A recent Washington Times piece suggests that President Obama has found a convenient ally in Pope Francis because of the latter’s interest in climate change and his “soft” economics, which seems to converge with points of the Democratic platform. At the same time, The Hill reports that Francis is driving a wedge between the Catholic Church and the GOP.
Now that the Pope enjoys overwhelming popularity in the US and Obama’s approval rating languishes at only 39%, an implied union between the two can only be helpful to Obama. Still, the President may find Francis to be a more awkward ally than a superficial analysis might suggest.
Yes, the Pope cares deeply about the environment and seems to have bought into the so-called “scientific consensus” regarding climate change and the role human behavior plays in it. Yes, the Pope has criticized a “rampant capitalism” that proclaims “the logic of profit at all costs.” Yes, the Pope clearly opposed the US embargo on Cuba and felt called to help broker a diplomatic deal between the two countries.
Dig a little deeper, however, and any similarities dissipate like fog in the noonday sun.
The Pope is an outspoken opponent of abortion, which has become a sacred cow of the Democratic platform, since the party has systematically purged all pro-life dissidents from its ranks. On Christmas, Pope Francis compared Herod’s slaughter of the “innocents” at the time of Christ to modern abortion.
He has referred to unborn children as “the most defenseless and innocent among us,” as well as asserting that human life at any stage of development “is always sacred and inviolable.” Moreover, he has insisted that it “is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”
On virtually any bioethical question, Pope Francis parts ways with the Democratic Party. He has decried the evil of euthanasia as “false compassion,” opposes cloning and artificial insemination, and deplores the language of “quality of life” as a euphemism that diminishes the dignity of sick, aged and handicapped people as somehow useless and disposable.
When the Pope famously asked “Who am I to judge?” when asked about the possibility that some gay clerics may be working in the Vatican, many extrapolated that Francis was favorable to gay marriage. Yet the Pope has contended that every child has the right “to grow up in a family with a father and a mother,” and said that man-woman complementarity “is the basis of marriage and the family.”
Moreover, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was a vocal opponent of a 2010 bill proposing gay marriage in Argentina. He said that the proposed law would “gravely wound the family.” He went on to say that “what is at stake is the life of so many children who will be discriminated against from the get-go, by depriving them of the human development that God intended through a mother and a father.”
Bergoglio also said that behind this project was “the envy of the devil, by which sin entered into the world, as he cunningly seeks to destroy the image of God: man and woman.”
Pope Francis has been a champion of religious liberty and never misses an opportunity to urge its recognition and defense. He has said that ensuring people’s right to live their religious values is harder and harder in the modern world “where weak thinking—this is a sickness—lowers the level of ethics in general and, in the name of a false understanding of tolerance, ends up persecuting those who defend the truth about the human person and its ethical consequences.”
In fact, even where Francis seems to be a likely ally of a liberal agenda, the relationship is tenuous at best. The Pope’s moral summons to environmental stewardship is not meant to be a scientific assessment, but an ethical evaluation of what the Pope considers to be the reigning belief of the scientific community.
His opposition to “the logic of profit at all costs” is a call for moral rectitude in the market, and is tempered by his repeated calls for greater economic initiative and freedom, avoiding what he calls the temptation of “welfarism.”
When push comes to shove, the Pope is his own man and no political chaplain to any party. Still, on core issues the Pope seems far more in agreement with the evangelical, socially conservative base of the Tea Party than he is with the elites in New York City media.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.