Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pope Francis and poverty

I keep hearing about how the new pope, Pope Francis, as he has styled himself, is a big opportunity for renewal for the papacy and the Catholic Church because he is primarily focused upon poverty and is famous for his humility. I'm skeptical of the depth of his concern about poverty and want to state clearly why.

Pope Francis at his first Mass, from Discovery News.
Let's be fair first. The new pope has repeatedly urged the people in his diocese and beyond to ignore installation ceremonies, choosing instead to donate to charity the cost of travelling to and attending the ceremonies. He did this when installed as Cardinal in Buenos Aires, and he did it again when installed as pope. In words, in some deeds, and in what we might assume is genuine heartfelt concern, he reaches out to the poor and hopes to elevate them. I won't condemn a man for that--his heart, as we say, seems really to be in the right place.

This, though, reveals again Christopher Hitchens's repeated injunction that religion poisons everything.

How? It is not possible to be strongly concerned with poverty while holding to Catholic orthodoxy about birth control and abortion.

Another line from Christopher Hitchens reveals part of the reason. He indicates that the single best way to eliminate poverty and to transform a poor nation into one with better opportunity is to empower women. When women do not have a strong degree of autonomy over their reproductive lives, over their own bodies, they are not empowered, and poverty is not truly being managed in an effective way. All of the heartfelt pleas, calls for donations (which we know will not be enough to make a dent in the real problem), and all of the words that might motivate people to be kinder, gentler, and more generous with the poor fall hollow because of their lack of efficacy in addressing the real causes of the continuation of the juggernaut of poverty.

There has been some controversy,  which appears to have been demonstrated as spurious, that the new pope has misogynistic leanings. Whether or not he has those overtly oppressive views toward women is immaterial, though. Until the strongly orthodox Bergoglio, or Francis if you want, is willing to use his power as pope--absolute, divinely chosen, infallible monarch of the Catholic hierarchy--to reverse Catholic orthodoxy on birth control and abortion, at the least, he denies women the degree of autonomy over their own bodies that actually allows for their empowerment, and he reveals that his concern for poverty, however earnest, is merely superficial. To deny birth control is to deny women's empowerment, and that is to hold people bondage in poverty.

Pardon me, then, while I look on at the hope of a new pope, a humble man who allegedly cares deeply about poverty, as little more than the same demon in a new mask. He can spare me the lines about his concern for poverty until he's willing to let that concern create the action that we know is necessary for real success.

No comments:

Post a Comment