If you wish to defeat the devil, you must untwist the anger, despair, and pain of Satan the demon to discover the beauty of Lucifer the angel.
Pope Francis is the community leader of Catholics around the world. It is, therefore, natural for the Pope’s visit to the White House to draw so much attention that it nearly eclipses all other news stories. As expected, the media has been abuzz about his message of healing, tolerance, and inclusive. By framing the Pope’s actions and words as though he is supposed to be a political leader, however, the media has helped distort the role of religious leadership in society and undermine the value of his message.
John Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, has called Pope Francis “the ultimate Washington Outsider.” In doing so, he reveals a misunderstanding of the Washington Outsider concept. A Washington Outsider, or political outsider in a broader sense, is not a troublemaker or a contrarian as the term has been defined by movements like the Tea Party. A Washington Outsider is a political figure from outside of the powerful inner political circles, which our control nation, who seeks to make politics more open and government more responsive to the interests of their constituents.
Not only is the Pope a leader of a highly politicized, powerful group, he is not supposed to be a political leader, i.e. he is not a political outsider. The responsibility of a political leader is to help govern by representing their constituents. Although the Vatican is officially a nation of its own, the role of religious leader like the Pope is to offer followers moral support and guidance on how to live their lives. Like politicians, it is their role to organize and strengthen their community. It is not, however, the role of a religious leader to write laws, enforce regulations, tax, or take punitive measures nor it is their role to influence public policy matters.
The political analysis of the Pope’s stances on climate change and poverty, for example, suggests the Pope is promoting stronger regulation and less capitalism. His message has nothing to do with either. The message was not just for political leaders. It was a community message intended for the ears of industry leaders and all members of our global community. To a nonpolitical, religious leader, a failure to address issues like climate change and poverty is a failure of the community. He is not placing blame on policymakers or industries heads. He is not necessarily calling for a legal or public policy solution. He is calling on all people to deal with these issues.
The Pope’s positions on climate change and poverty also begs the question of whether he is a capitalist or socialist debate. Where political figures look at public policy as capitalistic or socialistic, religious leaders like the Pope do not embrace the intellectual division between capitalism and socialism. Capitalism and socialism are nothing more than economic philosophies that determine how a nation governs its economy. It is not the responsible of someone like the Pope to advocate for how a nation should govern its economy. Capitalism and socialism can both be used to justify enriching the few and impoverishing the many. They can also both be used to provide for the needs of all people; he is against the shortcomings of both.
Furthermore, the Pope’s agenda to rebuild the Catholic Church as a place of healing and salvation instead of a place of condemnation has certainly been politicized. Words like tolerance and inclusion, especially to LGBT political activists, appear to signal a shift in Church teaching about sexual behavior. Unlike politics, religious doctrine does not depend on modern trends and attitudes. When a religious leader discusses issues like tolerance and inclusion, he cannot stay true to his faith and redefine what counts as a sin. He can only argue for better, more constructive ways of engaging sinners.
With that in mind, Pope Francis struggles to address child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It is also the reason why the Pope must make the Catholic Church less political. The child sexual abuse scandal came into existence, because the clergy decided to act politically to cover up the actions of priests that could have damaged the Church’s image. It is the perversion of the religious institution with political thinking that resulted in the cover up of these heinous crimes and thorough violation of Catholic teachings.
It is important to recognize the handling of the child sexual abuse scandal is not the first time the Catholic Church has been corrupted by an unholy blending of doctrines. The world fell into the Dark Ages, because the Church consolidated its religious authority with the power of government and all other forms of social influence. The Church’s monopoly on power allowed religious leaders to go unchecked in their abuse of others.
During World War II, the inability to intellectually resolve conflicting conclusions from objective scientific teachings, Catholicism, socialism, Nihilism, existentialism, and other incompatible philosophies lead to a convoluted worldview where people no longer concerned themselves with the consequences of their actions. The Nazis used the resulting Frankenstein philosophy to rationalize and legitimize their efforts to dehumanize the Jews and other non-Arian races. In other words, all the moral and ethical conclusions that deemed genocide unacceptable were stripped away when various teachings were used to discount their value.
Consequently, the Catholic Church must find a means of transcending the political culture it has long embraced, so it can overcome its demons and act as a righteous institution; otherwise, the world will be haunted by its politically motivated sins for decades and centuries to come. If Pope Francis is to be the Vatican Outsider and rebuild the Catholic Church, he must break free of political influence. The same is true for all religious leaders.
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