitting for serious discourse, which requires respectful disagreement. Shea, on the other hand, is so full of himself that he cannot perceive that his criticisms directed toward the Holy Father’s critics are of the same vein as MMs’. There are fewer and fewer forums that cater to reasoned discourse among informed well-intentioned men and women who agree on some things, and disagree on others. First Things has been such a forum, and Reno is right to try to keep it that way. Shea, on the other hand, finds such forums disorienting.

  11. “There are fewer and fewer forums that cater to reasoned discourse among informed well-intentioned men and women who agree on some things, and disagree on others.”

    A point taken Mike, and if Reno had merely said that I doubt if I would have fisked his statement.

  12. Fair enough, Don. I think that was in fact the chief point of Reno’s explanation, but like many of us who enjoy words he neglected the advantages of brevity and instead included more, and sharper, words than necessary. It is common to respond to sharp words with sharp words, and understandable, but almost always unhelpful.

    I agree that FT is not the journal it was under RJN, but it still is among the best extant journals covering the intersection of faith, politics and public policy. Its contributors include accomplished men and women of various faiths and competing views, and the inevitable disagreements typically generate far more light than heat — and that is an uncommon pleasure.

  13. We’re all at odds with some aspect of the Church’s leadership.

    And here he shows his utter lack of understanding of Catholicism. Catholicism is not the leadership, and the leadership is not Catholicism.

  14. c matt,
    You are of course very right re the distinction between Catholic Church and Her leadership. But I don’t think Reno was confused on that score. I think he was carefully avoiding any suggestion that MM was at odds with the Church, since there is no evidence of that at all (consistent with the distinction you note).

  15. “A Pope has an extremely limited charism of infallibility. Outside of that his ideas stand or fall just like anyone elses.”

    The Pope’s authority extends far beyond the “charism of infallibility.”

    Who said anything about authority? The Pope’s charism of infalliblity does NOT extend to every aspect of his authority. He has the authority to govern, but that does not guarantee his governance will be worth a hill of beans. His governance can be properly criticized, as can other actions that fall outside of his coi.

  16. c matt wrote, “Catholicism is not the leadership, and the leadership is not Catholicism.”
    It is certainly true that here is much more to Catholicism than the leadership, but the leadership is absolutely central to Catholicism.
    When still an Anglican, Mgr Ronald Knox asked himself this question: “Why did those who anathematized Nestorius come to be regarded as “Catholics” rather than those who still accept his doctrines?” He concluded that the only answer that holds water is that Catholics have the bishop of Rome in their party and the Nestorians do not.
    “If you ask “Who are the Orthodox?” you will be told “The people who hold the Orthodox Faith.” If you ask them how they know it is the Orthodox Faith they say “Because it is held by the Orthodox Church.” And the Nestorians will say exactly the same of themselves and who is to choose between them? Each say that they have the consensus fidelium behind them, and if you ask who the fideles were you are referred back to the very formula which the consensus fidelium was to prove. But if you ask a Catholic “What is the Catholic Faith? ” and are told it is that held by the Catholic Church; if you persevere, and ask what is the Catholic Church, you are no longer met with the irritatingly circular definition “the Church which holds the Catholic Faith “; you are told it is the Church which is in communion with the Bishop of Rome.”

  17. c matt
    Let me give you a simple historical example of non-infallible, but binding, teaching.
    In 1653, in his bull Cum Occasione, Innocent X solemnly condemned the famous Five Propositions and all theologians agree that this was infallible.
    Since some insisted that those propositions were not to be found in the Augustinus, or were not meant by the author in the sense in which they were condemned, in 1656, in his bull Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem, Alexander VII declared that they are contained in the Augustinus, and had been condemned according to the sense of the author. By no stretch of the imagination could this be considered infallible; it is not something contained in the Deposit of Faith and no one’s salvation depends of believing it
    Nevertheless, in 1664, in Regiminis Apostolici , Alexander VII required the subscription of the clergy to a formula containing the words, “with a sincere heart, I reject and condemn the five propositions taken from the book of Cornelius Jansen entitled Augustinus and in the sense understood by that same author…” and deposed and excommunicated those who refused.
    As Catholics, we may dispute the wisdom of Regiminis Apostolici, but we cannot deny the pope’s authority to impose the formula or reject the teaching of Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem, unless the Holy See revisits the question.

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