Pope Francis’ popularity arguably stems from his image as a relatively progressive reformer – a counterbalance to the traditional view of the Catholic Church that invokes memories of the inquisition, and modern-day practices that should be relegated to the dark ages. But even the Pope’s focus on the scourge of inequality won’t stop Republicans from trying to cling to their monopoly on theocratic high-ground.
A number of prominent GOPers are trying to claim Pope Francis as one of their own. Politico reports former House Speaker New Gingrich saying, “What I’ve learned to do is ignore what the newspapers write and go to what [Pope Francis] said.” This, part of the standard Conservative line of crying about “liberal media” bias.
Similarly, Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio said that outlets “have a particular point of view, and I think that they’re fitting what the pope has said into their point of view, so they’re saying he’s aligned with Obama.”
But the Pope’s positions are 1) not necessarily aligned with Obama, and 2) not that far form some of the left-leaning economic views parts of the catholic church has always had – emphasizing social and economic justice, and perhaps in its most extreme form, liberation theology.
The Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation – a much talked about treatise that is particularly critical of contemporary capitalism – is predominantly ignored by conservative politicians. Referring to Francis’s criticism of trickle-down economics, North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx claimed of the pope’s statements, “those were taken out of context.”
Gingrich put it this way, “[the pope has been] wildly misinterpreted by liberals who are always eager to find the church no longer being the church, but in fact … there’s no major area of church doctrine on which the pope has made a change.”
It’s true that Francis has been slow to adopt any doctrinal changes regarding gay marriage, or the place of women in the church, despite widely reported and speculated statements alluding to the subjects – such as his now hugely famous statement on homosexuality: “who am I to judge?”
But it is clear that regardless of how much it pains conservatives, Francis (named for the saint his order – one with a strong tradition of social justice) is no old-school pope. Even if he has not yet made any doctrinal changes, and even if his theocratic exhortations have little effect on actual political economy, the man’s interests clearly lie with the meek, the marginalized, and not with the wealthy and the status quo.