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“To The Sinners In Congress”: Pope Francis isn’t A Liberal. He’s Something More Radical: A Christian Humanist

Pope Francis is causing quite the stir these days.

On Tuesday he will make his first trip to the United States, where he’ll preach the existential urgency of climate change and the moral imperative of economic inequality to a Republican Congress that would probably prefer he talk about abortion and marriage. Conservatives worldwide are upset that Francis is allowing priests to absolve women who repent for an abortion and has “vandalized” marriage by making it easier for Catholics to get their marriages annulled.

In July, Gallup reported that the pope’s favorability among American self-described conservative Catholics had dropped to 45 percent, from 72 percent a year earlier. “This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality,” Gallup said, noting that these are “all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs.”

But just because some conservatives are upset with Pope Francis, that doesn’t mean that he’s a liberal. He isn’t, really, politically or religiously.

He is a reformer, and he is shaking things up in a church that had experienced theological and institutional continuity for 35 years under Pope John Paul II, elected in 1978, and Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul’s doctrinal right hand from 1982 until his own elevation to supreme pontiff in 2005.

Francis boldly promotes some policies that make conservatives uncomfortable. But the Pope Francis revolution is probably best described as humanist — and that makes it a much bigger challenge to Catholics in the West, both conservative and liberal.

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that Francis is a secular humanist, or capital-h Humanist, by any means. Instead, let’s call him a Christian humanist, defining that as one who cares about human beings more than ecclesiastical considerations.

That might sound like secular balderdash, but it’s actually a phrase coined by Pope Benedict. “Christian humanism,” he wrote in the 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), “enkindles charity and takes its lead from truth, accepting both as a lasting gift from God. Openness to God makes us open toward our brothers and sisters and toward an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.” Benedict explicitly borrowed the idea from Pope Paul VI.

Pope Francis has taken the idea of Christian humanism and put it into practice, with a big smile. He is concerned with the welfare of the Roman Catholic Church, certainly, but he is much more concerned with what the Catholic Church calls the “mystical body of Christ” — that is, the people who make up the Christian church.

There are plenty of examples.

His groundbreaking encyclical on climate change, Laudato Sí (“Praise Be to You”), for one, is a stern rebuke to humanity — that includes industrialist polluters, but also voracious consumers and even environmentalists — for turning the Earth into “an immense pile of filth.” But he intrinsically pairs ecology and social justice, arguing that efforts to save the planet “must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

Then there’s the pope’s modification of church law to make it easier to get broken marriages annulled, which, Vatican Radio says, is rooted in the core principle of “salus animarum — the salvation of souls.” Catholics whose marriages fail — especially in poorer countries, where annulments are expensive and hard to come by — should be shown mercy and love, encouraged and allowed to fully participate in the sacramental life of the church, whenever possible.

But probably the most illuminating example — the one that shows Francis putting the needs of humanity firmly above the parochial concerns of the church — has to do with the Christian character of Europe.

Pope Benedict, before he retired, fought tooth and nail to keep Europe anchored in Christianity. In 2007, after the European Parliament rejected including references to God and Christianity in the European Constitution, Benedict chastised European lawmakers. How can EU governments “exclude an element as essential to the identity of Europe as Christianity, in which the vast majority of its people continue to identify?” Benedict asked. “Does not this unique form of apostasy of itself, even before God, lead [Europe] to doubt its very identity?”

Pope Francis has not only ignored the issue, he has pleaded with Catholics — and, in fact, all Europeans — to personally house the masses of mostly Muslim migrants seeking refuge in the EU.

The surge of humanity from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya will make Europe more Muslim and less Christian, as some European politicians have noted caustically. But the preeminent Christian leader in Europe is begging Europeans to open their doors, anyway. And in the case of Catholic religious orders, he is more than pleading: He is ordering them to utilize their unused convent and monastery rooms to house refugees, unless they want to start paying property taxes. The Holy See has already chosen two families of migrants to stay in the Vatican, the pope said, and they are welcome to remain “as long as the Lord wants.”

If you think that the church focusing on migrants isn’t novel, you wouldn’t be wrong. Pope Benedict said it was “impossible to remain silent” on the issue of refugee camps in 2008 (years before the refugee camps were in Europe). And, back in 1985, John Paul II said the fact that a migrant “is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him of membership to the human family.” In the U.S., the Catholic Church has long advocated for the rights of immigrants — though the big waves of immigrants in the 20th century were largely Catholic.

But that’s the point of the Pope Francis revolution — it’s not really about new ideas, it’s about what the Catholic Church truly focuses on and where it leads by example. Francis isn’t just visiting the sinners in the U.S. Congress, he’s also visiting the sinners in prison, as well as children, hard laborers, refugees, and other demographics the Bible says that Jesus paid attention to.

Ostentatiously living a more humble papacy, determinedly mingling with the disenfranchised and downtrodden, radically (for the Catholic Church) putting the laity at the center of church solicitude: This is the change Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church. It is making lots of people uncomfortable. Honestly, any Catholic that doesn’t feel challenged by Francis’ subversive papacy probably isn’t paying enough attention.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, calls Francis “an equal opportunity disturber,” noting that “when we listen to some things he says, we smile; as we listen to other things he says, we bristle.” But, he added, “Jesus was like that, remember?”

It’s pretty clear Pope Francis does.

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Church, Christianity, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Big Money, Big Mouth”: How The Megadonors Of The Right Think

Let’s be clear about who the political enemy is in this country:

Three years ago, Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone helped lead an unsuccessful effort by a group of GOP megadonors to persuade Gov. Chris Christie to make a run for president in 2012.

Now Langone, who remains a Christie cheerleader, said he is convinced the New Jersey governor is the “guy who can win” the 2016 presidential election — and that the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy is in his rear-view mirror.

“If he decides, and I’d be more inclined to say when he decides to throw his hat in the ring, I think he’s going to be a formidable competitor,” Langone said in an interview. “People I talk to are still high on him. He looks fabulous. He looks healthy. He’s energized.”

Ken Langone is the same billionaire who told CNBC in January that Pope Francis ought to watch his mouth.

Pope Francis’ critical comments about the wealthy and capitalism have at least one wealthy capitalist benefactor hesitant about giving financial support to one of the church’s major fundraising projects.

At issue is an effort to raise $180 million for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York being spearheaded by billionaire Ken Langone, the investor known for founding Home Depot, among other things.

Langone told CNBC that one potential seven-figure donor is concerned about statements from the pope criticizing market economies as “exclusionary,” urging the rich to give more to the poor and criticizing a “culture of prosperity” that leads some to become “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”

Langone said he’s raised the issue more than once with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, most recently at a breakfast in early December at which he updated him on fundraising progress.

“I’ve told the cardinal, ‘Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country,’ ” he said.

I’m going to take the Pope’s side on this one. And I’m going to get my hardware elsewhere.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 31, 2014

September 1, 2014 Posted by | Home Depot, Kenneth Langone, Megadonors | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Matter Of Human Conscience”: The Backlash To The Backlash On Border Children

Perhaps not since that fleeting moment of national unity in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy nearly 13 years ago have so many diverse faith traditions, from Catholic bishops to Quakers, from evangelical Christians to liberal Jews, come together with such genuine fervor on any public issue.

The “backlash to the backlash” on the U.S. border crisis has now begun.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America have recently slipped into the United States seeking refuge in a horrific storm. This many young kids don’t leave home on a long, desperate, parentless journey for no reason. Many are escaping gang brutality, instigated partly by hard-core drug lords, who’ve left U.S. prisons and returned home to stir up more trouble and intimidation.

It’s difficult to imagine what these children anticipated upon entering the United States. Almost no new arrival is ever really prepared for the whirlwind and sheer crassness of American culture.

But they can’t have been expecting the visceral vitriol that greeted some of these young refugees. The boiling-over rage that coarses through so much of our debate on public issues abruptly confronted these frightened children — unsophisticated strangers in a strange land. Anti-immigration activists angrily opposed even establishing shelters for vulnerable kids far from home.

There was an apparent inability to distinguish legitimate public discourse over immigration policy (long ginned up on all sides for political gain) from an actual humanitarian crisis involving children draped under Red Cross blankets, right here, right now. Emma Lazarus’ torch seemed to be temporarily extinguished.

But a different view was expressed last week by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who got audibly choked up delivering a public announcement that his state would shelter hundreds of children while they’re being processed. A military base on Cape Cod is one venue being considered.

A state homeland security official later said he anticipated the children would be between six- and 17-years-old staying an average of 35 days. Most would likely be released to relatives in the United States, he explained, while others would eventually face deportation.

Said Governor Patrick: “My faith teaches that if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him but rather love him as yourself.” And this was from a publicly secular governor, hardly known for wearing his private beliefs on his sleeve. For Deval Patrick, nearing the end of his eight years in office, it appears to be simply a matter of human conscience. “It bears remembering they’re children and they’re alone.”

Yet his proposal has met with a roar of protest from some quarters — including residents of towns neighboring the base, who attended a meeting of Bourne, Massachusetts local officials this week. One woman, living in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, held a banner that read: “Send them back. They broke the law.”

At Patrick’s public statement, he was flanked by Boston-area clergy. The faith community nationwide, which should be the natural habitat for discussion of basic decency and human compassion, is now speaking up with remarkable unity over how the United States should handle the refugee crisis.

Last week, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote: “I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!'”

As reported yesterday in The New York Times: “‘We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,’ said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help.”

Believers as diverse as Unitarians and Lutherans are coming together on this moral question. “The anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting,” said Russell Moore, an official of the Southern Baptist Convention, who this week accompanied fellow churchmen to visit refugee centers in Texas.

“The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues, these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.”

 

By: David Freudberg, The Huffington Post Blog, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Faith, Humanitarian Crisis, Refugees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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