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Musing on the pope from pope-strangled Philadelphia

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I’m in Philadelphia to provide a feminist/secular voice here with a 7 p.m. speech at the Ethical Society on the eve of the pope’s visit to Philadelphia — which is taking over the city. Kiosks at the city airport welcome attendees to the Catholic World Meeting of Families. Schools are closed for four days for religious reasons here — first for the Jewish high holy days, then three days for the pope’s visit, due to traffic and logistical concerns.

The mayor of Philadelphia, who actually went to visit Pope Francis to beg him to come to Philadelphia, is probably ruing the day. Whole bridges are being closed. Workers are being told not to come into town. Buses and trains departing from Philadelphia are being closed at 10 p.m. tonight. There are huge “no parking” areas and cars are being towed. Hoteliers are saying the visit isn’t bringing in tourism dollars. These pilgrims with their many children are lodging as cheaply as possible.

I watched the pope’s address to Congress at the welcoming home of my hosts, Margaret Downey and her husband Tomm Schottmiller, this morning. As they noted, much of the pope’s speech sounded humanistic. This is why a news magazine placed a photo of the pope on its current magazine cover, asking: “Is the Pope Catholic?”  This pope has been harder to criticize, sounding more like a real human being. And I think that’s the real danger — putting a pretty face on Catholic dogma, which has not budged.

For instance, Pope Francis referred to increasing violence “even in the name of god and religion.” Can’t argue with that. He put in a kind word for abolition of capital punishment (the one Catholic doctrine that is correct).

But I thought his talk with full of papal pap for the most part. Who’s to argue with saying people should get along, care about the cycle of poverty and call the United States the “land of dreams”? (Well, maybe many oppressed African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans might quibble with that.) Republicans, including the pope’s sponsor, might well have demurred over his homily on how almost everyone in the U.S.A. is descended from immigrants.

The pope responded to widespread criticism of his canonization of Junipero Serra, the father of the missionary system, saying that Catholic missionaries’ first contacts with Native Americans were “often turbulent and violent.” This should not mollify Native Americans, whom the pope mentioned, and it doesn’t make up for calling Serra a saint.

While Pope Francis said, “we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past,” he prefaced it by saying “it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.” The biblical admonition, “Judge not lest ye be judged” is a handy device for the Catholic Church with its history of the Inquisition, Crusades, witchhunts and pogroms!

He dutifully inserted several coded references against abortion rights, saying (a la Monty Python) “every life is sacred.” He made a vaguesville remark about the family being “threatened from within and without . . . the very basis of marriage and the family” which seems to be code against marriage equality.

After his  remarks to U.S. bishops praising their “courage” in dealing with the “pain” of systemic predation by Catholic officials against minors, he had the gall to mention the young being subject to “violence, abuse and despair.” Talk about a jarring note.

But it doesn’t really matter what the pope said during his joint address to Congress. Even had I or you agreed with everything the pope said, it was still unfitting, unprecedented, unconstitutional, that a religious figure was invited, for the first time in history, to make such remarks before a joint session of Congress. FFRF’s ads in the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today and Philadelphia Inquirer have made that case. The precedent is now set for further such entanglements.

What distresses me the most is the spectacle of a deferential and adoring Congress turning out and giving a standing ovation to a religious leader of such a powerful religion, the huge screens for onlookers outside, the governmental websites devoted to promoting the pope’s visit including devotional events — all of this put on by our secular government at taxpayer expense. The symbolism of our government united with the Catholic Church is the worst message.

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31 Responses

  1. That was a great article and I agree. The pope is a fraud, basically saying one thing and doing another. “Who am I to judge” he says when talking about gays, then he meets with Kim Davis. He gets out of his “humble” Fiat when he sees a news team’s video camera to kiss a 10 year old boy in a wheelchair. He rode in the Fiat to impress his fans, and it worked. It cost the Vatican $48 million for the pope’s recent visit. The Constitution lost when the pope spoke to Congress. Ridiculous.

  2. These religious leaders are doing rock star tours. The Dalai Lama’s tour was put on hold due to health concerns, or he’d be cruising the country issuing overpriced speeches only the wealthy can afford to attend. I find that ironic.

    Who’s next on tour? The Ghost of L. Ron Hubbard? (he would absolutely have loved it!)

  3. I don’t understand the great genuflecting our country is doing to this Pope. I understand Catholics appreciating their leader coming to the country. I know the Dalai Lama does get some press attention. But the treatment of this Pope seems a bit beyond the pale.

    Anyway, guess not up to me if others want to do it (although, as mentioned, they are spending a lot of my tax money to do it… would be better if it was done mainly through private funds). But the new pope is just like the old pope, basically. Sure it’s nice when he agrees with me on issues. But doesn’t mean I’m going to laud him or praise him for it beyond acknowledging it. Our country is secular, it is not run by religious tenets, whether catholic, jewish or muslim.

  4. I think I am most disturbed by the constant kissing to bless individuals. Not a smart move in terms of public health or in terms of scientific validity!

  5. “Every life is sacred” except if it’s the lives of all those children that were sexually abused by priests. Those lives can just be swept under the rug.

    1. And women who die of preventable complications during childbirth…screw those incubators, give us the babies!

  6. The hallmark of a religious law seems to be its disregard for basic human rights even in the presence of no evidence that any harm is being conferred upon the persons doing the action or being committed upon anyone else for that matter. In fact there cannot be anything more joyful than to marry the person you love. How does religion convince their followers to love gods that so clearly hate human beings? The first step is to teach self-hate which religion does so well.

  7. LOVE THIS!!!! you go girl
    What distresses me the most is the spectacle of a deferential and adoring Congress turning out and giving a standing ovation to a religious leader of such a powerful religion, the huge screens for onlookers outside, the governmental websites devoted to promoting the pope’s visit including devotional events — all of this put on by our secular government at taxpayer expense. The symbolism of our government united with the Catholic Church is the worst message.

  8. to me it was just a speech of general thinking , as it wielding government to change their ways , I don’t think so.

  9. because he was in the us congress he couldn’t get away with stating his real feelings about marriage equality. during his visit to the philippines in january of this year he called same-sex marriage a threat to civilization.

    coward and vile anti-gay bigot that he is, yesterday he was forced to resort to using the anti-gay dog whistles.

  10. Yay 3 days of missed worked (inner city ghetto no car) so that people can see a guy. Hope my landlord is catholic maybe he’ll be forgiving.

    1. Well…guy in a dress with a funny hat… a novelty many people thought worth seeing.

  11. 53 percent of Americans are Protestants, 22 percent Catholics and 8 percent other Christians, such as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. That means 78% of Americans definitely are not Catholic, not counting all the Catholics who attend church twice a year or less. Yet what percentage of our Supreme Court, legislature, and other governmental officials are Catholic? What percentage of our hospitals? This guy is just as much a misogynist as any before him. He just thinks women are happy being cows. Got cud? Thanks so much for your post! The news coverage is making my blood boil.

    1. Yes, I’ve switched to the national sports radio until he’s gone. You know what drivel that is and it’s still preferable.

  12. I found the Pope’s speech slathered with platitudes. A standing ovation for the Golden Rule! Wow, such depth and clarity. He did, however, rail against the evils of dogma, apparently without irony.

  13. The thing I find most ironic about the pope is how well he is liked by conservative Catholics. I suppose his language is ambiguous enough that it can be appreciated by both liberal and conservative Catholics. Liberals appreciate the call for addressing climate change and conservatives appreciate that the call includes language opposing contraception.

  14. Annie, you are our alternative to pope-speak. When the CEO of catholicism comes in person, you know desperation (for customers) is in the air. Polls show that the # of catholics–including members of the clergy (especially nuns)–is shrinking, while our nones (& we include men!) are growing. Give ’em hell Harry! Jerry G

      1. I see you have spread your replies around. Thanks for replying to my comment. The CEO must be a real live person. Jesus was the CMOjr–Chief Mythical Officer, Junior. You can guess the CMO, Sr.

        1. Let’s not forget the Holy Spirit, who inspired the Pope’s speech. It’s a triumvirate.

          (And with that I must return to the media Pope-athon
          in NYC. It’s so addictive.)

  15. Timing is everything, Annie Laurie. As a resident of the Philly suburbs I was excited to find that you are speaking at the Ethical Society, until I noticed the date. I’ve been Poped out 🙁

      1. I hope Annie Laurie can come back to Philly when we return to our secular roots. Cheesesteaks (wit) are on me.