April 19, 2013


Following Pope Francis’ example

“GOP should follow new pope’s example.”

That was the headline on one of the “Conversations” pages of the April 2 issue of The Indianapolis Star. The newspaper reprinted a column from The Washington Post by Marc A. Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute, along with a large photo of Pope Francis washing the feet of an inmate at a juvenile detention center in Rome on Holy Thursday.

Thiessen’s advice to the Republican Party was, “Be more like Pope Francis—defender of the family, the unborn and the poor.”

Obviously, we agree with Thiessen’s advice. However, we don’t think it should be limited to the Republican Party. We think it’s good advice for the Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party and independent voters. Yes, everyone.

Of course, we recognize that the American Enterprise Institute is a think tank associated with American neoconservatism, which is why Thiessen was directing his advice to the GOP. He noted that Republicans are seen as defenders of the rich and powerful instead of the poor and vulnerable, and he wants to change that perception. Nevertheless, we still think it’s sound advice for everyone.

It’s quite true that Pope Francis has given great emphasis, from the very beginning of his papacy, to the poor. His reputation as a champion for the poor preceded his election as pope.

Thiessen pointed out that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio showed up in the barrios and the inner city in Buenos Aires, Argentina, arriving by bus. “He sponsored marathons and carpentry classes, consoled single mothers and washed the feet of recovering drug addicts.”

Thiessen wrote, “As a cardinal, Bergoglio urged the faithful to ‘defend the unborn against abortion even if they persecute you, calumniate you, set traps for you, take you to court or kill you.’ But also he insisted that ‘no child should be deprived of the right to be born, the right to be fed, the right to go to school.’ ”

Then Thiessen said, “The GOP needs to put as much emphasis on ensuring that children are fed and educated as it does on their fundamental right to life.” Good advice.

But we think that someone should also advise Democrats to put as much emphasis on the fundamental right to life as it does on ensuring that children are fed and educated.

Basically, Thiessen was calling on the Republican Party to be Catholic because the Church has always emphasized social justice issues as well as life and marriage issues.

In his latest book, Evangelical Catholicism, George Weigel wrote, “Pope Benedict XVI firmly cemented the life issues into the thinking of the Catholic Church as social justice issues, making clear that there are not, and cannot be, ‘social justice Catholics’ here and ‘life issues Catholics’ there” (p. 218). There is only one Catholic Church.

Weigel believes that the Catholic Church has been in a state of transformation ever since the election of Pope Leo XIII in 1878. It was he who issued the first social encyclical, “Rerum Novarum” (“On Capital and Labor”), in 1891, the document that Pope John XIII called the magna carta of Catholic social doctrine. Most of the popes since then have written their own social encyclicals.

In his homily for the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis told the members of the Church to “go out” to those in need. That’s what the Church has done, and is doing, better than any other organization.

It’s what Catholic Charities is doing in the cities of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as well as nationwide, and it’s what Catholic Relief Services does for the poor and vulnerable in countries throughout the world. It’s what the all-volunteer St. Vincent de Paul Society does, and what Catholic hospitals and homes for the aged do.

In his installation homily, Pope Francis enumerated those whom we’re called to serve—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. In other words, those whom Jesus himself told us to serve in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 25:31-46). Indeed, he said that those who do not care for them will go off to eternal punishment.

It would be good if our political parties would fight over who can best serve the poor.

—John F. Fink

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