POPE IN THE U.S.: EFFECTS AND REPERCUSSIONS
The Pope's mission to America was obviously one of building bridges, of expanding the tent, with the theory, it would appear, that one cannot convert the unconverted nor minister to the spiritually infirm if one does not have their ears -- have them in the audience -- and to this end the trip was a remarkable success. Anchors whether from CNN or Fox were gushing over the Holy Father. They were decidedly in the "tent" as was Congress as were Supreme Court Justices as was the largest gathering of world leaders in history at the U.N. as Pope Francis spoke more in general Christian philosophy than in the specificity of political protocol -- spoke in spiritual terms, with a large umbrella, not in a contentious framework. And did so deftly. Many were surprised at his astuteness. Did he tip his hand once and for all (he has stated such before) on a very hot-button issue -- homosexual marriage -- at the very end of his journey when as predicted in those impromptu discussions with reporters aboard Shepherd One he seemed to express support for Kentucky clerk Kim Davis -- whom, it turned out, he met with for a full fifteen minutes during his trip -- or at least for the idea of conscientious objection and then on Tuesday admonished the Mayor of Rome for "pretending to be Catholic" (the mayor, who invited himself to the World Festival of Families, is in favor of gay marriage and euthanasia)?
His position on gay marriage thus seems very clear. He also strongly restated his position on female priests. We'll know more about his positions during the fast-upcoming Synod on the family. For now, one can say it was a brilliant display of the power of the Catholic Church -- demonstrating before the United States and the world how a Pope and only a Pope, only the Vicar of Christ, can cause the kind of commotion, the kind of crowds, the kind of emotion (so many tears!) that the successor of Peter can. It was a tour de force in front of our nation's straying "no-religion" young.
The umbrella extended over Hispanics, who may feel disenfranchised in the U.S., but not in the Church, and especially not after this trip, during which the Pope canonized a saint dear to the Spanish, spoke frequently about immigration (without supporting illegal immigration), and of course spoke in his native tongue of Spanish. The spirituality was palpable at all stops, as it always is with a Pope. Even rainbows in clear skies greeted him above Central Park as he was taken through New York's front lawn and over the basilica in Philadelphia; an hour or so away, a cross appeared in the skies above Catasaqua, Pennsylvania. Did he "reboot" Catholicism, focusing on love?
For now, both liberal and conservative segments of the Church could be at peace -- for now (though a bit less so liberals). No one knows what words and terms and phrases -- what quips, and decisions -- the future will hold. The Pope causes both liberals and conservatives to squirm. He was certainly not as unscripted as one might have expected, until the very end. The unpredictability? A bit of a stir took place in the waning days of summer when an article in National Geographic described how the Vatican press secretary, Father Frederico Lombardi, in a talk with an Argentine man who had been press aide to the Pope (when the Holy Father was a Cardinal back in Buenos Aires), had been asked, by the Argentine, how he felt about his new boss, the Supreme Pontiff. "Confused," Father Frederico replied, half in jest, half otherwise; really more as an amazement -- without animosity. But: "No one knows all of what he's doing," Father Lombardi explained to the man from Argentina. "His personal secretary doesn't even know. I have to call around: One person knows one part of his schedule, someone else knows another part." He said Pope Francis is "unpredictable" -- that they are never quite sure what he will say, and how he will react with whomever he is meeting. There have been contradictions and misunderstandings. Those who have tried to read too much into his statements and are confounded by his course of discourse must remember that the Holy Father comes from an entirely different part of the world where communication is often scattershot, emotional, exuberant, at times disjointed, and effusive -- rich in non sequiturs -- as well as spiked now and again with what some might interpret as sarcasm (but may be the Latin way of candor).
We can know this: in every church he entered, he paid tribute to the Blessed Mother (and as always went to St. Mary Major to thank her upon return).
Misunderstandings have been many, most recently a somewhat warm note from the Vatican to a lesbian author who has published a book for children about understanding various kinds of families (including gay, inter-racial, and single ones). Some took the note as an endorsement, and its language was befuddlingly cozy, but Father Frederico says it was more a simple acknowledgement that the Pope had received the book and in its own words it said the Holy Father was "grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values." An endorsement or a misunderstood and misrepresented (by the author) communication (the latter frequent during this Pontificate)? He also met with the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington -- who have been fighting the Obamacare mandate on coverage for contraception. His support for religious freedom comes at a critical moment and may sway true powerbrokers (even liberal senator such as Charles Schumer were mesmerized by him).
Remarks by the Holy Father about gays on his return from a trip to Brazil caused many Catholics to interpret what he said ("Who am I to judge?") as tolerance for a lifestyle that the Church teaches is deviant and sinful (he was actually answering a question about a monsignor at the Vatican who had a past gay lover and whether he would accept a gay who had repented into the Church, including priesthood, when he made the "who am I to judge?" remark that the media was able to make hay with. "Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?" he said; presumably "seeking the Lord in good faith" means a gay has gone celibate.) "While American Catholic views of Pope Francis remained favorable, they also revealed great confusion about where he stands on issues such as gay marriage," noted a news story about a recent survey in America. "As many as 49 percent of Catholics who backed gay marriage also believed that the Pontiff has backed the practice, and even 15 percent of those opposed to same-sex marriage believed the same." Will his new remarks change this? What is his popularity now?
It was amazing to hear of a rich American candidate straining to catch glimpse of the papal entourage from his perch above his luxury New York tower -- small, way up there, while the Church loomed so very big below.
His visit started the day after the autumn equinox. A "Trump summer" thus ended, perhaps (we'll see at the Synod, and in the primaries), as a "Francis fall."
[see also: Kentucky clerk met briefly with Pope, felt 'encouraged', An 'unpredictable' Pope; National Geographic article; Now it's 'full Synod ahead', Why annulment is not divorce, Authors say quote they used on Vatican 'mafia' was incorrect, and Poll: many Catholics think Pope has backed gay marriage]