Over the past week there were hints and suppositions that Republicans were quaking in their boots at the thought of Pope Francis addressing a joint session of Congress due to his advocacy for the poor and message on climate change. However, it was Speaker of the House John Boehner who invited the “Vicar of Christ” because Pope Francis is not, in any universe, the shining progressive many Americans believe he is. In fact, Francis is closely aligned with conservative Republican ideology; particularly in his position on addressing poverty and social issues such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, birth control, and women’s rights.
There is a gross misconception that Pope Francis is exceedingly more progressive on social issues than his predecessors. That is just not true and it is a mistake to believe otherwise. However, where he is most insincere is speaking like an advocate for the poor. As leader of the extremely wealthy Catholic Church, he is not remotely leading according to, or following, Jesus Christ’s example or teachings.
In fact, as a few who are not mesmerized by his Jesus-like messages have noted, there is a monumental disconnect between what the pope says, and his strict adherence to the same archaic Vatican policies he perpetuates; particularly about wealth. What Pope Francis represents is a finely-honed, friendlier, and more progressive public relations image that belies longstanding archaic Vatican policies; not unlike the much-touted new and friendlier Republican Party was supposed to be.
One thing is perfectly clear; once the luster and image of a Jesus-like Pope is stripped away, as the Vatican says while people praise Pope progressive; “no Church policy has or is going to change.” What is a certainty is that this new Pope’s ‘progressive’ act is smoke and mirrors to “reverse the incredible decline in fundraising under the last pope from the U.S. Catholic Church.” It is why regardless the gnashing of conservative teeth over the Pope’s rhetoric condemning conservative’s embrace of income inequality, he is no different than every Republican in Congress and conservative in America; he talks the talk about reducing poverty and helping the disadvantaged, but does not walk the walk.
It is true that at first blush many, many observers were rightly stunned that here, at long last, is a Pope actually “talking like Jesus about” the plight of the poor and condemning the filthy rich who hoard their wealth the peasants have provided them. The Pope could just as well have been talking about the extremely wealthy Catholic institution. He also said it was not his place to pass judgment on people that longstanding Church doctrine says are immoral, and yet the dogma stays firmly in place without a hint of change in the offing.
Francis is wildly popular according to polls conducted by The Washington Post/ABC and CNN. The Pew Research Center revealed that “Seven-in-ten U.S. Catholics now say Francis represents a major change in direction for the church” according to recent surveys. But when the Pope’s public image is compared with his adherence to harsh Catholic dogma, he is perfectly in sync on social issues with his “wildly unpopular predecessor” Pope Benedict XVI. Why the change in the pope’s “image” but not Vatican dogmata? As usual it is about bringing money in to the Catholic Church; the “biggest financial power on Earth.”
Even before Pope Francis was elected, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) were planning a PR campaign to soften the Church’s image and attract the younger generation. The Vatican hired a former Fox News correspondent, Greg Burke, as a senior communications adviser reporting directly to the Vatican. The New York Times noted that Burke met with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and “confirmed that being known by the Fox-favorite cardinal helped him get hired.” Burke is a celibate, traditionalist, and member of the conservative Catholic alliance Opus-Dei. The Vatican also hired the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company to “study the Holy See’s communications, with an eye to creating a more effective media operation.” The ultimate goal in hiring a phalanx of public relations firms was simply to reverse the “declining view of the Church” caused by public relations miscues (accurate reporting).
Apparently, because of the high level of funding from America, the American Cardinals wield a great deal of influence over the Vatican’s public relation policies; especially when it concerns halting declining member donations due to church policy. One recurring comment in several surveys of American Catholics was that the church is harsh and out of touch. One oft-stated sentiment from American Catholics surveyed was that “I would like them not to be so quick to condemn people because of their sexual preference or because of abortion, or to refuse priests the right to get married or women to be priests. I don’t think the church should ever get involved in whether or not people use birth control.” According to polling, that sentiment typified the responses of American Catholics, and it was crucially important to improve Americans’ image of the Church to keep American dollars rolling in.
According to The Economist, “The American church accounts for over 60% of the global institution’s wealth; and it is huge money. The National Catholic Reporter revealed that American Catholics provide more than $150 million a week, or about $8 billion annually that is not going to the poor Francis pretends to advocate for. Forbes reported that American Catholics are responsible for almost a third of the charitable contributions that directly fund the Holy See, and that contributions declined from $82 million in 2009 to $70 million in 2011. In fact, that Forbes article noted that “as of the last Vatican financial report from mid-2012, the Holy See is in the red.” So a new Pope emerges talking about the poor like Jesus; not because Church policy is changing whatsoever, but because it is crucial to pacify American Catholics who are central to funding the Vatican.
What is telling is that while Pope Francis talks about the poor like Jesus, he or the Church does not put any of Christ’s teachings into practice. Every Catholic, and Christian devotee for that matter, is familiar with Jesus Christ’s commandment to the rich to “sell all their belongings and give the proceeds to the poor.” Regardless of the Vatican’s accounting, it is obscenely wealthy and yet like the corporate wealthy Pope Francis criticizes, the Church hypocritically hoards its money instead of divesting its wealth and giving it to the poor like Jesus commanded his followers. Poverty is not a concern for the Pope or the Church and the glaring hypocrisy was called out by the National Catholic Reporter.
It complained that the Vatican could not care one iota less that the “lack of access to birth control and comprehensive family planning” traps poor people in a perpetual cycle of poverty. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that “Family planning is a powerful tool in combating poverty. However, universal access to family planning is not a reality and that worldwide, 200 million women would like to delay or prevent pregnancy, but they are not using effective contraception.” This is particularly true in Africa and predominately Catholic South America where adhering to the church’s prohibition on contraceptives is followed religiously. It is important to remember that the Vatican’s Humanae Vitae and Pope Francis consider “unnatural birth control immoral and a mortal sin against god.”
This past week Pope Francis confirmed the Vatican’s prohibition on “unnatural birth control” the USCCB is attempting to ban in America. He told devotees suffering in poverty that to prevent unwanted pregnancies and more children they will struggle to feed; just “don’t breed like rabbits.” If married couples do enjoy and practice regular conjugal sex, they are restricted to “Church-approved natural birth control methods.” It is a typical religious edict meant to control its devotees’ sexuality and prohibit “consequence free sex;” something American evangelical fanatics promote.
When the new Pope began talking like Jesus and won new admirers who were not even in the church, it seemed too good to be true and it was. It is a public relations scam to attract new devotees and their checkbooks to the church. It is likely why the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supported President Obama’s immigration reform action because retaining 11-million Hispanic Catholics in the country is crucial to maintaining church membership and increasing funding levels.
If the Pope followed Christ’s teachings, he would instruct the worldwide church to immediately begin selling off its considerable wealth and assets and give the proceeds to the poor. The least the Pope could do when he addresses his Republican cohorts in Congress is call for eliminating tax-exempt status for his Catholic churches, or at least pass a law that they open their tax-exempt buildings to the homeless. But that is something Jesus Christ would advocate and one thing is exceeding clear; Pope Francis may talk like Jesus, but he walks like a conservative Republican.