By: Chris Warren.
This is a big week for American Roman Catholics as Pope Francis is making his first ever visit to the USA. The media acts like he is some sort of visionary, but that only shows how little the media knows about the history of the papacy. It’s not unprecedented for a pontiff to dabble in politics and social issues; Pope Francis is doing it with an amazing level of class and grace. Popes have been inserting themselves into secular matters for centuries, and in many cases it went far beyond mere “dabbling”.
Pope Francis’ position on climate change or gay marriage or whatever provides material for endless chatter on the cable news channels. Had electronic media existed in times past, it would have been overloading the circuits with news of how popes were, literally, kingmakers. Pope Julius II (b. 1443, d. 1513) was known as the “warrior pope”. He raised armies and conquered territory, acquired vast art collections, and tore down then rebuilt what is now the present day St. Peter’s Basilica. Julius II was also the guy who hired Michelangelo to paint the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. One can barely imagine the media attention that would ensue if Francis attempted anything close to what Julius II did.
It is somewhat amusing that the media thinks Pope Francis made some huge splash when he gave a few sermons and wrote what is basically the Vatican equivalent of a college term paper on climate change. It’s barely an effort compared to his predecessors. Pope Paul V (b. 1552, d. 1621) put Galileo on trial for daring to suggest that the Earth revolved around the sun. Galileo was found “guilty”, given a light sentence, then was later tried by the Church a second time as a repeat offender. He lived the last few years of his life under house arrest.
Although the Catholic Church no longer places anyone on trial for scientific heresy, that of course does not stop the Church from having an opinion. It’s a fair argument that religion should concern itself only with spiritual matters, but since society by default is also a statement about collective values and beliefs, the line between religion and politics is quite fuzzy.
Pope Francis has been criticized for stepping out on the ledge, so to speak, and making bold statements about secular affairs. If he did not, then what is the point of having a Church? One of the primary purposes of any church is to glorify God by doing good works for others. Is Pope Francis supposed to sit in a chapel and quietly pray the Rosary all day?
One thing that always bothered me about secular people is that they wrap themselves in a veneer of separation of church and state, thinking they have a monopoly on social change. If it were not for organized religion, a lot of problems would go unsolved. I don’t see any atheists building hospitals in Africa or running homeless shelters in inner city America. They aren’t willing to admit it, but secularists do indeed have a de facto church –the government– to which they petition for help and guidance. It takes a lot of nerve for people who think the church should be separate from the state to treat the state as if it were a church.
I don’t completely agree with everything Pope Francis says on political and social topics, but I do agree with his selfless message of God’s love. If his words makes people of any (or no) faith look a little more kindly upon their fellow man, then that’s a net plus. Pope Francis is in a position to reach people who otherwise would not have any interest at all in words of faith. He is not a political figure and thankfully is not bound by any political customs. Pope Francis teaches that politics may not belong in religion, but religion most certainly has a place in politics.