Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Pope in America, Part I

A Kinder, Gentler Pope




The Pope has been treated like a rock star on his tour of America.  People can't get enough of him.  John Boehner was driven to tears when the Pope issued an address in front of Congress.  As a Catholic this was a highly emotional time for the House Speaker.  Pope Francis does reach into a deep emotional well by evoking all that is good in us.  He tried to stir Congress into action on immigration and the refugee crisis by urging legislators to look at these people as human beings not a mass.  The situation in Syria and Iraq isn't much different than it was in Europe during World War II, with many of our parents and grandparents forced to flee the continent because of the violent unrest.

Pope Francis reaches beyond Pope John Paul II, another great humanitarian, in that he truly accepts everyone.  He even assured atheists that they would have a place in heaven.  There is a wonderful sense of humor about him as well, which is what has made him so accessible.

It is pretty hard to find anyone who has a bad thing to say about the Pope, except Rush Limbaugh who believes the Pope is a Marxist.  The folks at Fox have tread a very thin line, preferring to call him "naive," rather than disparage him like Limbaugh. Shep Smith was singled out on Fox as being the one to hit the nail on the head when he said the Pope is not being political, but rather following the teachings of the Bible as he should as the Holy See.

But, we have been beaten over the head, quite literally, with fire and brimstone ministers evoking Armageddon at every opportunity, as they blame gay marriage for the drop in stock prices or the latest hurricane or earthquake, refusing to accept any departure from their very narrow interpretation of the scripture.   You also see the rise of prosperity theology and seed faith, which I'm sure the Pope would cringe at.   He administered to those in the slums of Buenos Aires for many years.  The idea that God only responds to those who plant enough "seeds" in the church, would be anathema to him.

America is a largely Protestant country with many variations within this branch of Christianity.  For the better part of two centuries Catholicism was frowned upon and only became begrudgingly accepted in the later half of the 20th century.  We've only had one Catholic president, although we see six running for the GOP nomination. Even Bobby Jindal is a practicing Catholic.  Of course, Catholicism, like Protestantism, has its deeply conservative streak, with candidates like Rick Santorum openly admonishing the Pope for his position on global warming, among many other issues.

Not that the Pope worries about polls, but it is interesting to see that his popularity in America had dropped over a two-year period, especially among conservatives as he became increasingly outspoken on issues of income disparity and global warming.  He even issued an encyclical on climate change that was largely panned by the conservative media.  Liberals have also soured on the Pope as they don't believe he has gone far enough in addressing issues such as the role of women in the Catholic Church, gay marriage and contraception.

The Pope is indeed effusive in his praise for women, but it is highly unlikely that he will do much if anything to change the Church's position on women's issues.  The same is true with the issue of gay marriage.  He has shown his sympathy for gay couples, but in his speech before Congress he made it clear that he supports traditional marriage.  Once again, John Boehner couldn't hold back the tears.

Basically, what we have is a kinder, gentler Pope.  Those expecting great changes to occur within the Catholic Church during his tenure will be sorely disappointed, as this isn't a Pope determined to rewrite the Church doctrine.  Rather, he is trying to make the Church more humble, more concerned with the poor, the afflicted, and the many others who have fallen through the cracks in our society.  He wants the nations of the world to have greater concern for its' poorer citizens.  He is first and foremost a humanitarian, not a revolutionary.

This will probably be the one and only time we see him in the United States, as he isn't in the greatest of health and wants to save his energy for those who are truly afflicted.  He will leave us to sort out our own problems, using the Vatican as an intermediary in international disputes like he did between the United States and Cuba.

One hopes that he made an impact on others in Congress, like he did John Boehner, but that is unlikely.  House Republicans will go back to their same old ways now that the Pope and John Boehner are gone.  They prefer their fire and brimstone ministers.

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