I’m not Catholic. I’m not even really a Protestant, although that’s my faith tradition and the worldview I grew up with. I’m also a philosophy major who grappled with these issues and studied the history of the schism within Christianity quite carefully, so my decision not to follow the pope or his church is an intellectual decision as well as a birthright. But I write about politics, not religion, and I am not interested in persuading other people to adopt my point of view about spiritual matters. When it comes to Pope Francis, I’m just glad that he seems more sympathetic to how I view the secular world than his immediate predecessors. He’s not a hero to me, but I’m grateful that he seems to be showing some solid moral leadership in a few areas which is backed up by solid scientific guidance.
Overall, I agree with Suzy Khimm at The New Republic that progressives should think twice before using Pope Francis as a political cudgel against their enemies. She’s correct to highlight the hypocrisy in doing this after years of complaining about things like pro-choice politicians being denied communion.
She’s also correct to point out that we may set a precedent we don’t like, because as enjoyable as this turnabout in the Vatican seems right now, it could change tomorrow. Or, another religious leader could get invited to address Congress who has a message that we won’t like.
More than anything, though, progressives ought to strongly consider maintaining some internal consistency about whether public policy should or should not be seriously influenced by the opinions of religions leaders.
There are no doubt many political points to score during this papal visit, and it’s very tempting to serve conservatives the same putrid dish they’ve been serving us ever since Pope John Paul II became their hero in the mid-1970’s.
Politics ain’t beanbag and I don’t begrudge a little hypocrisy every once in a while in the service of the cause, but it’s a bad practice in general and should be kept to a minimum. It’s one thing to call the filibuster good when you need it and a horror when you don’t, but it’s another to not be clear about where you stand on politicians getting bossed around by the pope and his bishops.
In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether this pope is good or bad, or better or worse than previous popes. Just because he’s right about the moral urgency of climate change, for example, doesn’t mean it’s right to tell Catholic Republicans that they ought to follow the teachings of the Church. Catholic Republicans ought to follow the guidance they get from their scientific constituents who are plenty capable of explaining the causes and challenges of climate change without it being tied in any way to someone’s faith.
Now, some people might argue that climate change is such an urgent issue, and Republican opposition to doing anything about it is so entrenched and irrational, that any and all devices should be exploited to make progress. I understand that. I can see the logic there.
But it’s not like Catholic Republicans need you and me to tell them what the pope has told them himself. Let them listen to him or not, as their conscience dictates. That’s all we ask on the abortion question, after all.