“Another unnecessarily ambiguous therefore controversial papal statement,” Dreher tweeted after Monday’s message from Francis. “Twitter bad for clear papal communication.”
A second factor is that many Christian conservatives, especially non-Catholics, are not intimately familiar with Catholic social teaching, which is what Francis was expounding.
For example, Francis’ inequality tweet immediately prompted several queries from Mollie Hemingway, a Lutheran commentator and writer for The Federalist, a website of conservative commentary, who said she didn’t understand what Francis was saying. That prompted an extended Twitter seminar by Michael Peppard, a Catholic theologian at Fordham University, who tried to school Hemingway in the basics of Catholic thinking on economics.
A third reason for the controversy is that Francis stated the case so categorically that even liberal Catholics such as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne were surprised.
“We are more accustomed to hearing popes talk about personal virtues and vices as the root of all evil and not to hear someone talk so clearly about structural sins,” said Dionne, who is also a scholar at the Brookings Institution, which just produced a report on social justice and the future of religious progressives in U.S. politics.
“Although his tweet in consistent with Catholic social thought, I think it struck people because of the forceful stress on inequality, as opposed to a more general critique of social injustice that they often hear from religious leaders,” he said.
Not everyone is buying that view, however. As a commenter on Dionne’s tweet put it: “What a foolish thing for him (Francis) to write. I would not mind at all if he kept quiet and stayed off social media for the next year.”
That’s not likely. Francis was back at it again on Tuesday, though this time on what is presumably safer ground: original sin.
“Who among us can presume to be free of sin?” the pope wrote in under 140 characters. “No one. Let us ask God to forgive our sins.”
So far, Christians don’t seem to be questioning the pontiff on that score.
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