This Pope is no liberal. He’s a true Catholic….Tim Montgomerie(TIMES)
Francis has won the Left’s admiration but this ‘pro-lifer’ opposes abortion as much as poverty
When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope this year he chose St Francis of Assisi’s name. It was a good choice. Francis of Assisi lived eight hundred years ago and in the new Pope’s words was “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation”.
St Francis lived a rich, even decadent, life until the moment in 1204 when he made his vow of poverty. He stripped naked in a public square and piled all of his clothes in front of his wealthy and disapproving father. Legend has it that from then on he owned only a simple tunic. He abandoned the great wealth of his youth and mixed with society’s least fortunate.
Until this Pope, Mother Teresa was the best-known follower of St Francis in modern times. She told how, repulsed by a leper at the side of the road, Francis walked by but thought better of it. He turned on his heels, covered the man with kisses and pressed a coin into his hand. “That was the beginning of St. Francis,” she explained, “That act of surrender made St Francis. After that he was ready to give anything!” Catholics believe that the leper was “Christ in distressing disguise”.
Just over a week ago, in a powerful echo of St Francis, the 266th Pope reached out to bless and kiss a man suffering from neurofibromatosis, a hereditary, painful, disease, popularly associated with the Elephant Man. Vinicio Riva, buried his head in the Pope’s chest at one of his weekly audiences in St Peter’s Square. In his everyday life people move away from Mr Riva, repelled by the growths that cover his face and fearing contagion. None of this was on the Pope’s mind when he held him and kept holding him. The hug felt “like paradise”, Mr Riva said. “I felt only love”. Pictures of the moment flew round the world and may become a defining image of Francis’s time as Bishop of Rome.
But this is not the only inspirational moment among this Pope’s early acts. He washed the feet of prisoners, including Muslims, at a jail for young offenders. He provided food for the homeless at the Vatican. He rang a woman who had become pregnant by a married man and promised to bless the child if her local priest would not. He attracted more people — three million — to Copacabana beach than the Rolling Stones.
There seems to be a Francis Effect with more people going to church and to Mass. Even left-wing commentators wonder if the Pope should replace Barack Obama as their pin up. He appeared with green protesters and held a T-shirt against fracking. He worried publicly about the excesses of contemporary capitalism. Best of all for the global leftitariat, he earned the wrath of Sarah Palin.
Liberals are particularly encouraged by his remarks about homosexuality. “Who am I to judge?”, he said, during an impromptu press conference on an aeroplane. But those hoping for a comprehensive change in Catholic teaching will be disappointed. The Pope believes that the Church must not appear obsessed with sexual sin to the exclusion of other concerns: that it must not worry too much about what people do in bed and too little about poverty. He recently talked about a “field hospital after battle”. You don’t, he said, talk to the seriously injured about their high cholesterol. You heal their wounds. Later, “we can talk about everything else”. This isn’t a Pope abandoning traditional teaching but urging his Church to get its priorities in order. He’s a Pope reintroducing the essence of Christianity to the world.
For the Catholic writer Elizabeth Scalia, the Pope is using the media. Quoting Sun Tzu’s The Art of War — “take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions” — she believes he is as savvy as every Jesuit. Behind the genuine smile, alongside the extraordinary devotion to the poor, is a deep and orthodox faith.
To understand the Pope think of him as ‘pro-life’. A pro-life philosophy is so much more than its associations. Yes, it includes opposition to abortion — he recently told a March for Life in Rome that the face of Christ could be seen in unborn children condemned to abortion as well as the elderly and the sick. You cannot discard them, he continued. For Pope Francis a pro-life philosophy rejects the world’s values in ways that will be uncomfortable to nearly all of us. He wants Christianity to be more than a moral code or a social service. For him it’s a “love story”. Love for the unborn. Love for the homosexual. Love for the Mr Rivas and the others our materialistic age shuns. Love for the hungry, the homeless, the broken.
While Christianity is in decline in the Vatican’s Italian backyard and across Europe, it is growing in Africa and Asia. According to Pew research two thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe a century ago. Today just a quarter do, and not necessarily the most fervent. That is the problem. Allegiances are shallow. The Catholic Church, representing half the world’s Christians, needed a compelling figure after the clerical abuse scandals. High hopes are invested in Pope Francis and he has won a hearing. That’s a good start but the hard work still lies ahead.
Pope John Paul II was a deeply holy man but on his watch much of the Church didn’t just decline, it rotted. Francis will succeed if he cleans from the seminaries and bishops’ palaces all those implicated in, or who excused abuse. If he achieves that he will become a great, transformational Pope. That is what we should judge him on. Not by whether he continues to get a good press from the Left. This Pope isn’t a liberal. He really is a Catholic. I pray for him to succeed. To be as compelling a model of the forgiving, loving Christ as any fallen human being can ever hope to be.