It’s Pope-a-Rama right now. Everywhere you look, there’s coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Sure, it’s historic, it’s exciting, it’s Pope-tastic: the pomp and ritual, the pretty music, the white robes. And liberals like this pope. I’ve seen comments from atheists who like him. There’s a lot to like about him, no doubt. But there’s also some issues where he is hopelessly behind the times, mired in an ancient, patriarchal system. He has to be careful how quickly he institutes change, when he does.
Here are the reasons why we should love this pope, in his own words:
1. Pope Francis has been an outspoken supporter of the fact of climate change. This puts him at odds with the right. Too bad. He is correct and really is a scientist.
“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” (Speech to Congress, Sept. 24, 2015)
“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.” (Papal encyclical, Vatican City, May 24, 2015)
“A Christian who doesn’t safeguard creation, who doesn’t make it flourish, is a Christian who isn’t concerned with God’s work, that work born of God’s love for us.” (Meditation, Vatican City, February 9, 2015)
“As stewards of God’s creation, we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family. When we destroy our forests, ravage our soil and pollute our seas, we betray that noble calling.” (Speech, Manila, Philippines, January 18, 2015)
2. The Pope has spoken about evolution and the origin of the Universe. His views, while not new in the Catholic church, caused a lot of consternation among conservatives. This is one reason why Evangelicals and the like hate him.
“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life.” (Speech to Pontificial Academy of Sciences; Oct. 28, 2014)
“The beginning of the world is not the work of chaos that owes its origin to something else, but it derives directly from a supreme principle that creates out of love. The ‘Big Bang’, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God, on the contrary it requires it.” (ibid.)
“Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.” (ibid.)
3. Pope Francis has been outspoken against the death penalty. Most liberals and progressives agree with him on this issue.
“I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes…(I) offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.” (Speech to Congress, Sept. 24, 2015)
“When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of aggression, but rather for an act committed in the past. Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.'” (letter to the International Commission Against the Death Penalty; March 20, 2015)
“For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice.” (ibid.)
“There is discussion in some quarters about the method of killing, as if it were possible to find ways ‘getting it right.’ But there is no humane way of killing another person.” (ibid.)
4. The Pope’s stand on poverty is, next to climate change, the best reason to love him. He has famously gone out among the homeless everywhere he visits. He washes feet, he eats with them, he treats them like human beings. What a concept — one that the man he speaks for advocated as well.
“I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.” (Speech to Congress, Sept. 24, 2015)
“To love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete: it means seeing in every person and face of the Lord to be served, to serve him concretely. And you are, dear brothers and sisters, in the face of Jesus.” (Address during Visit to a Homeless Shelter; May 21, 2013)
“Poverty calls us to sow hope…. Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in that child who is hungry, in the one who is sick, in those unjust social structures.” (Meeting with Students of Jesuit Schools; June 7, 2013)
“A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.” (Address to the Food and Agricultural Organization; June 20, 2013)
“Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor.” (Address to the Archbishop of Canterbury; June 14, 2013)
5. Immigration is an issue Pope Francis chose to spotlight on his visit to the U.S., much to the disgust of conservatives. He often points out that the guy he speaks for told his followers to treat one another as they would be treated.
“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants… Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal solidarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.” (Speech to Congress, Sept. 24, 2015)
“Please don’t ever be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land,” he said. “I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your life blood.” (Address in Philadelphia; Sept. 26, 2016)
“We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans,” he said. “This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles, based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed.” (ibid.)
“Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women, and men who leave or are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.” (Message for the 2014 World Day of Migrants and Refugees; September 24, 2013)
While we (mostly) agree with Pope Francis on these issues, there are other issues where we take a left turn away from him and his church. There is no getting past the fact that the Pope represents a fiercely patriarchal system and his stances on these issues are at odds with progressive thought.
1. The Pope’s view on abortion is in line with the American right wing. He has said that the church believes it to be a mortal sin. This wasn’t always so, as this history explains. Even though he granted priests the discretion to absolve it during the Jubilee, the position on abortion itself has not changed.
“… (abortion) “is a scientific problem, because there is a human life and it’s not lawful to take a human life to solve a problem.” (Speech to Catholic doctors; Nov. 15, 2014)
“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected,” Pope Francis writes. “Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others.” (Encyclical; June 18, 2015)
“Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (ibid.)
“If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.” (ibid.)
2. Same-sex marriage is a topic Pope Francis has danced around. But, when it comes down to it, he’s not very supportive. Yes, he did say, “Who am I to judge them…?” but there’s some judgement going on here.
“The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life. These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces, which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation.” (Mass in Manila; Jan. 15, 2015)
“… the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.” (Vatican address; Feb. 13, 2015)
3. This pope, like all the rest, bans contraception. As a scientist and should know better but he sticks with the church’s medieval thought on this. He should realize that this issue weighs heavily on other issues in which his compassion shows. Birth control is also a question of compassion and its use would lessen other evils.
“I believe that openness to life conditions the sacrament of matrimony. A man cannot give the sacrament to the woman, and the woman give it to him, if they are not in agreement on this point to be open to life.” (to reporters aboard the papal plane; Jan. 19, 2015)
“He had the strength to defend openness to life at a time when many people were worried about population growth.” (On Pope Paul VI, Manila; Jan. 15, 2015)
“He had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a ‘brake’ on the culture, to oppose [both] present and future neo-Malthusianism.” (ibid.)
4. The Pope refuses to consider ordaining women into the Priesthood of the Catholic church. While he says that women are “important” in the Church, he won’t go the extra yard and allow ordination.
“It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo’ (‘masculinity in a skirt’) because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo.” (Interview with Jesuit publication; September 2013)
“I would like to note, in the context of the increasingly diverse composition of the Commission, the greater presence of women — still not enough. … They are the strawberries on the cake, but we want more!” (Address to the International Theological Commission; Dec. 5, 2014)
“The church has spoken and says no … That door is closed.” (statement to reporters; Sept. 15, 2013)
Without a doubt, this Pope is much more progressive than his recent predecessors. His views on climate change and evolution alone should endear him to our cause. Yes, there are disagreements, major ones. But this man, this “People’s Pope,” has begun a dialogue. And that is the first step.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia