Pope Francis is visiting the United States, and he is proving to be one of the most controversial popes of recent times. This is not a bad thing. But the Pope’s grades are are mish-mash: he gets some As and Bs but also a lot of Fs and Incompletes. Let’s take a look.
Dining with the homeless rather than with Washington politicians. A-PLUS. Did Jesus spend his time with the Sanhedrin and Pilate, or did he spend his time with the poor, sick and needy? You know the answer. The Pope leads by example here, and this decision alone makes his trip a success.
Condemning abortion. B. The Pope could have done more to specifically condemn government funding of abortion, but he is sticking to traditional Catholic teaching on abortion, and I think this is mostly a good thing. Of course, the Mormon position is somewhat different on abortion, but the Pope’s reminder that abortion is something to be avoided is a good moral lesson for us all.
Emphasizing the traditional family. A. The Pope gets excellent marks for pointing out that the family is under attack by the secular world. The Catholic church continues to oppose same-sex marriage even though such a view is not popular in Europe and the United States. News flash to liberals: same-sex marriage is still not very popular in many areas of Latin America, Asia and Africa, where the Catholic church is growing the fastest.
Emphasizing the importance of religious liberty. A. The Pope told President Obama that Catholics are concerned about maintaining religious liberty in the United States. Good for him. We should all be more concerned about this.
Compassion for immigrants. B. The Pope gets solid grades for his Christ-like love of immigrants, but the refugee crisis in Europe is not a simple problem that can be solved by Europeans blindly taking in millions of mostly Muslim people, the majority of whom are motivated by economics. Yes, the United States is a land of immigrants, but the United States also takes in millions of immigrants every year, and as much as I believe in the benefits of immigration it must be done in an orderly fashion with clear knowledge that many immigrants do indeed end up getting benefits from the government. The Pope seems not to care about this reality.
Global warming alarmism. F. The Catholic Encyclical on the environment is an embarrassment. The encyclical completely ignores the real science on the issue and fills page after page with moral platitudes about saving the Earth without acknowledging the actual role of technological innovations (some of which produce CO2) in bettering the lives of literally billions of people. The Pope seems to think we should all live in caves and huts without electricity and even criticizes air conditioning, which he himself uses (and is essential to preserving the Sistine Chapel, by the way). For a much better document, I proudly and unashamedly direct you to the LDS statement on the environment.
Economics. F-minus (or incomplete). The Pope grew up and lived most of his life in Argentina, where I lived for a time. I have been traveling there for more than 25 years. Argentina does not have a functioning free market or anything close to it. Argentina is a corporatist, crony capitalist state where the most powerful people get rich by buying off politicians, who also get rich. The poor get poorer and the middle class disappears in such a system. Crony capitalism also happens in the United States, of course, but at least there are vast areas of the economy in the United States that are free market-oriented. So, the Pope’s views on economics are hopelessly blinded by his life experience. When he thinks “free market” he thinks of corrupt, rich politicians taking bribes from corrupt, rich businesspeople. So of course he opposes such a system, and we all should oppose it. But this is not the free market. The free market is Steve Jobs inventing an iPhone that replaces dozens of devices with one small device that can fit in your pocket. The free market is Uber providing jobs and cheaper fares to tens of millions of people. The free market is your uncle starting a new small business because he perceives there is a need. The free market is a woman starting her own business braiding hair for her friends, who tell their friends, who tell their friends, etc. In short: the free market is the voluntary exchange of goods or money in a way that benefits both the buyer and the seller. The free market benefits us all, but especially the poor because in a true free market more jobs are available and people can learn principles of self-reliance. The Pope simply does not understand this, but I tend to think that someday he might change his mind on this issue.
Guns. F-minus. The Pope criticized people who build weapons, questioning whether they should call themselves Christians. Yes, we all yearn for a world where swords are beaten into plowshares. Personally, I am only in favor of defensive wars, so I like when the Pope speaks out against warfare. But if we are going to defend ourselves (which, by the way, is a moral thing to do), we are going to need weapons to do it. There is nothing immoral about building defensive weapons. Nothing. In fact, the evidence shows a clear correlation between a high number of defensive weapons and a more peaceful populace. Houston, without gun control, is much, much safer than Chicago, which has gun control. And so on. The Pope also does not see the logical fallacy in claiming that a society without guns would be more moral. The reality is that in our fallen world a society without guns means only the government and bad guys have guns. Does the Pope really believe the world is safer when only the government and bad guys have guns? Has he heard of the Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany or perhaps Cambodia under Pol Pot?
Areas where the Pope gets a big, fat incomplete: I have read the Pope’s speeches, and there are not many mentions of the Savior Jesus Christ. What’s up with that? Perhaps we will hear more about Jesus in later talks. Why doesn’t the Pope spend more time talking about the devastation of traditionally Christian communities in the Middle East? Those communities have been around for nearly 2,000 years, but I have not seen many mentions of them in his talks. And, last but not least, the Pope traveled to Cuba without condemning Communism in the strong tones of Pope John Paul II, who grew up in Communist Poland and saw the horrors of Communism with his own eyes. I really miss that pope.