As a lapsed Catholic, I have mixed feelings about Pope Francis. When I listen to him speak, I think, “This is a great man. He reminds me of the Jesuits who taught me to revere the intellect, care for those who have less, and be wary of blind believers who deny reason and use the word of God for their own profit.”
Then I remember why I turned my back on the Church: my Sunday donations that were used to defend pedophiles; archbishops who raged against abortions, but did not speak out against war or the sickening culture of American gun violence; the hording of Vatican treasures while the world’s poor go hungry.
I was raised Catholic in the ‘50s and early ‘60s when mass was an obligation, and no one questioned the sanctity of the religion’s rituals. But as the ‘60s wore on, and the world as everyone knew it changed, the Church became irrelevant. The same tired, empty homilies of parish priests had no revelations or insights about war, bigotry, and inequality. I came to view the Church as meaningless at best, hopelessly outdated at worst.
The Jesuits, however, were a different matter. They did not flinch from the turmoil of the late ‘60s. They addressed the existential nature of life head-on. They were not afraid to discuss relevant matters like war, poverty, and inequality. In their classrooms I read atheist literature, discussed the lack of empirical evidence for the existence of God, and learned to respect science. They taught me how to think for myself. Faith that was unchallenged by the intellect was not a worthy faith. Thus, I lost my faith. Or I never had it in the first place.
After high school, I left Catholicism behind. I’ve never looked back until now; Francis has aroused some ancient sentiment in me. His Jesuitical message has pissed off the right wing; and anything that angers those jackals deserves my attention.
Francis is not some ivory tower papist issuing staunch, anti-human edicts. He is a man of the people and a man of his times. Like Jesus, he walks among us, defends the poor, denounces hypocrisy, and condemns war for profit. It takes courage to do that; he does not seem to give a damn what American conservatives think of him. For that alone he deserves praise. Even the idiots at FOX News recognize this. Shepard Smith, of all people, had this to say about the right’s dissatisfaction with Francis:
“I think that we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I’m going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on [the pope] and our president’s agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor. That’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political? I mean, I don’t know what we expect to hear from an organization’s leader like the pope of the Catholic Church other than protect those who need help, bring in refugees who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don’t have it. I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus. They’re the words of the pope, they’re the feelings of the president. And people who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion. I mean, it seems to me — and I think to probably, as Bill O’Reilly would put it, most clear-thinking Americans — that that’s how we’re supposed to roll.”