Wednesday, September 30, 2015


I'm supposed to be upset because the Vatican is now confirming that Pope Francis secretly met with Kim Davis, the notorious gay-marriage refusenik who's still a county clerk in Kentucky. This news is supposed to be devastating to me because Francis is assumed to be one of the brightest stars in my pantheon of progressive heroes.

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.

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....
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.

(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.


Sweet Sue said...

Good post.
Jesus hung out with Mary Magdalene because she was one of his chief apostles: the one he appeared to first after resurrection, according to two gospels.
The canard that she was a prostitute was created by early Church fathers as a "scandal" to discredit and defame a powerful and brilliant woman.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Ten Bears said...

There is as well the school of thought, as thoroughly if not genocidally church suppressed, that the Gnostics Jesus and Mary were in fact married, and sired children.

White Hat said...

A pitiful excuse for criticism.

The Pope is CEO/Admiral/nominal head of a worldwide armada of True Believers, all of whom have their own Chiefs, who follow their own personal faith with all their might.

Credit the Pope with good intentions. If he did indeed meet with Kim Davis, he deserves respect for his efforts. Religious objection is NOT a trivial matter, whether or not we smartypants agree with where it leads.

That's the central reality of the Pope's existence.

HaHaHa, we smart guys know better than to believe that birth control, etc., is subject to God's purview. And yet, even if the Pope knew better (and who could, really?) what choice does he have? His job is leadership, not accuracy. Give the guy a break.

Frank Wilhoit said...

So, the Pope lent his unique auctoritas to someone whose only claim to attention is the assertion that her beliefs place her above the law.

The Pope is nearly 80 and therefore we may not think that his education was scamped, but which young whippersnapper Jesuit in his entourage failed to see that old wheeze coming a mile off?

Francis may not know much about Eastern Kentucky, but he knows all about Henry VIII.

Actually, Kim Davis is more like a backwoods Luther -- whose critique was of the balance of power between Church and State, dishonestly framed as a critique of doctrine.

Any way you look at it, this was a mistake and a sharply uncharacteristic one -- of this Pope or any Pope.

theHatist said...

Hey, I'm a life long atheist.

Not sure what people were expecting out of the nearly 80 year old leader of a society whose leader previously was on the squad that covered up child molestations.

If Jesus himself went undercover and tried to change catholicism from the inside, I'm not sure he could have made a more radical and huge step forward. I'll give Francis some credit.

I ain't joining the church though, if you know what I am saying.

Palli said...

An old man, pope or not, could have-should have-declined the request to secretly meet with a decidedly self-center media hound. Conscientious Objectors pay the price: they go to prison, detention centers, or choose to be medics. Kim Davis demands payment for her "conscience". None is due. Her job is forfeit-by refusing to resign she is devalues her supposedly "higher calling" by continuing to accept her considerable salary without doing her job. Ego, not self-sacrifice, is the bullhorn of her belief system. The Pope should have told her that...but then the Vatican is not an arena to foster self-sacrifice, is it? No, the Pope is just another man with papal privilege. Palli

sdhays said...

I don't disagree with anything you say. I welcome Francis' attempts to reform the Catholic Church and align its focus with the Gospels rather than other stuff, but I don't care personally as I'm not a Catholic. I appreciate his full-throated support for combating global climate change because we need all of the allies we can get. But the Pope doesn't seem to be succeeding at convincing people of things they don't want to believe (otherwise John Boehner would be trying to do something about global climate change before he checked out).

I don't think "disappointed" is the term I'd use for my feelings on his support for Davis; it's more surprise at his stupidity. Basically, he endorsed the right of a different county clerk in Podunk, Alabama denying marriage licenses to Catholic couples because the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon foretold in Revelations. According to this Pope, I can decide that since my religion says marriage of all kinds is an abomination against the gods that I can simply refuse to issue any marriage licenses at all if I'm the county clerk in my locale. It's stupid nonsense, and quite frankly I expect any Pope to see the dangers upfront.

But Pope Francis is from a majority Catholic country and may not quite appreciate that there are a number of people as suspicious of the Catholic Church as they are of Mormons or Islam or Scientologists. It's better for everyone that the law enforces a dividing line between public responsibility and your own personal conscience.