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Monday, September 23, 2013

Pope Francis: ‘I have never been a right-winger’

SNAP, Bishop Tobin!

In an almost direct rebuke to critics, including Rhode Island’s own Bishop Thomas Tobin, leader of the Providence Diocese, Pope Francis, in his first extensive interview since being elected to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, has said,

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

Note that just about a week ago Bishop Tobin said, in an interview in the Rhode island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper Tobin controls,

I’m a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis that he hasn’t, at least that I’m aware of, said much about unborn children, about abortion, and many people have noticed that. I think it would be very helpful if Pope Francis would address more directly the evil of abortion and to encourage those who are involved in the pro-life movement.

In covering the story the New York Times directly contrasted the Pope’s words with the Bishop’s, placing the Bishop clearly in the “church’s theological or political right wing.” The Pope insists that he was never a “right-winger” saying,

My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.

In Rhode Island the Tea Party, conservative Republicans and DINOs have a distinctly Catholic flavor and many, including the odious radio show host John DePetro, the barely literate Travis Rawley and the frankly embarrassing Representative Doreen Costa attempt to use their Catholic faith a weapon with which to promote their divisive and mean-spirited political agenda, inspired in part by Bishop Tobin’s longstanding support culminating in his recent and public alignment with the Republican Party.

I suspect that under the present Pope “ultraconservative” “right-wingers” will find it more and more difficult to justify their compassionless views in theological terms, and will be forced to confront issues such as economic inequality, poverty, gun violence, immigration and even abortion and LGBTQ rights through the lens of a church that forswears the evils of unbridled capitalism and Randian Objectivism and embraces nonjudgmental compassion and peace.

This is a Pope who speaks of a church that “is poor and for the poor” and who says “one cannot speak of poverty if one does not experience poverty, with a direct connection to the places in which there is poverty.” These are powerful words that even a godless, progressive, secular humanist atheist like myself can respond to favorably.

Steve Ahlquist is a writer, artist and current president of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism and action. He also maintains the blog Caution Church Ahead, where he writes on the intersection of religion and politics. The views expressed are his own not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member.