U.S. CATHOLICISM

The pope isn’t a party boss

 

ejdionne@washpost.com

President Obama’s first salary as a community organizer was paid by a Catholic group and his earliest social-justice work was rooted in Catholic social doctrine. He identified with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, then Chicago’s archbishop, whose consistent ethic of life encompassed a dedication to the poor, a concern over the human costs of war and opposition to the death penalty.

You could imagine that at his meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday, the president was tempted to ask: Why can’t these American bishops get along with me? Or, perhaps more humbly: Holy Father, what can I do to make these guys happy?

It is a sign of how politicized the American Catholic Church has become that its different factions were lobbying hard over the message the bishop of Rome should send after meeting with the president of the United States.

Catholic conservatives hoped that Francis would again condemn abortion by way of upbraiding the pro-choice Obama. They were also seeking strong language supporting the campaign spearheaded by the more conservative bishops against the contraception mandate in the health care law.

Catholic progressives were looking for Francis to push the president to move more forcefully against poverty and inequality, around the world and not just at home. They hoped for some of the pope’s searing criticisms of global capitalism by way of reminding Obama that the Catholic Church is well to his left on economic matters.

Both sides, in other words, want Francis to bless their own positions inside the American Catholic struggle. The progressives believe they now have a friend in Rome and conservatives worry the progressives might be right. After all, as Michael Sean Winters pointed out in the National Catholic Reporter, “The American bishops who are most aggressively hostile to Obama are also the American bishops who have been most resistant to Pope Francis.”

But this meeting underscored something else: While Francis has decidedly moved the church back toward the social justice Catholicism that Obama connected with as a young man, Francis’ worldview is plainly not American. Efforts to shoehorn him into our debates will always have a distorting effect. And the Vatican — which itself is divided into factions — has other things to think about besides the contention within the American church.

From everything he has said, Francis is, in our terms, a social conservative. Yet the issues about which he feels a genuine sense of urgency involve the hundreds of millions around the globe who suffer from extreme deprivation and oppression.

From this standpoint, the political and theological skirmishes that consume so much energy among believers in wealthy countries might seem a form of self-indulgence.

Francis didn’t leave conservative U.S. bishops out in the cold in their contraception battle, as the Vatican statement after the meeting made clear. But it’s difficult to see the pope joining them at the ramparts.

The veteran Vatican correspondent John Allen has documented attacks on religious liberty from state-sponsored persecution, including the outright murder of Christians.

In light of this, the American uproar over a requirement that contraception be subsidized in health insurance policies seems disproportionate. That’s especially true since the government-led health systems in many predominantly Catholic countries routinely cover contraception.

As for foreign policy, the Vatican has an approach of its own. It has often found itself allied with Obama — for example, on his quest for Middle East peace — but has also opposed him, as when he threatened military retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Conservatives have ignored or downplayed the Vatican’s relative dovishness, except when it provided them with another club to use against Obama.

But this highlights the larger truth that Francis defies many currents of American thinking. Francis is anti-consumerist and anti-materialist. That is quite at odds with an American ethos that turns the mall into a religious shrine and shopping into a sacrament. The pope preaches a code of sacrifice that is not widely celebrated in our society outside the realm of military combat. He extols the simple life, a value popular in sections of the environmental movement, but not a big seller in a country obsessed with stuff and gadgets.

It would be good if Francis encouraged the parts of the American Catholic leadership most alienated from the president to stop treating this former church employee as an enemy. But the pope’s main job is to pose a radical challenge to our complacency and social indifference. In doing so, he should stir an uneasiness that compels all of us — and that includes Obama — to examine our consciences.

(c) 2014, Washington Post

Writers Group

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Tony Lesesne

    STOPPED BY COPS

    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

  •  
Delrish Moss

    STOPPED BY COPS

    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.

  • STOPPED BY COPS

    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category