A reader refers to the above segment from last night’s AC360 Later:
I am an elderly Catholic Chaplain of 30 years, long a gay rights activist, serving prisons, hospitals and communities as advocate, counselor, and helper-as-able. I was beyond delighted to see you with Anderson Cooper, speaking with such passion about our new Pope. I had not known you were gay, or Catholic. I need to tell you how proud I felt of you, and that I just love you for using that talent; for hanging in there with the Catholic Church; for being you.
Wow! I wondered if Pope Francis could possibly be for real. He seems the absolute embodiment of what I always thought the Catholic Church was supposed to be about – promoting the ideas and teachings of Jesus, not running a corrupt organization without a shred of mercy, divine or otherwise. Pope Francis is having a tremendous pull on me. I rejected the Church long ago, but I’m drawn to this man and what he has to say. I hear a voice inside me that says “yes”.
I have been moved, as you have been, by the amazing grace of the Holy Father. What a revelation, indeed. I was recently baptized Episcopalian – it was the only denomination I could find that matched my social values. This Pope is the first Catholic leader in my lifetime (42 years) I remember reacting to in this way. In reading a book about my church, this passage struck me: “As Episcopalians, we are not called to be Christians, we are called to be Christ on earth.” Pope Francis, from everything I have seen, is embodying Christ on earth. What a blessing. I’m proud to take the liberty of the Anglican stretch and call him my Pope too.
Damon Linker is wrong. Words matter and so do his actions. Of course Francis didn’t come out and say “homosexual acts are morally permissible.” That statement would completely take away from his greater point: God is love. People would be frothing instead of focusing on who is important: Jesus Christ and his ultimate sacrifice because of his Father’s love for all of us. As a liberal woman, I don’t need him to make a grand statement about women and the priesthood. The actions of washing young women’s feet on Holy Thursday was deeply profound. Love for everyone is what he’s projecting.
Of course there will be liberals that will never be happy, and there will be conservatives that twist his words to suit their agenda, but the rest of us will just push away the noise and listen.
To Linker and Stanley: “Meepus, meepus.”
I am amazed at those who poo-poo the words of Pope Francis because they do not change church doctrine. They might not. But they do seem to change an attitude towards those who disagree with doctrine. And that is no small thing. For example, my wife (a Catholic) and I (a Jew) have taken our 14-year-old daughter to church regularly for her entire life. We send her to Catholic school. Yet she chose not to be confirmed. Why? The church’s dogmatic approach to homosexuality for her entire life. But now the Pontiff has told her, “You think we are wrong? Feel free. You can still be Catholic.” That’s a big deal. That might someday make her comfortable coming to the church.
I’m an atheist, but if anything I’m more enthusiastic about Pope Francis than you are. I think the best of Christianity is a combination of the messages from Jesus about helping the poor and downtrodden; that love is the only solution to the puzzle of humanity; and that forgiveness holds a power much greater than revenge. This pope really seems to get it. If his words can stir emotions in an old non-believer like me, think of what he might do with lapsed Catholics.
It feels strange, being a nonbeliever, to find myself so avidly following the Pope Francis’s pronouncements these days. A few months ago I felt cheered by his hints of a possible shift in the Catholic Church’s attitude towards homosexuality. Then, a few weeks back, I was struck by his succinct but powerful tweet on the Syrian conflict:
War never again! Never again war!
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 2, 2013
It’s almost poetic in its rhythmic, palindrome-like structure. And today I was stirred, as you were, by the elegant and intelligent answers he gave on the nature of his Christian faith in this interview. I think you are right to suggest that the example of someone (anyone, but especially someone in a position of power) who devotes himself to values of loving, openness, generosity, giving is appealing to many people – even those who, like me, see religion as folly.
And yet. I want to share with you the whole of my experience. Just as I feel myself swept away (I confess: I tend to feel things strongly, like you), I find that my admiration for Pope Francis crashes into an obstacle. The effect is as a wave hitting an unseen reef – it comes as a surprise even to me.
I find myself suddenly remembering that he is devoted to a process of arriving at his values that is diametrically opposed to my own (just as he remarks in his interview, when he speaks of looking for more than mere “evidence” to confirm God’s presence). Where I look for evidence, he looks to an unprovable “faith”. And this has the effect of making me feel sad.
It is, I imagine, the way you would feel if you encountered a loving, kind, wise person, say at an airport, while sitting at the gate, waiting to board your plane. Let’s say this person, who seemed to hold some position of authority, spoke with great clarity about his values, and they seemed very close to your own. You even saw him care for a fellow passenger, who had fallen ill. And then, a little while later, seated next to you on the plane by coincidence, he began to speak about … the many elves that live in the woods. How he knows that they are in ALL the woods, for EVERYBODY, even among the Eucalyptus trees in Australia … the birch trees in Siberia … the rubber trees in …
What would you feel? This is a serious question, Andrew! (My intent is not to mock religion; I am sharing with you a point of view.) Try to imagine. Would your admiration for the evident personal qualities of this individual overcome your embarrassment and disappointment? Imagine then, that you learn, from other passengers, that he is the leader of an organization that has a history of divisiveness in many countries, that has subjected many to feelings of unworthiness, that has even refused to bring to light, in the past, the sexual abuse of some of the most vulnerable of its members. The man is still the same – an impressively loving and kind individual, taken as an individual. Your opinion on that is unchanged. But the context would pull you up short of admiration, wouldn’t it?
In the end, for this atheist at least, my bursts of admiration for the individual man who is Pope Francis make me sad, not happy.
Another is happier:
“Be not afraid” was a central message of JPII. Here we finally have a Pope who gets it in a transformative sense … a real, human sense. I’m an atheist, a former Catholic seminarian. I can never return to Christianity because it is, in a phenomenological sense, meaningless. But so what?
I’ve also been a volunteer EMT and hospice volunteer, along with being in NY after 9/11 with the Coast Guard and the Red Cross. As an atheist, I care for people regardless of who they are. And this is a pope who gets it. He’s a leader in a very human sense.
When I read his words, even as an atheist, I see a mature, considerate human being who is not afraid of being human. It’s apparent he’s seen poverty and suffering. He’s seen and comforted the dying. He’s been with people worried about their next meal and shoes for their children. Those are concerns that dwarf who you’re having sex with, or whether you use contraception. Those are real, human issues. To watch someone die, to see loneliness in those last moments is to see a kind of suffering that penetrates and breaks one’s idea of love and humanity. And he’s seen it.
While I can never again be a Christian, at least I can see Christianity in a different light – one that says Christians live a message and a life that is intensely human. We will never agree on many things. But this man is not my enemy and I am not his. And that’s something.