Politics of the Pope.
Irecently found myself caught in the middle of what can only be described as Pope-demonium. I was on my way to dinner with a friend who lives near Central Park in New York. We foolishly scheduled this catch-up at exactly the same time Pope Francis was due to address the faithful in the park. It took half an hour to walk three blocks as a crowd of 80,000 made its way inside at a glacial pace. And in a case of breathtakingly idiotic timing, I attempted the journey home when everybody was leaving. I spent a quarter of my evening swept up in the throng, entirely against my will. When I finally found sanctuary I said to my beer, ‘You can say what you like about the Pope, but he sure can pull a crowd.’ Seasoned New Yorkers will tell you the crowd was nothing compared to Simon & Garfunkel’s Live in Central Park in 1981. And they’d be right. 500,000 people turned up and every single one of them can be heard on the album. In defence of Francis’ rock star pulling power, if he promised to sing ‘The Sounds of Silence’ and ‘The Boxer’, I’d have been there too. But what nobody can argue against is the enduring popularity of the papacy. For a long time politicians have lined up for a papal photo op – because nothing says ‘I might not be quite as untrustworthy as I look’ like a selfie with a guy who many think has a bat phone to god. Pope Francis does seem like quite a guy. He’s not into luxury, likes to catch the bus, wants the world to better care for the poor, decries the damaging effect that greed has on people and the planet and, when asked about his views on homosexuality, said, ‘Who am I to judge?’ See, what’s not to love? Well, a fair bit, apparently. On the conservative side of politics and the media, Pope Francis is painted as something of a menace. The fact he’s against unfettered capitalism has many on the right labelling him a socialist, a communist and a dangerous reactionary. His encyclical supporting of global action on climate change had many, including a number of US presidential candidates, saying he should leave science to the scientists (before adding, ‘I’m not a scientist’ and then ignoring all the science). To borrow from some old book, all of this outrage is built on sand. To use the Pope as a foil for a political argument du jour is a pretty cheap move, likely to amount to less than nothing. As was highlighted recently when, soon after wowing them in the park, the Pope met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to provide marriage licences to same-sex couples. The same pundits and candidates that decried the Pope as a heretic sang his praises on high for giving solace to a supposed martyr. In Australia, papal politics have, strangely, worked in reverse – the left jumping unselfconsciously on to the bandwagon with the Greens calling on our then Prime Minister to remember he was Catholic and take the Pope’s environmental views as gospel. This, from the very people who have long argued that there was no place for religion in government. Perhaps the Pope wears white not to suggest purity, rather to allow the world to project on to the papacy whatever suits them at the time. The irony is that the papacy itself has a pretty chequered past. Pope Sergius III murdered his predecessor to get the job and his son, by a teenage mistress, later became Pope. Boniface VIII massacred an entire town and was a prolific paedophile. And despite his name, Innocent VIII fathered eight illegitimate sons in what’s known as The Golden Age of Bastards. All of this, and we’re barely scratching the surface of the surface of papal indiscretions, not least of which has been inaction in regard to institutional abuse. Because Popes, like politicians, are only human. And should be remembered thus. For perfection, miracles and transcendence, try Simon & Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park. n
THIS POPE’S NOT INTO LUXURY, AND WHEN ASKED ABOUT HIS VIEWS ON HOMOSEXUALITY, SAID, ‘WHO AM I TO JUDGE?’