Pope Francis has quite obviously been the focus of attention for some time, in part, because of numerous statements he has made with respect to the environment, immigration and capitalism. His apologists insist that he is merely proclaiming traditional Catholic doctrine with respect to those issues and that detractors either have an anti-Catholic bias at best or are pseudo Christians who oppose the genuine gospel at worst. Moreover, some insist that the Pope’s statements have no relation to existing or proposed legislation; they are merely calls for compassion. Said apologists are wrong or curiously naïve on all counts.
For conservative critics of the Pope’s statements, some of whom are Catholics, the Pope’s faith is irrelevant. They see in his speeches/sermons a support for policies that will ultimately harm the people the Pope is seeking to help. Since political conservatives believe that their theory of government benefits society far better than competing ones, it follows that they will oppose a leader who is helping to undermine “the blessings of liberty” that they are seeking to defend. The leader’s religion or lack thereof, per se, has nothing to do with it. Said leader could be a Catholic, Presbyterian, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist. If s/he offers prescriptions which will push the world to the Left, one shouldn’t be shocked if those on the Right oppose them. To argue that such opposition is due to anti-Catholic bigotry is a transparent attempt to silence the critics with ad-hominems as opposed to honest debate.
Moreover, to attack the Pope’s critics who happen to be Christians as insincere opponents of the true gospel is just as offensive. Rational people argue the facts; irrational people spew ad-hominems. “Oh, you don’t really oppose the Pope; you oppose Jesus Christ!” Say what?? Unless the Roman Catholic Church considers every sermon Francis delivers infallible, I fail to see how any rational person could even think that could gain any traction. If the Pope’s pronouncements on the environment, immigration, etc., are fallible, they are subject to analysis and criticism. If they are wrong, no rational person is, Catholic or otherwise, obligated to believe or follow them. Indeed, they are free to reject them.
With respect to Francis’ statements being detached from actual policy, his defenders fail to take into consideration the effect those statements will have on those who craft policy. When the Pope repeatedly and consistently gives the impression to socialists that he is on their side and gives the impression to those who should be more ideologically aligned with him that he is either not on their side or is chastising them, he IS aiding and abetting socialist policies for they are using his words to justify their legislation. He is thus using his influence to advance the socialist agenda whether or not he verbalizes his support for particular legislation.
If the Pope repeatedly preaches without qualification that we should strive for racial purity, an apologist could deflect the charge that the Pope is racist by saying that all races should strive to be pure (without sin) in God’s sight. However, if the Pope continues to preach racial purity and racist groups everywhere use his “support” to advance a racist agenda, the Pope is morally obligated to issue an unambiguous statement to the contrary. If the Pope is unaware that racists are using his words to take the world in a direction that he doesn’t want the world to go, then he is woefully uninformed and thus unqualified to be making those pronouncements. He should know the effect of his words before he speaks them. So, in the current context of his statements about capitalism, immigration and the environment, he is either a socialist and is pushing the world leftward, or he is ignorant that his sincere efforts to promote the gospel are actually undermining the gospel by furthering the agenda of his ideological opponents. Socialism is destructive, not conducive to our welfare. If the Pope doesn’t know that, he shouldn’t be surprised that those who know better find fault with him in that regard.
I realize his supporters may think that he is merely attempting to remove the psychological opposition many people have to his church so that they may be receptive to the church’s other teachings on morality, etc., but if that’s his motive, it is misguided at best. When you signal that you agree with your opponents, their acceptance of your church will be based either on what they consider a concession or a genuine change of heart. Once they discover that no concession or change of heart has been made, they will rightly conclude that they’ve been had and will act accordingly. In the Christian context, it is the Truth that sets men free, not sleight of hand.