While it may seem that there is nothing politically conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh won’t say, his recent rant against Pope Francis may have just crossed a line.
On his radio show, Limbaugh railed against the Pope’s recent 50,000-word Evangelii Gaudium, or “The Joy of the Gospel,” in which the pontiff laid out his interpretation of the Catholic Church’s mission. Pope Francis urged his followers to relinquish obsessions with issues like same-sex marriage and contraception and instead return to the fundamentals, e.g. helping the poor. He denounced “the idolatry of money” and criticized “trickle-down economics …[which] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”
The Pope’s words thrilled many Catholics who have felt the church has strayed from its core values. But his clear dig at more capitalist societies irked others, including Limbaugh. In typical fiery style, he called the Pope’s views “pure Marxism” and said the Holy See was “dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.” He also struck a paranoid note, wondering if someone “got to him” (God, perhaps?).
A sticky wicket for Limbaugh. His listeners are conservative, but so are many Catholics – and a lot of Catholics really, really like their new Pope. Is Limbaugh really asking his fans to pick sides?
PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Rush Limbaugh, who risks alienating an important segment of his fan base.
PR TAKEAWAY: Even if your job is to be controversial, avoid sacred cows. Indeed, Limbaugh seemed to acknowledge as much, saying “I gotta be very careful” during his tirade. We know how much Rush hates to be referred to as “an entertainer,” but the truth is that’s exactly what he is, and insulting a wildly popular Pope is about as PR un-savvy as it gets. Rush doesn’t have to endorse everything that Pope Francis says, but he would be wise to temper his papal tirades – lest he find some of his flock straying.