Well, I was a Francis skeptic when being a Francis skeptic wasn't cool. Yes, he's gotten up the noses of conservatives with statements I applaud, on climate change and capitalism's tendency toward rapaciousness, and bully for him, but I was wary of him early on because I didn't see any sign that he was going to revisit Church teachings on core issues -- abortion, homosexuality, the role of women in the Church. That ambiguous "Who am I to judge?" remark notwithstanding, he's stuck to the party line on all these matters. So while I've been caught up in the hoo-ha surrounding his visit, and while I appreciate his obvious empathy, he's still on the wrong side on a lot of issues as far as I'm concerned. I don't scratch my head and wonder, "Is the Pope a liberal?" He has a mix of views. Some are what we call liberal, some are what we call very conservative. I don't find it particularly difficult to wrap my head around that. And on the latter issues, he and his church leave me cold.
I'm not surprised that the anti-divorce Pope met with a multiply married woman -- Jesus hung out with Mary Magdalene, Francis does make a point of outreach to all sorts of people, and popes have never shied away from the divorced when they deemed it politically appropriate to strike up an alliance (see: John Paul II and Ronald Reagan). Also, Davis's parents are Catholic, and Davis's conservative-bigwig pal, the Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver, grew up attending Mass with his Catholic mother. And the U.S. religious right established ties to Catholicism a while back, ties I'm sure are still strong.
Now, was this a mistake for Francis? Ed Kilgore thinks so:
... maybe Francis got punk’d into this meeting without understanding what a big deal it would be. But I have to say, if this Pope was trying to “transcend” the culture wars, googling Davis before giving her a private audience might have been a real good idea.As does Charlie Pierce:
Everything [Francis] said about capitalism and about the environment is going to be drowned out because he wandered into a noisy American culture-war scuffle in which one side, apparently the one he picked, has a seemingly ceaseless megaphone for its views. What a fcking blunder. What a sin against charity, as the nuns used to say.But what good did that goodwill do him? Immediately after a speech to Congress in which he enjoined legislators to work together for the common good, John Boehner resigned as Speaker under pressure and a government shutdown later in the year became all but inevitable. The state of Georgia put a female prisoner to death despite a plea from the Pope for a stay of execution.
This is, obviously, the dumbest thing this Pope ever has done. It undermines everything he accomplished on his visit here. It undermines his pastoral message, and it diminishes his stature by involving him in a petty American political dispute.
... the pope trashed whatever good will he'd accrued here....
(And I suppose conservatives would say that after cheering on the Pope we liberals went right back to aborting and gay-marrying.)
Francis has everyone rooting on parts of his agenda, and he also has everyone a little off balance. I'm sure that's exactly what he wants. But none of it's going to matter much -- personable popes make most people giddy, but the ability of popes to change minds on political issues is vastly overrated.
I'm grateful to Francis for the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement. In terms of political efficacy, I don't think he's ever going to top that. Ultimately, he's not that powerful -- and on quite a few issues that's a good thing.