Low Hanging Fruit: Part One Dr. Taylor Marshall

October 14, 2020
Defense of Vatican II

This is the first part in a series I am calling “Low hanging fruit.”  I call it that because I am going to be criticizing some easy targets – – people like Taylor Marshall (today’s installment), Michael Voris and Archbishop Vigano.  All three claim to be in continuity with the Catholic tradition. And yet, given their frequent critical remarks concerning the Magisterium of the modern Church, their notion of continuity is most aptly captured in the image above.

But before I begin some brief remarks are in order.

This new blog is devoted to defending Vatican II, ressourcement theologie, and the post Vatican II papacies from unfair critique from mostly the far right-wing of the Church.  But I want to be clear that I am not opposed to legitimate critique of all three of those realities since they do contain flaws that need discussing in a sane and measured manner.  I myself have major issues with some elements of Vatican II as well as some of the post Vatican II papal antics (like John Paul II at Assisi or Francis and his “synodal way”).  But there is a way to critique the contemporary Magisterium and there is a way not to.  Therefore, what I will be criticizing in this series are those who engage in criticisms of the modern Church that I think are vicious, unfair, and lacking in theological nuance.  

Furthermore, since I count myself as a theologian in the ressourcement tradition (I did my dissertation on Balthasar, the traditionalist’s favorite whipping boy) I consider myself a variant of the “traditionalist” camp since the very point of ressourcement thinking is that we need to “go back to the sources” in order to renew the Church. As my friend James Matthew Wilson says:  “you can only make progress by walking backward.”   Therefore, I think many of the hyper traditionalist critics give traditionalism a bad name.  In fact, I don’t really think they are true traditionalists at all, as we shall see.   So a great deal of this blog will be devoted to showing that the critics of Vatican II are, ironically, less traditional than the Council.  

But let me be clear about something else before I begin.  I am critical of these internet Torquemada’s like Voris and Marshall but I also have little sympathy for the therapeutic Gnosticism of modern liberal Catholicism.  James Martin might be all on board the sexual revolution’s welcome wagon, but I am not.  I have to chuckle when I hear naïve Catholics talk about how the Church must change in a liberal direction or die.  Good Lord, what alternate universe do they live in??  They reject the authority of the Pope but accept the authority of Oprah.  Poperah as I call her.  They are proponents of the thinnest spiritual gruel and seem completely unable to distinguish the Gospel from an infomercial on aromatherapy and essential oils.  As a Catholic Worker I do like the liberal Catholic focus on social justice, but I find that even here their concerns are mostly framed by Leftist secular politics rather than the Church.  Therefore, I tend to just ignore them since liberal Catholicism is a non-replicating dead end anyway – – the gateway drug to agnosticism and indifference.

For me the really important fault lines exist within the theological topography of those Catholics who are “conservative” or “traditional”.  And lately, in large part as a reaction against some of the ambiguities of the Francis papacy, there has emerged a radicalized wing of the traditionalist movement, led by people like Taylor Marshall, Michael Voris, and Archbishop Vigano, whose rhetoric has become ever more harsh in its descriptions of Vatican II, modern theology, bishops like Robert Barron, and Pope Francis in particular.  I will be dealing with each of them in turn in this series.  I call them “low hanging fruit” because, quite frankly, they are not hard to refute.  

So why then bother with them?  Why give them even more attention?  Because they are deeply influential and, therefore, require a response.  Ignoring them will not make them go away and there are people I care about who, sadly, have come under their baneful influence.    I will begin with the lowest hanging of the fruits – – Dr. Taylor Marshall – – and then move on to Voris and Vigano in future installments.

But before I begin my analysis of Marshall and my arguments against his criticisms of Pope Francis, I want to make something very clear.  In defending Pope Francis against Taylor Marshall’s criticisms I am really defending the integrity of the papacy as such more than I am defending this particular Pope and his pontificate.  No Pope is above criticism, of course, and I myself have had some issues with every Pope in my lifetime. And that includes Pope Francis. As this blog post proceeds you will see what some of those issues are. But some of the current Pope’s critics seem to forget that by alleging that Francis teaches heresy the entire integrity of the papacy is called into question. It is a charge, therefore, that requires an equally serious rebuttal.

In other words, people need to get their minds around the idea that Francis really is the Pope (his election was valid as was Benedict’s resignation) and therefore what he teaches magisterially must be taken seriously.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon orthodox theologians in particular to place his teaching within the broader Tradition of the Church in order to place it in continuity with that Tradition and to examine in what ways he might also be developing it in creative, if not always clear, ways. The claim leveled by many that he teaches heresy in his official capacity as Pope calls into question not only the very validity of this papacy, but it also damages the papal office in general, the concept of apostolic succession, and the very credibility of Church office to teach magisterially.  Therefore, those among the Catholic far Right of the “traditionalist” movement who accuse him of heresy are cutting off the very branch upon which they are sitting.  That they cannot see this is baffling unless of course they harbor and hide certain sedevacantist tendencies insofar as they openly claim that this Pope is a heretic.  Because if a Pope teaches heresy in his official capacity as Pope, then he has made himself into an anti-pope, which is what I think many of his critics secretly believe. At least the openly sedevacante crowd is consistent in their awareness of what the logic of their position entails.  

Now, without further delay, on to Dr. Taylor Marshall.

Marshall, as most of the readers of this blog are no doubt aware, has become an internet sensation among Right wing Catholic traditionalists peddling his witch’s-brew of quasi-apocalyptic warnings that the “Great Apostasy” is upon us in the papacy of Pope Francis.  And as the years have gone by Dr. Marshall’s rhetoric with regard to Pope Francis has gotten increasingly shrill, conspiratorial, and vapid.  Beyond his low quality YouTube videos (the low quality gives his videos the air of “an underground lair” vibe where the possibility exists that Vigano is actually hiding in his basement) there is his book “Infiltration” which makes all kinds of shocking, but unsubstantiated, claims that there has been a palace coup at the highest levels of the Church with “modernists” now in charge of everything.   It seems there is nothing Pope Francis says and does that Marshall doesn’t melt down in his Easy Bake Oven and then recast as Freemasonry.  And even when there is no way to distort some of the Pope’s clearly orthodox statements there is the constant insinuation, as I have said elsewhere, that this is just a deceptive strategic move on the Pope’s part in order to divert our attention from the Freemason flying monkeys he has sent into the Church through other doors.  

Obviously, there is YouTube subscriber money to be had in ginning-up the base of pious paranoids, but there are limits to how far you can push such rhetoric and still retain your credibility as a commentator.  And Marshall of late has veered ever more sharply toward a view of Vatican II, modern theology, and the post Vatican II papacies, that is, for all intents and purposes, the same as that espoused by the SSPX crowd.  Indeed, he has veered so far in this direction that he lost his original Tonto-esque sidekick, Tim Gordon, over this very issue. Why he doesn’t just go over to the SSPX I do not know for sure since his theology is nearly identical to theirs, but my hunch is that it would jeopardize his popularity with, and income from, the far Right Catholics who would view such a move as a bridge too far.  But how Marshall can hold that the Pope is a heretic and a promoter of idolatry (Pachamama), and who, at the very least, harbors Freemason sympathies, and remain a Catholic in communion with Rome, is beyond me.  

I will take as my point of departure Marshall’s recent video analysis of the Pope’s new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.  The encyclical is an encapsulation of just about everything the Pope has taught in the entirety of his pontificate and so Marshall’s commentary also allows him to cover all of his usual bases.  If you can stomach it and have an hour of your life to throw away you can access his video here.

The first thing that leaps out at you are the two pictures that frame the video screen.  One is of the Pope presiding over a Pachamama prayer service and the other is of him receiving the hammer and sickle crucifix that was a gift to him from the former Bolivian president Evo Morales.  So one is immediately aware of Marshall’s repeated claims that the Pope is guilty of promoting idolatry and blasphemy.  I too share Marshall’s distaste for the entirety of the Pachamama debacle.  I wrote about the Amazon Synod and Pachamama at length here.  But as I said then it is by no means clear that the Pope’s intention was to promote the idolatrous worship of a strange deity.  In fact, it is almost certainly the case that he was not.  As I wrote:

“… [Pachamama] was indeed handled in a ham-handed way by the Vatican at the Synod, but in my view it wasn’t so much a nod toward “paganism” as it was simply a lame attempt at inculturation that was mired in kitsch and the optics of public relations. Still, the Pope does manage a defense of the event by criticizing those who say that indigenous symbols cannot be appropriated by the Church in the service of the Gospel.”

It is true that at the prayer service there were those in attendance who bowed down before the statue in veneration or worship (?).  But the Pope did not do so and at the end of the service he discarded his prepared remarks and ended the event with the simple recitation of the Lord’s prayer. It is not altogether unreasonable, therefore, to surmise that Francis too thought the event was over the top and so ended the affair with the prayer taught to us by Christ himself.  That is a charitable reading of the Pope’s actions to be sure, but it is one that fits the facts far better than Marshall’s puerile suggestion that the Pope himself was going all syncretist on us.  Nothing in the entire Pachamama cycle of events necessarily leads to that conclusion or even suggests it, so it would seem that it is Marshall who has a desire for it to be true, which speaks to an animus he holds against Francis that goes beyond what the facts warrant. Pachamama was indeed a silly thing worthy of criticism, but it was not the promotion of idolatry as Marshall claims.

Indeed, and not to put too fine a point on it, Marshall helped to fund the travels of the Austrian young men who stole the Pachamama statues and threw them into the Tiber.  Which is, of course, a crime, with which Marshall was a complicit co-conspiritor.  I hope he isn’t planning on any travels to Rome soon…

Along the same lines, the Pope’s reception of the hammer and sickle crucifix in the midst of a diplomatic meeting with the Marxist Bolivian head of State – – a crucifix Marshall labels as “blasphemous” (which it may or may not be) – – in no way implies that Francis approved of it.  Pope Francis did not explicitly condemn the crucifix, but so what?  Are we to leap to the conclusion that the Pope is sympathetic with blasphemy just because he politely received a gift without comment?

I dwell on these two photos at length because they speak volumes about Marshall’s hermeneutic of deep suspicion when it comes to interpreting this Pope.  As I said above, I am no fan of Francis either, but he is the Pope and, therefore, out of respect for the papal office we should as Catholics seek first a charitable and expansive approach to the Pope’s words and deeds, rather than immediately assuming the worst in all cases.  Because Marshall does not just assume the worst about Pope Francis in some cases but does so in all cases.  And these two photos that he deliberately uses to frame his video in order to poison the well of trust from the get-go makes that clear.  And it is troublesome because it seems to be a deliberate calumny completely unmoored from facts.  In short, this is not how a faithful Catholic approaches the papal office and makes one wonder if a distorting and reactionary ideology is not in play here rather than a genuine concern for the integrity of the faith. For every “Pachamama event” Marshall can reference I can reference 100 statements from Francis on the centrality of Christ for salvation.  In light of this fact, a devout Catholic – – and not one motivated by some kind of pseudo-traditionalist ideology – – will give the Pope the benefit of the doubt and would not immediately leap to the conclusion that the Pope is advocating idolatry.

As for the encyclical itself Marshall makes the ridiculous claim that it is not even an encyclical because the Pope does not address it specifically to the Church!  He goes on at length about this absurd claim which is strange to say the least.  The Pope says it is an encyclical.  The Vatican says it is too.  The entire Church has received it as an encyclical.  But the Pope of the internet, Taylor Marshall, knows better and is here to inform his viewers that they have been duped.  Marshall does not say so explicitly, but one gets the impression that the reason he harps on this is that he wants to call into question its magisterial status.  But the entire diatribe is a red herring since Fratelli Tutti, no matter if it is an encyclical or not (it is) is most certainly a magisterial document since the Pope published it as an official document of his papal teaching office. Marshall also ignores Church history here since the specific thing called an encyclical has only been around for about three hundred years, with papal teaching before that time exercised in a variety of documents and venues.  Indeed, much of what we would now consider binding papal teaching was promulgated in letters to local Synods or even a specific bishop.  Was the Tome of Leo an encyclical? No.  But it sure as heck became magisterial.

This is, yet again, just one more illustration of Marshall’s disingenuousness and/or ignorance. And if it is just ignorance it is shocking that someone taken so seriously by thousands of devotees as a grand defender of the Tradition should be so consistently fimiculous in his understanding of the same.  

Marshall then lashes out at the titular theme of the encyclical and states, absurdly, that the Pope’s concern for the fraternal unity of the human race is rooted in the unity we all share with Adam and not that of Christ.  He therefore accuses the Pope of ignoring human sinfulness and that Francis is rooting his observations in the Freemasonic ideals of the French Revolution rather than that of the Trinity!  This completely stupid reading of the document is a pure fantasy-camp concoction of the fever swamps in Marshall’s conspiratorial imagination.  Many popes have reminded us of the importance of human solidarity in the bonds of charity and such reminders in no way imply that this solidarity bypasses Christ, even when those same popes do not explicitly mention Christ.  But in Marshall’s febrile mental world such calls for solidarity by this Pope are evidence of Freemasonic perfidy.  The Pope has admonished the world to love one another!!  Oh my!!  This is what Fatima predicted! Sometimes I really do wonder if Vigano isn’t really hiding in his basement.  

The Pope does indeed quote the motto of the French revolution (Liberty, equality, Fraternity).  I wish he hadn’t, if for no other reason that it gives ammunition to people like Marshall for attacking the Pope’s motives.  But if one places the Pope’s quote in the broader message of the encyclical it is hard to see how Francis can be accused of secretly harboring the ideals of that revolution.  In fact, the entirety of the Pope’s message makes it clear that it is exactly that kind of political violence that he is arguing against.  In a very real sense therefore it would be more in keeping with the facts to view the Pope’s quote as an attempt at taking these ideals back from the revolutionaries and reclaiming them for Christ.  Only someone intent on vilification and calumny would see here evidence of Freemasonry.  As I have said elsewhere, the only thing people like Marshall have not accused the Pope of (yet) is the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby.  But that might be next.

Part of the problem is Marshall’s reliance upon word count exegesis of the text.  He points out that terms like “God the Father,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Holy Spirit” are rarely mentioned in the document.  The implication, of course, is that the document is lacking in a specific Christian orientation and is, once again, an example of this Pope’s usual insouciance toward the faith.  But this ignores the broader history of social encyclicals as a genre where popes are engaged in a natural law analysis of human social relations rather than a straight-up theological accounting of the same.  When you apply this same word count nonsense to those encyclicals (e.g. Rerum Novarum) one finds the exact same linguistic patterns as in Fratelli.  So once again Marshall is being either disingenuous or ignorant or both.  Furthermore, the terms “Father” and “Jesus” and “Spirit” do show up in the encyclical with some frequency so Marshall is guilty of a bit of sleight of hand here.  But such clever legerdemain is unbecoming in any serious attempt at grappling with the text charitably. Which of course, this isn’t.

[Side note]. In a wonderful article over at the blog “Where Peter is” (which you can link to here) there is a masterful takedown by Mike Lewis of just this sort of word search exegesis.  I highly recommend it as an adjunct to this blog post of mine. You can find it here.  In the interest of proper attribution I want to acknowledge my debt to Mike Lewis in this part of my analysis.  

At every turn Marshall finds nothing but a dangerous globalism, relativism, and a false humanism in the Pope’s message.  Fratelli Tutti’s call for sovereign States to be more welcoming of immigrants and aware of our moral obligation to share our largesse with those who have nothing – – a call which is clearly rooted in the Catholic teaching on the universal destination of goods – – is caricatured, and then lampooned, by Marshall as calling for an end to all borders tout court.  But the Pope says nothing of the sort.  This is just an empirically false claim.  Marshall then throws out the usual canard about the Vatican City State having borders and wonders, in a snotty and condescending tone, if he could just drop in on Francis for lunch, given the Pope’s putative call for an end to all borders.  The Pope is not arguing for the erasure of all borders.  What he is saying is that borders are not absolute and that in a humanitarian crisis the moral law requires the sharing of goods to the extent that we are able.  Can one imagine Jesus saying otherwise?  So now I am just going to say it:  Marshall’s analysis here is just mendacious Right wing bullshit dressed up as a defense of the Catholic faith.

Marshall, in an attempt to avoid criticism, then feigns a concern for immigrants and wants to make it clear that we should help the less fortunate.  But only outside of our borders.  As he puts it “that is what foreign aid is for.”  Which ignores the fact that foreign aid is often sent into a black hole of corruption and embezzlement and never reaches the people in need.  Which is why those people are on the move in the first place.  And there is also the sad reality of war (as in Syria or Libya) which is a further cause of emigration.  I hope Taylor Marshall never comes to my door asking to borrow a cup of sugar because I will send him away with the reminder that that is what grocery stores are for.  Care for the stranger at our door is a central biblical concept in both Testaments and is a core teaching in several forms of Catholic spirituality – – most notably the Benedictine Rule – – but for Marshall such wacky ideas are the fruit of George Soros and his allies in the “infiltrated” Freemason Vatican.

What is it with these “rad traddies” and their fixation on a certain kind of Right wing, populist, politics? The sheer chutzpah of someone like Marshall in accusing the Pope of a dangerous globalism all the while pushing his own brand of nativist nationalism as the “Catholic way” is astounding and disgusting.  But it explains a lot since Marshall’s “theology” is in reality the usual amalgam of Catholic restorationist delusions and the politics of a resentful bourgeois pettiness. The fact that this amalgam is not really theology proper but an ideological construct can be seen in the fact that in this instance (immigration) Marshall actually uses his so-called “theology” to argue against a core Gospel concept.  But what the heck, it caters to a certain flag-waving crowd of Americanists whose nationalistic idolatry makes the Pachamama affair look like mere amateur hour theatrics.

Marshall then criticizes the Pope’s statements on racism as being the same, ideologically, as the Black Lives Matter movement.  Why does he claim this?  Because the Pope dares to point out that the insidiousness of racism resides in the fact that even when it is not conscious and overt it can go underground, so to speak, and manifest itself in other ways.  Marshall sees this as dangerous and false and that it is somehow rejecting the possibility of true conversion away from sin.  The reality, of course, is that the Pope is correct in his insight and is in no way saying that conversion is impossible.  But like a good doctor diagnosing hidden disease, many spiritual masters in the history of the Church have pointed out how our sins can elude us, since we are masters of self-deception, and that we need, therefore, to constantly examine our consciences in a thorough manner and perhaps even with a good spiritual director.  As Christ says, some demons require intense prayer and fasting to expunge, beyond the normal routine of our quotidian spiritual exercises, precisely because they are embedded deeply, and often in hidden and deceptive ways, in the warp and woof of our souls.  Marshall is thus grossly unfair to the phenomenon of hidden racism that the Pope is referring to here and is clearly just on a fishing expedition to find some dirt in the encyclical that will appeal to his constituency in the torch and pitchfork brigade of extraordinary ministers of the inquisition.

But once again we see Marshall’s politics in play as well.  So what if the Pope’s insight on racism is also shared by the Black Lives Matter movement?  Is that movement wrong about everything? Might there not be some truth in their statements concerning racism in our culture?  One does not have to buy into the whole agenda of that movement to agree on that point. I could just as easily point out to Marshall, following his own logic, that when he prays the rosary he is using prayer beads.  Muslims use prayer beads too. Uh oh.

But what Marshall is banking on here is that the mere mention of BLM is like red meat tossed out to his YouTube subscribing, and therefore lucrative for him, clientele.  And this is precisely why his message isn’t just wrong or uncharitable to the Pope, but insidious and malicious.  Tagging the Pope with the smear of being a BLM sympathizer and a devotee of their critical race theory, without a shred of evidence, in order to gin up his base bespeaks a fundamental desire to manipulate, which is the mark of a demagogue.

But Marshall isn’t done with his manipulations.  He goes on to accuse the Pope of religious relativism simply because Francis is big on “dialogue” with non-Christian religions and that we should acknowledge that there is truth in other religions.  Yes, I agree, the Pope butchers the history of Saint Francis’s meeting with the Sultan and downplays the true motivation of that meeting as a desire to convert.  It is the worst part of the encyclical in my view and does show why Francis is at times too loosey-goosey with facts just to fit his narrative of peace and harmony.  I also think the Pope’s signing off on the Abu Dhabi statement was scandalous and wrong.  Just as I found Pope Saint John Paul’s kissing of a Koran and his interreligious prayer meeting in Assisi to be a scandal. But I think in all of this we are not witnessing a papal endorsement of syncretistic relativism so much as we are seeing a silly attempt at a kind of superficial amity and hospitality toward different houses of faith. Both John Paul and Francis have made it abundantly clear that Christ is central to salvation.  So all of this other stuff is to me just so much papal diplomatic puffery. It is important, but not in any determinative way.

All that said Marshall goes further and states that these other religions should not be acknowledged as containing truth because only Christ is the truth.  And Catholicism is the one true religion with all others being nothing more than “false religions.”  But this scorched earth “either-or” approach is contrary to the Catholic faith and is, once again, ignorant of the Church’s history.  For it is simply not the case that the Church teaches that there is no truth worthy of commendation and study in other faiths.  Yes, Catholicism is the one true religion insofar as it and it alone has been vouchsafed the fullness of Revelation. But our understanding of that Revelation is not complete and develops over time as the Church encounters new cultures and situations.  And so any insinuation that we should just condemn all other religions and to ignore them is a vision of theology that is insular and stunted in the extreme.  Were one to pursue that path it would actually harm the faith, not help it.

Just as a person learns a great deal about his or her own language by studying another, so too can one learn about the Christian faith by studying the religious sense in general, how this sense has been instantiated in various mythopoetic schemes, and the many ways Christianity has fulfilled, deepened, and corrected them.  In fact, I would further claim that one cannot understand Christianity in any great depth at all unless one does such an analysis.  Marshall’s insipid insistence, therefore, that we can safely ignore all of these other false religions is the theological equivalent of the “speak English here damn it or get out” mentality.  It is a kind of theological nativism that is arrogant and ignorant.  And there is nothing more annoying than a blowhard know-it-all who is simultaneously in possession of both those qualities.  

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says that our awareness of God has come to us in three ways.  First is the moral conscience.  Second is what he calls “good dreams.”  And third is through the Jewish tradition – – which of course includes Christianity.  But what Lewis means by “good dreams” is the religious and mythopoetic imagination of humanity. Yes much of that imagination is distorted – – and some even demonic – – but some of it isn’t.  And unless humanity had already been in possession of a genuine religious sense then it would never have seen the truth of the Gospel as the fulfillment of that sense. It would have been like asking someone who has been blind from birth if they would like a pair of binoculars for Christmas.  Grace builds on nature and so too with Revelation.  Like Paul at the Areopagus all Pope Francis is saying is that we must be ever on the look-out for the logoi spermatikoi littered throughout the human religious landscape.  

Therefore, because he rejects this teaching of the Church I accuse Taylor Marshall of infidelity to the Catholic Tradition.  The Pope is right and Taylor Marshall is wrong.  Full stop. And it exposes Marshall’s so-called “traditionalism” as no real traditionalism at all.  What he is instead is just an extremely superficial proponent of a small slice of post Tridentine Catholicism in a mostly Euro-American, twentieth century, suburban, bourgeois register.  He was upset, for example, that the encyclical was published in Italian instead of Latin.  Oh the horror.  Get over it.

Finally (thank God) Marshall goes after the Pope’s statements on war and the death penalty.  Many others have also expressed concern over the Pope’s stance toward capital punishment as standing in possible contradiction to previous Church teaching.  It is a complicated issue which I discuss in an article of mine on Fratelli Tutti which you can access here.  Suffice it to say that I reject the notion that the Pope has contradicted past teaching and affirm instead that he is doing nothing more than doubling-down intensively on the teaching of John Paul on that topic.  He studiously avoids the language of “intrinsic evil” in condemning the death penalty which I think is important.  Perhaps both Francis and John Paul are wrong (I don’t think they are) but what they teach is certainly not heretical nor is what they teach put forward as infallible and unreformable.  And so it is yet another red herring of Marshall’s to bring it up as further evidence that this Pope is a dangerous innovator.  The issue is a complex one, but Marshall splits hairs with a dull axe and offers nothing of value in his analysis of the topic.

Similarly, Marshall trashes the Pope’s teaching on war and his call for international cooperation in order to avoid it in the future.  Marshall becomes unhinged and quite sarcastic as he imagines putting Francis in a time machine and transporting him back to confront Moses, King David, the Maccabees, and Charlamagne on the topic of war and imagines him enjoining them all to merely “dialogue” with their enemies in order to pacify disputes.  Forget for a second the sheer nastiness of this thought experiment and focus instead on the anachronistic, puerile, nonsense that undergirds it.  It seems to have escaped his notice that war has changed in the modern world from what it was in the ancient past.  The weapons of mass destruction in modern arsenals, possessed by even impoverished States, and the vast, vast increase of the destructive power of modern warfare, as well as the manipulative mendacity over the sources of information that governments wield today, make modern warfare uniquely troubling in a moral sense.

Thus, Pope Francis is doing nothing more than continuing a trajectory of papal teaching that began with Paul VI, who he quotes: “No more war!”  Nowhere does the Pope openly embrace a total pacificism.  Nowhere does he condemn the principle of legitimate self-defense.  His voice instead is a prophetic one, issuing a strong warning on just how perilous modern warfare has become.  Marshall does not seem the slightest bit troubled by war and falls back on the usual bromides that only someone who has never experienced war would say.  My father was in combat in the Korean war.  My father is very conservative.  And my father hates war.  Hates.War.  

There is also the fact that preparation for war-making has become a central component of many economies, most especially the United States.  We sell to the world tanks, planes and bombs without blinking an eye, as if what we are selling is no more significant than a freighter loaded with candy and condoms. We wage wars, destabilize countries, topple governments, assassinate foreign operatives, rain death from above with drones, all in the name of making the world safe for our pornified culture of consumeristic acquisition.  And Taylor Marshall wants to know what the Pope’s beef with war and its attendant war industry is?? Marshall claims that Pope Francis is not too fond of the United States.  Neither am I.  And our war industry is a chief reason why.  But thankfully, loving what America has become is not a Gospel category.  

Marshall makes a big deal over the fact that Francis states in footnote (#242) that we can no longer hold to St. Augustine’s development of “just war” theory.  I admit that I too find that statement a bit strange, but more for being cryptic than for anything else.  Marshall states that he alone seems to have taken notice of this footnote and uses it to condemn the Pope and submit him to his fanciful time machine travel.  But in reality it could just be the Pope’s way of saying what many others have said – – very orthodox theologians among them. Namely, that just war theory has deep flaws owing to the fact that many of its criteria involve the use of prudential judgments that are in turn based on conjecture and speculation.  For example, the criterion that the war in question cannot cause more damage and harm than the evil that is being confronted. It is often impossible to know such things in advance.  There is also the demonstrable fact that every government that desires to go to war can find a way to justify it within just war criteria.  So how is something so plastic and so open to polyvalent, prudential interpretation useful any longer as a moral tool for helping us adjudicate these matters?  It may the case that just war theory is per se true, but also so open to abuse as to be virtually a tool in the hands of the powerful for covering their various wars with the mantle of moral respectability. And finally, there is the fact that modern wars have simply gotten so destructive that we have reached a tipping point where the presumption against war is virtually always stronger than the presumption for it.  And even if just war theory is thus questionable, it still doesn’t mean that a total pacifism is true either.  It just means that our analysis of the issue, in the light of modern warfare, needs a new metric.

This, it seems to me, is very similar to what John Paul also taught.  But for Marshall, the verdict is in: Pope Francis is a pacifist who has once again contradicted a core aspect of Catholic moral teaching.  The fact that what Francis is saying is hardly more than what Paul VI and John Paul had said leads one to suspect that Marshall’s broader dispute is with the entirety of the modern magisterium, including Vatican II, on these and other issues.  The fact that ALL of his criticisms are of post Vatican II popes, with Francis as the capstone malefactor, indicates a not so hidden rejection of the modern magisterium.  So it seems for Dr. Taylor Marshall that the “infiltration” of the Church by modernists and Freemasons means that the Magisterium is no longer a living Magisterium, but something instead that is frozen in time somewhere in the past.  And he thinks the Pope needs a time machine? His whole mind is in a time machine.  He is a theological Marty McFly stuck in his broken-down DeLorean somewhere on the via della conziliazione in 1962.

Is Fratelli Tutti a great encyclical? No.  I don’t even think it is a particularly good encyclical.  But it is an encyclical and it is magisterial.  Nor does it teach heresy.  It doesn’t even come close to teaching heresy.  Insofar as it doesn’t really break any new ground on anything, and insofar as its analysis of contemporary issues is rather thin, cliché, and unfailingly boring, I suspect it will be largely forgotten years from now.

And, one hopes, that will also be true of Taylor Marshall.

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