Two things you’re not supposed to talk about, and the one man who talks about them both.
By Christopher Motola
Class of 2017
In case you haven’t heard, Pope Francis just visited the United States. Notable parts of his trip include a speech before Congress, and address at the United Nations, and of course, Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Predictably, everyone has had something to say about the Pope. But perhaps the most interesting idea I’ve heard thrown around is that Pope Francis is ‘too political’. This is a sentiment I’ve heard expressed by many politicians, talking heads, and even CUA Professors.
These comments remind me of an amusing memory from when I was younger. Back in middle school, there was a student who came from a very wealthy family. Let’s call them the Smith Family. One weekend, Mr. and Mrs. Smith purchased a bright red Ferrari. It didn’t take long before first period before it was common knowledge of the whole 6th grade. Little Johnny Smith thought it was the most exciting thing in the world. However, it didn’t last long. Mrs. Smith sold the car later that week. We were all incredulous. When we all asked Johnny why, he gave us an answer that stuck with me to this very day: “She didn’t like it. It was too low to the ground for her, and it was just too fast”. Ridiculous, I know, but it really shows you where Mrs. Smith was coming from. She wanted a flashy status symbol, but didn’t fully understand all that this entailed.
When I hear comments about how Pope Francis is ‘too political’, I’m reminded of Mrs. Smith and her Ferrari. This past week, Senator James Inhofe complained that it was “totally inappropriate” for the Pope to be “weighing in on all the real sensitive far left issues.” One Congressman (who is a devout Catholic, supposedly) openly boycotted the Pope, saying that “if the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line… but when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.” Nice. “It’s interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that’s what the Church is supposed to do,” another Congressman jabbed earlier this year.
Now, this isn’t to say I agree with the Pope on everything (I definitely don’t), and it isn’t to say that our politicians should even have to consider what he says (they shouldn’t). But to expect anything less from the Pope is ridiculous. Many people and politicians use the Pope as a means to prop up or promote their own ideas, but don’t want him to talk when they disagree. They think he should be a tool, rather than a political actor himself. Of course, this is a fool’s errand. The Papacy has always been a political position. By definition, it’s a political title. (If you’re having trouble with this, Google “Holy See” and get back to me.)
Beyond that, a simple examination of the past will show just how political the Pope really is. Pope Saint John Paul II is highly praised, even by secular scholars, for being a major voice against Communism. Some even go as far as crediting him with the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union. One writer considers him as an instrumental part of the “trio who destroyed Soviet Communism and its evil empire” (The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister. Great book, you should read it). Long before JP II, Pope Pius XI even declared that “when Politics come near the Altar, then Religion, the Church, the Pontiff have not only the right but the duty to give directions and indications to be followed by Catholics”. One could go on and on listing the extremely influential political actions of Popes throughout time. Some good, some bad, but they are all evidence that the Papacy, and religion as a whole, is inherently political. To expect the leader of a major world religion to be anything else is simply being naive.
It’s important to remember that although the Pope is part theologian, he is part politician as well. In other words, although he may ride in a Fiat on occasion, he will always be part Ferrari.