A Note On First Things And Maureen Mullarkey

First Things editor R.R. Reno is not a friend of mine, but I was still somewhat surprised to read this piece by him on why he was firing one of our Senior Contributors at The Federalist, artist and critic Maureen Mullarkey. Reno writes at length in a piece headlined “No More Tirades” on why he is getting rid of her blog, including this justification: “First Things stands for something. Many things, actually. 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. 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.”

Here is the offending passage – like most things Mullarkey writes in criticism of Pope Francis, it has edge to it, as she can get quite hot about the subject:

“The road show is over. The spectacle flamed up and subsided, a Roman candle of demonic sanctimony. Think of it as pre-game warm-up for the main event: the global climate summit in Paris, November 30 to December 11. The Vatican is partnering with the Obama administration, at the U.N. and later in Paris, in magnifying state control over a free society and tightening the screws on the developed world. This, in the name of saving the planet from the production and growth of those very means by which the poor can raise themselves out of poverty.

“Our obligation to charity—caritas—is bound to the truth of things—in veritate. There is little truth in the aggressively promoted patchwork of contested science and hysteria that fuel apocalyptic prophecies. Yet the Vatican and Our Man in Havana militate against the imagined enemy of climate change while an actual, advancing one slaughters the faithful in its path.”

Oh my heavens, this is what it takes to get fired by First Things these days? Were I publishing this, I likely would have struck the word “demonic” and let the rest speak for itself without changes.

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” ~ Dr. Seuss

Reno’s decision here strikes me as very odd – not to let Mullarkey go, but the basis for his frustration is his own editorial decision. He had already made the decision to give Mullarkey the keys to publishing her pieces. Editors can’t give someone carte blanche to publish with no supervision and then be angry at the writer for the result. Editors edit. Writers write. If the editor decides not to do his job, the result is on him.

Reno can fire whoever he wants, whenever he wants, for any reason or no reason at all. As John Voight says in Heat, it’s a free country, brother. But to take to the pages of your website afterwards to excoriate the former writer is low behavior of the worst sort, particularly when their crime is essentially one of tone. Reno references her use of “terms… used by radio talk-show hosts to entertain the public with mock-battles against various Empires of Evil.” For many critics of Pope Francis’ approach to the climate debate, particularly how useful he has been to those who would destroy the developing world’s ability to achieve economic progress out of a sense of duty to the pieties of elites (at a time when actual Christians are being slaughtered, no less), these are not “mock-battles” for entertainment purposes. They are very real and very significant battles over matters of life and death.

But setting that aside: to fire someone and then take to your front page to piss all over them – attacking their work on their way out the door and personally impugning them for their perspective – is terrible behavior for someone managing an institution like First Things. As Michael Brendan Daugherty notes: “Hate Mullarkey all you want. But extracting the maximum amount of righteousness/applause for letting someone go is about as low as it gets.”

History is littered with examples of writers who behaved in much worse ways and received far less of a personal direct attack as they left the building. Jonah Goldberg only engaged with Ann Coulter after Coulter spent days publicly bitching about National Review – and even then, Jonah was pretty mild and respectful. Frank Foer didn’t do that to Spencer Ackerman, who actually threatened him with physical violence. It’s not the sort of thing responsible leaders do, because it sends a message to every future employee and employer.

For Reno to publicly pillory one of his writers because of an intellectual disagreement is bad form – and worse, to do so to a writer like Maureen Mullarkey is not the approach of a gentleman.

We will continue to publish her writings on art, literature, and faith at The Federalist.

Ben Domenech is the publisher of The Federalist.
Pope Francis Is A Leftist And Must Be Called Out
Pope Francis has associated with revolutionaries and ideologies that destroy human life and living conditions. The right response is not silence.By Maureen Mullarkey
January 26, 2015


Don’t pick a political fight with Pope Francis? The title of Rachel Lu’s recent essay and the timidity behind it reminds me of a old Jewish joke.

Max and Moishe are being escorted to the execution chamber in a Nazi prison. In a sudden gesture of defiance, Max raises his arm and gives the guards his middle finger. Horrified, Moishe pulls his arm down and blurts, “Please, Max, don’t make waves.”

Just so all the reflexive excuses for Pope Francis’ dismaying behavior and increasingly obvious ideological bent. Lu forgets there exists such a thing as a loyal opposition. She cites criticism of Francis as evidence of a “war.” A Republican war at that. Doing so, she strays into the same reductive trap set by the mainstream media that she wants conservatives to avoid.

Under the tutelage of a pope who ascribes to himself an omnicompetency in geopolitical and scientific matters, the Catholic Church is at risk of a death walk of its own. Its descent into a left-leaning political entity is underway while we circle the wagons and measure our tones. It is a serious matter when a pope confuses political and ideological symbols for religious ones.

Civil society has an immense stake in that confusion. And the stakes are raised when papal preferences, masked in a Christian idiom, align themselves with ideological agendas (e.g. radical environmentalism) that impinge on democratic freedoms and the sanctity of the individual. Throughout the history of the Church, there has been tension between Peter and Caesar, between the Church and the state. Francis, raised in Argentina during the apogee of Peronism, gives every evidence of tilting toward the state.
Let’s Talk About Pope Francis Associating with Marxists

Since Lu refers to my January 5 article in First Things, let us go back to that for a moment. “Francis and Political Illusion” included a photo of the pope standing between two environmental activists and holding an anti-fracking T-shirt. Effort was made by papal apologists to dismiss the image as nothing more than a visual equivalent to Francis’ off-the-cuff malapropisms—a genial Francis being courteous to some activists.


No, it was not. And these were not just any activists. The older of the two men in the photo is Fernando Solanas, an Argentine film director, avowed propagandist, and politician. A key player in Buenos Aires, he ran for president of Argentina on the Socialist ticket in 2007 and stood for the senate last year. In the 1960s, he co-founded the influential, radical film collective Grupo Cine Liberación (The Liberation Film Group) with Octavio Gettino, Both were Marxists and supporters of Juan Perón at the time.

Together with Gettino, Solanas also founded Tercer Cine (Third Cinema), a title referencing the Third Word. Prominent in the 1970s and 1980s, it was a movement—a school—opposed to neocolonialism and capitalism. It issued a manifesto, “Documentary Is Never Neutral” that opened with the words of Frantz Fanon: “…we must discuss; we must invent.” In the obligatory style of left-wing manifestos, it included quotations from Mao, from Che Guevara’s handbook “Guerilla Warfare,” and anti-colonial, and pro-Cuba tracts. It rails against “bourgeois values,” “surplus value cinema” and “the lords of the world film market, the great majority of whom were from the United States.”

Gettino died two years ago; Solanas is carrying the torch.
Solanas and Gomez were eager for the pope to declare major environmental missteps ‘crimes against humanity.’

That meeting between Francis and Solanas, on November 11, 2013, had been scheduled for months. It was the culmination of a Vatican conference on “environmental crimes” with Argentine activists. Federal prosecutor Gustavo Gomez participated. When discussions ended, Francis’ invited Solanas and Gomez into his apartment for a private audience and closing photo-op. A cameraman and sound technician accompanied. There was nothing casual about it.

Solanas and Gomez were eager for the pope to declare major environmental missteps “crimes against humanity.” No definition was given of what constituted a crime or distinguishes it from an accident. Instead, the men praised Francis’ slogan for his upcoming campaign: “We must pray for children who receive dirty bread their parents give them.”

The film ran while the pope sorted through the T-shirts and held them up to the camera: “Say No to Fracking” and “Water Is Worth More than Gold.” That done, image-conscious Francis selected the wall he wanted to pose against while he delivered a homilette. It is a disquieting, rambling bit of stagecraft.
The Hashtag Papacy

In the course of it, Francis has condemned 46 percent youth unemployment in an unnamed European country but appears to have no grasp of the causes of such unemployment. He offers only distaste for the vague “unjust international system” we are living in. That, plus a wave of the hand encompassing Hiroshima, mining, and high-voltage cables is presented in evidence that “we are living the myth of Shiva.”
Francis has condemned 46 percent youth unemployment in an unnamed European country but appears to have no grasp of the causes of such unemployment.

Despite the resurgence of a conquering Islam and the gruesome cleansing of Christians from the Middle East, Francis declares that “the greatest conflict that is rising is the struggle over water.” We must not waste or contaminate water. Toward the end of this strange performance, Francis quotes Zhou Enlai, Mao’s henchman. While an innocuous quotation in itself, Francis’ choice of it signals sympathy with Solanas’ ideological tastes.

It bears mention that the photo-op provided invaluable publicity for Solanas’ La Guerra del Fracking (“The Fracking War”), banned in Argentina by the government. This was a backhanded but unsubtle papal intrusion into Argentine politics. The film, in Italian with English subtitles, runs nine minutes. It can be found here.

Francis is no naïf. He signals his priorities to anyone paying attention. You do not have to be a Republican or a conservative to get the message. In support of his green theology, he plans a speech at the United Nations and a congress of world religious leaders at the Vatican. He is preparing to lend this agenda the magisterial weight of an encyclical. Yet, when innocents are slaughtered in Paris by the same forces that are shedding Christian blood in the Middle East, the most he can muster is a hashtag, #PrayersforParis.

The contrast is telling.
Silence and Appeasement Have Never Been Effective

Lu would have us turn our eyes away. She prefers that conservatives keep mum on papal presumptuousness so as not to inflame the liberal media. In short, she rationalizes silence as a means of appeasing media hounds. It is a fainthearted position that ignores longstanding—and ongoing—evidence of the futility of appeasement.
While deferential observers are measuring their tones, Francis drives ahead with a demagogic program which makes the state the guardian and enforcer all values.

Let us be honest. Conservatives are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. While deferential observers are measuring their tones, Francis drives ahead with a demagogic program which makes the state the guardian and enforcer all values. To suppress challenge to a pope’s political biases or erratic behavior is no favor to the Church. It is little more than a failure of nerve that will earn no reward in the press. Silence is a form of collusion.

Earlier this month, Peter Berger reported in The American Interest that Leonardo Boff is an advisor to the pope on his forthcoming encyclical on climate change. Boff, a former Franciscan priest, is one of the major proponents of Liberation Theology, rejected as radical by both previous pontiffs. In March, 2013, at the time of Francis’ election, Boff told the press that Jorge Bergoglio was more liberal than people supposed. His conservatism as cardinal was due only to pressure from the Vatican. Rorate Caeli recorded Boff’s prediction: “He is now the pope and he can do whatever he wants. Many will be surprised with what Francis will do.”

This past October, Francis took aim at “ideological Catholics,” calling them “a serious illness” within the Church. What is Francis, if not an ideologue?

Photo Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston / Flickr
Maureen Mullarkey is an artist who writes on art and culture. Her weblog appears here on First Things’ website.




About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. ‘Irreverence’? How so?

    Ms. Mullarkey’s keen eye and gifted hand takes in and streams forth The Holy Spirit’s Laser Light Of Truth. That, dear colleagues, epitomizes a writer in His Service.

    The real trouble, perhaps: the Truth terrifies.

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