The fact that we were expecting something different from Pope Francis says what a remarkable job he’s doing of making us forget that he is, not to put too fine a point on it, the pope.
He was just so gosh-darned likable! He was so exactly the dream-journal pope of every secular person who wishes, idly, for a religious leader the way royals-watchers wish for a king. You don’t want one all the time, just for parades. It’s not that you even approve of them on principle, but the current one just seems so great and down-to-earth.
And Francis is, personally, an appealing figure. He avoids opulence. He practices compassion. He touches the sick, lets the little children come unto him and generally walks the walk.
Sometimes the fact that you approve of the person currently heading an institution about which you have serious doubts is enough to blur the line from “Listen to Francis!” (a fine thing to say) to “Listen to the pope” (perhaps a more dubious principle).
Those are two distinct sentiments. They’re worth keeping apart.
I have no doubt that the pope is swell. (And I have not even touched him, as Kim Davis has.) But the Kim Davis visit, say about it what you will (for once, the pontiff’s genius for symbolic gestures seems to have deserted him), might be a needed tonic to all the pope mania.
Asked why this hadn’t come up earlier, Davis’s lawyer Mat Staver said, “We didn’t want the pope’s visit to be focused on Kim Davis.”
I think it’s telling that rather than believe that this had happened (how could you meet the pope and not instantly tweet about it? If two people meet in private and no selfies are taken, did the meeting even occur?), people insisted that Davis had taken temporary leave of her senses. He couldn’t. That would break his pattern. She must be crazy.
But it’s not inconsistent after all. It just doesn’t fit with the cherry-picked image that we were creating for ourselves, enthusiastically citing the pope when he approved of what we approved of and forgetting the rest. The pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church, a 2,000-year-old institution that opposes gay marriage, doesn’t ordain women, disapproves of homosexuality, opposes abortion, and, in brief, takes many, many stances that the people shouting “Hooray!” on climate change and immigration reform tend not to share.
The pope and his church have every right to these beliefs (though I disagree that what Davis — who is not, by the way, Catholic — is doing falls under the heading of conscientious objection instead of the heading of Grotesque Misunderstandings Of How The Law Works That Do Not Merit Martyr Status. Once more, with feeling: Kim Davis is not being persecuted for her beliefs. She has every right to them. She is being punished for failing to do her job). But this is the context for the Cool Pope everyone has so readily embraced, quoted and feted. And before citing the pope on issues best left to secular authorities, it’s worth remembering that. Francis may be right to listen to scientists on climate issues, for instance, and his moral guidance may be significant for believers, but that does not mean that Because The Pope Says So is a rationale the rest of us want to get in the habit of invoking.
The popular, energetic Pope Francis has been a, well, godsend for an institution whose last time in the headlines was for covering up a child sex abuse scandal. And he’s certainly been making progress in an institution in which change happens slowly. After all, the Church did not apologize to Galileo until 1992. Still, looking at Francis’s strides — evolution seems real! listen to scientists about climate change! — one might wonder if he were bringing his institution into the 21st century or the 20th century.
Did he meet with Kim Davis? Is the pope Catholic? Yes and yes. Both worth remembering.
Here’s more on the Kim Davis situation.