Pope Francis Goes to Washington

image: popefrancisnyc.org

image: popefrancisnyc.org

So, the pope. CNN was wall-to-wall pope from the moment he set foot in Cuba to the moment he left America. It was hard not to get carried along in the enthusiasm oozing from the (Catholic) reporters. He was wonderful! Amazing! Best pope ever! Rock star Francis! It was like the Beatles were coming to town! Etc.

Yes, he comes across as quite modern. A breath of fresh air in the Vatican, though all the experts are quick to say that Pope Francis won’t change any church doctrine. He won’t change the church’s view on gay marriage or abortion, and he couldn’t even if he wanted to. Maybe so. I hope that at some point he will at least allow contraceptives.

But back to his visit to America. He drove a wide open pope mobile, so he walks the walk that comes with the talk that he’s the people’s pope, always ready to shake hands and hug. That’s a plus. He drove a small Fiat to Capitol Hill. A plus. He spoke before Congress, and I had decided beforehand that that was inappropriate, for a religious leader to speak before Congress, but I have to say that he kept it very general, overall. Plus.

He spoke of empathy and caring being more important than getting as rich as humanly possible; he spoke of no longer being able to ignore climate change; he spoke of the homeless, the poor, refugees and other immigrants, of looking at their faces and hearing their stories so they aren’t just numbers in a political debate. Plus, plus, plus and plus.

He also mentioned being aware that society constantly changes but that he was concerned about families (code for being against gay marriage, I presume) and that life should be respected at every stage (against abortion, in other words). Minus and minus, though, in contrast to prominent American fundamentalist Christians, he didn’t threaten anyone with hell fire and he didn’t use ridiculous and fictitious examples of how bad gay marriage and abortion are. He just mentioned the two issues in a few words and moved on to the death penalty, which he is also against. Plus.

Oh, and he warned against religious extremism. Huge plus! He also thought that cultural colonialism was a bad idea; some cultures are simply not ready for certain things. This after he just beatified father Junipero Serra. I’m confused. I also don’t necessarily agree. Men may not have been ready for it, but I doubt too many Indian women protested when the British outlawed Sati, the practice of widow burning–just to name an example. But I digress.

All in all, I think it went quite well.

And then he left to go feed the homeless, which I loved.

The victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests were upset that the pope mentioned how hard it was on the bishops and that he praised them in their handling of the problem, and justifiably so. I believe that not one priest has ever gone to prison for child rape. A friend of mine back in the Netherlands who was in a management position once told me that sometimes you have to stick feathers up someone’s ass to get things done. In other words, you tell an awful, oppositional employee how great they’re doing; you make them feel proud of themselves and sometimes that actually makes them do better. I’ll give the pope the benefit of the doubt here and presume he was doing the feather thing when he said the bishops were handling the situation so well.

My take on his visit is that Pope Francis comes across as genuine. He preaches humility and caring for the weakest people in society above always striving for personal gain, and he put his money where his mouth was by forgoing all the pomp and circumstance that comes with being a world leader of sorts and stepping into a small car instead of a bulletproof limo. And after his speech to Congress he didn’t have lunch with the president or the Congress big shots; no, he served lunch to the homeless.

Sure, he’s the head of the Catholic church and he stands by all the doctrine, but during his visit he focused on this world, on real people, on what we all have in common. He reminded Congress to do unto others as you would have them do to you, which got him a roaring applause. Clearly those are pretty unusual words on the Hill.

So yeah, overall he seems pretty cool.

Oh, and here’s a short video with some differing opinions on the right.


2 responses to “Pope Francis Goes to Washington

  1. Wonderfully written!!
    Coming from a Catholic family myself -but being a wayward Catholic here- I’ve heard that the strict Catholics do not like this Pope. They want someone who is more strict, so I might assume with this coming from them, Pope Francis is more loose with all the doctrines. “They” are afraid he might say something on issues like gay marriage and abortion so I assume, again, that his personal vision/idea is quite different then what they would like it to be. But, holding the Office he is holding, there is not much he can do? Sometimes reading between the lines I can get a hint of that but that being said, those are articles from reporters and they put their own interpretation on things in their articles.
    I did read something the Pope has said about the abuse by the Catholic clergy and I believe it was on the plane home in an interview where he said that abuse is an awful thing and even more terrible when it is done by someone of the clergy, whom are supposed to be a safe haven to people. If I remember correctly he said that this is like “being hit with evil” but don’t quote me on that part.
    Come to think of it, the Pope did meet with some of the victims while being in the US? He didn’t go as far as publicly apologizing for what has happened but he did say to them -non publicly- “The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all.”
    In his last speech the Pontiff did address the Church’s leadership again, vowing that clergy and bishops would be held accountable for “the sins and crimes” of abuse.
    I am not sure how that stands, this being in contrast with Pope Francis’ praise of how the US Bishops are handling the sexual abuse scandal and crisis. Some say that Pope Francis is like a tranquilizer and everything will go on as before, with this being swept under the rug.
    I sure hope not!


    • Hi Rubydragon, thanks for the additional info and the insight of a wayward Catholic. Yes, I get that impression, too, that the pope’s personal views in societal issues are way ahead of church doctrine. It’s not clear to me why they chose this pope if he’s too liberal for them. Unless there are secretly more liberal cardinals than we know?


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