The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Pope on a Plane, Still Catholic, Not a Pawn in a Presidential Election

Jeepers.

You take a few phone calls, do a little reading, and log onto the Drudge Report and read:

POPE PICKS FIGHT WITH TRUMP

POPE NOW SAYS BIRTH CONTROL OK

My inbox is bursting at the seams. What has the pope gone and done now?

He shared a few thoughts on a plane. We’ve been here before. (Remember “Who Am I to Judge?”) I recommend deep breaths.

First thing: A pope is never going to upend Catholic doctrine on a plane ride. People always seem to have the desire or fear he will — especially with Pope Francis — but it’s not going to happen. It doesn’t quite work that way, and it’s also not his desire, if you listen to him. He’s trying to bring people to the truth of Church teaching at a time when it is largely incomprehensible and misunderstood and under-proposed in the West.

Second thing: What short memories we have! Remember him visiting our heroines for religious freedom, the Little Sisters of the Poor, while in Washington, D.C., this fall? You do recall why they had to go to court — the coercive Obamacare abortion-drug/contraception/female sterilzation mandate. His message of support for them was as clear as it gets.

Something I was reminded of as my e-mail started blowing up over this interview today: One of the very first questions I ever got from someone in the mainstream media about Pope Francis concerned a defense he had made of a remark by Pope Benedict about condoms and AIDS and male prostitutes. These things do not make for easy sound bites. B16 didn’t open the floodgates with his comment back then and neither did Pope Francis today. And don’t miss that Pope Francis — in considering that in some exceedingly difficult, not quite understood, potentially dangerous situations, where the primary intention is not to prevent or end a pregnancy, there may be room for a moral use of contraception — drew a connection to the thinking of Paul VI, infamously the author of Humanae Vitae, the prophetically clear document on Catholic teaching on contraception.

Third thing: The pope specifically said he did not want to get involved in the U.S. presidential elections. He also understands they’re important. The pope is not picking a fight with Donald Trump or anyone else. Rather, he is urging citizens and politicians alike to consider the human faces of immigration. Yesterday he did a beautiful thing: He celebrated Mass for those who have died seeking to cross the border, for those who suffer, for those who seek a better life. And he did so uniting both sides of the border in the prayer of the Mass, the greatest prayer Catholics celebrate as a Church. That’s not a political statement. It’s a prodding to an examination of conscience. It’s a call for healing. It’s a prayer. And our politics are never going to get better if we can’t stop for that, and go back to that water to give our often miserable politics new life. That doesn’t make for an easy or sexy headline. But that’s key to understanding Francis.

And one addition thing about walls: The pope is not looking to tear down borders and rail against nations protecting their citizens. He is saying we can’t lose sight of the human face in suffering — the human face behind every single political issue we face. Donald Trump is clearly taking this as a moment to shout down the pope and people who misunderstand what the pastor is saying are going to be misled. Don’t be misled. You are frustrated with a chaotic politics that isn’t helping people flourish. Pope Francis is all about human freedom and flourishing — about allowing people to live in the greatest freedom, free from the chains of oppression and addiction and loneliness and everything else that afflicts men and women today. That’s what he’s talking about. And he’s urging us — those in politics and who vote and who are members of communities with people who are suffering — to not look away from human suffering. We build walls when we are indifferent and isolated — and allow suffering people to feel alone.

And can I add something that didn’t make headlines? He compared the “evil” of abortion to what the Mafia does: throws people away. Just so you know.

Pope Francis didn’t upend Catholic doctrine on a plane. Not this time, not anytime.

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