(Photo: AP/Riccardo De Luca)
Only weeks after Pope Francis spent his visit to the United States calling for a culture of dialogue on contentious issues, some American prelates are back to business as usual.
In a memo sent to priests in his archdiocese this week, Archbishop John Myers of Newark issued strict guidelines for denying Communion to Catholics whose marriages are not recognized as valid by the church, and prohibiting the sacrament to those who support same-sex civil marriage. Parishes and other Catholic institutions, the archbishop decreed, should never host individuals or organizations that disagree with church teachings.
This is precisely the kind of fortress Catholicism — a church hunkered down behind imposing walls — that Pope Francis vigorously rejects.
Instead, the pope wants a church that acts like a “field hospital after battle.“ He insists that Communion is not “a prize for the perfect but powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” While the New Jersey archbishop sends a message that he is putting Catholic institutions on lockdown, Pope Francis recently welcomed Democratic U.S. mayors, including Bill de Blasio of New York City, and the pro-choice secular feminist Naomi Klein, to the Vatican for climate change talks. No one was carded at the door.
Before addressing Congress, Pope Francis warmly greeted Secretary of State John Kerry. The pro-choice Catholic became a lightening rod during the 2004 presidential campaign when a handful of conservative bishops publicly argued he should not receive Communion. In the wake of the pope’s visit, Vatican officials squashed efforts from Kim Davis and her lawyers to use the pope as a pawn in the culture wars. And when news broke that Pope Francis had held one private meeting in Washington, D.C., it turned out to be with a longtime friend from Argentina who has been in a same-sex relationship for nearly two decades.
A ‘Francis Effect’ in the U.S.?
Pope Francis left U.S. Catholics with plenty to think about and act on after his first whirlwind visit to this country. This refreshing and complicated papacy presents unique challenges and opportunities for the American church. The pope’s desire to find a “new balance” that recalibrates the Catholic conversation beyond the flash points of a few hot-button issues — along with his muscular focus on the root causes of structural injustice — should shake up the politics of the church and our values debates in American politics.
But any real “Francis effect” will depend on whether religious leaders, elected officials and those of us in the pews wake up to the pope’s bracing call for radical change.
A pope who describes economic inequality as the “root of social evil,” insists on the moral urgency to address climate change and wants a “poor church for the poor” is clear and consistent in his messages. Don’t underestimate this smiling reformer exuding gentleness and joy. The captain of this ancient and sometimes leaky ship known as the Catholic Church is charting a definitive course.
At the White House welcome ceremony on his first full day in town, Pope Francis smiled at the pageantry in his honor but wasted little time before challenging complacency.
“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” he said. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history.” Powerful American politicians, knee deep in oil- industry contributions, were not called out by name, of course, but plenty of conservative Catholics on Capitol Hill and Republican Catholics campaigning for the presidency don’t share the pope’s sense of urgency or even believe that human behavior contributes to the problem. The status quo is comfortable. It rewards the privileged. Francis knows the poor and most vulnerable already suffering from the impact of environmental degradation don’t have the luxury of indifference.
Pope Francis also offered a timely antidote to the resurgent nativism and xenophobia on the American right. Donald Trump rose in the polls by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.” He stokes fear and resentment, the demagogue’s weapons of choice for centuries. In contrast, Francis introduced himself as “the son of immigrants” and reminded us of our American experience. “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” he said during the first papal address to Congress in history. (source)