Guest Columnist Our Missionary Pope Named Francis and Political Piracy

The word pirate calls to mind images from movies or books which often romanticized them. However, they were plunderers who robbed ships at sea for nefarious purposes. I suggest that an historic event is being plundered by some political pirates, the first address given by a Pope to a joint session of congress in the history of the United States.


The address was the last in a series of addresses and sermons given by this missionary pope in Washington, D.C. The real message could easily be lost if one listens to what I am calling the pirates - or some of the pundits who do their bidding. As Francis continues his apostolic mission, I recommend the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and Catholic News Agency (CNA) to those who want an accurate presentation.


Washington, D.C. is captivated by partisan political "gotcha games" which are all too often played by those on both the political "left" and the political "right". Coverage of this Pope from Argentina needs a context.


He has never been to the United States and his visit here was not for political purposes. He is the Bishop of Rome. In the eyes of faithful Catholic Christians, he is the successor of the Apostle Peter. The Church is a ship he is entrusted to serve, with Jesus Christ at the helm.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church with reference to St. Augustine, explains,


"To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood." (CCC #845)


In his message to the Catholic Bishops of the United States given on Wednesday, Francis referred to "the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country." The message reminded me of St. Augustine's addresses to his brother Bishops which we recently read in the Office of Readings for the Liturgy of the Hours.


It was a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, replete with beautiful insights from the sacred scripture, pastoral encouragement and sobering cautions. Any Christian leader, of any Christian tradition faithful to the Gospel, would find it inspiring as an explanation of the call of Christian leadership. That was the proper forum for such a message.


The homily given at Catholic University at the first canonization of a saint in the United States, Fr. Junipero Serra, was stolen by some pirates who then used it as a platform for a contrived narrative of racial insensitivity toward Native Americans. In fact, now St. Serra, was a friend of the Native Americans and a tremendous hero to many precisely because of his conformity to Jesus Christ and bold willingness to preach the liberating Gospel message to all men and women.

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In that powerful message, Francis called all Christians to engage in a new missionary age noting: "A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation! A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news!"  A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint! So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ."


However, it is the message given to the joint session of Congress which is suffering the most at the hands of those who wish to use this Pope for their own political ends. Francis is not at ease in speaking English, so his halting delivery further detracted from the content. The speech in its entirety can be read here.


Using four Americans, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, as a "lens" or "way of seeing or interpreting" reality, he spoke to politicians. He challenged them to understand their role in serving the real common good.


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It was an expansive address. Francis called them to recognize the dignity of every human life at every stage of life; the threats to the fundamental relationships within the family; the obligations of solidarity as properly discharged through the principle of subsidiarity; environmental stewardship and the necessity of pursuing authentic peace.


As someone who has dedicated my entire adult life to ending the intrinsic evil of legalized abortion on demand, I would have hoped for more, especially on the heels of the extraordinary expose of the utter barbarism and evil of Planned Parenthood in selling baby body parts. In the hierarchy of values, the immediacy and urgency of this evil cries out!


However, the political pirates seized on the fact that Francis shared his sincere opposition to capital punishment. They immediately spun it as "left leaning". There is nothing new in this opposition. However, it is important to note that the contemporary approach to opposing the death penalty is predicated upon a different moral ground than opposition to abortion.


In other times in his story, and in other circumstances, the Catholic Church did not oppose the death penalty. It was supported as within the purview of the jurisdiction of State.  Arguably, with the rise of the evils of extremist jihadism in some nations, one could hypothetically foresee its use as once again necessitated in some places to protect the common good.


However, procured abortion is intrinsically evil, always and everywhere wrong, because it is the taking of innocent defenseless life. The contemporary approach of opposing the death penalty emphasizes it is no longer necessary and bloodless means of punishment are readily available. In fact, the Catechism was amended to emphasize that the use of "capital punishment" adds to the growth of what St. John Paul II labeled the "Culture of Death."


The Catechism emphasizes, "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity with the dignity of the human person" (CCC, n. 2267).


Some of the disappointed responses to the messages Francis gave in Washington, D.C. are understandable concerns being raised by sincere men and women who wish he was much clearer in opposing the evil of abortion, defending marriage and the family, and respecting the contributions of a market economy.


However, I am suggesting that some of the opposition is a form of political piracy. It is coming from some within both the political left and right. Francis is neither left nor right - he is Catholic. The social teaching of the Catholic Church must be viewed as a whole. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church compiles it in one place.


The dignity of every human life is not simply a political issue but the lens through which every political, economic, international and social issue is to be viewed. Every single person has human dignity precisely because they are created in the Image of God, whether they are still in the womb, a wheelchair, a soup kitchen, a hospice, or a prison cell. The reason we care about the poor, in all of their manifestations, is because of that human dignity.


Pope Francis told his brother Bishops in his Wednesday address, "I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit." After New York City, he will travel to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Stay tuned, there is more controversy to come and there will be other pirates seeking to plunder his messages on marriage and the family.

The truth about marriage as solely possible between one man and one woman, intended for life, and open to the gift of children is affirmed by the Catholic Church as objectively true. No-one can redefine this objective truth. It is revealed by the Natural moral law and serves the real common good. Pope Francis will stand up for this truth and against the growing assault on marriage and the family. If you think his messages have been controversial so far, I sense there is much more ahead.

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