Breaking news: The pope is now a pacifist. Or not.

September 12, 2013

Newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina waves as he leaves after praying at basilica in RomeAn Italian woman named Anna Romano recently got pregnant out of wedlock. The father, who was married with child, pressured her to have an abortion, and she refused. She wrote to Pope Francis earlier this year describing her life and her brave decision not to have an abortion. Last week, the pope called her out of the blue and said that he would personally baptize her child after she gives birth.

It’s easy to admire this pope deeply as a man. He has a great heart.

So far, however, when he speaks theologically, it’s hard not to wonder where his head is.

I blogged about the confusing way he used the word “redemption” in a homily he delivered a while back. This week, in a similarly conciliatory but theologically muddled way, he implied that God will even forgive atheists so long as they abide by their consciences.

Or maybe he didn’t imply that. As my friend Kevin helpfully reminded me, he said in the same op-ed that forgiveness comes to those who repent with a sincere and contrite heart.

I don’t count on the press to get the theological nuances right. And I suspect Pope Francis doesn’t, either, which is why, so far in his papacy, he’s enjoyed great publicity: he gets to have his cake and eat it too. Regardless, if the incident regarding his redemption homily is any guide, I’m sure the Vatican is already drafting some clarifying statement to say that the pope didn’t mean quite what many people thought he meant.

The pope also made news last week by mentioning Syria in a homily, saying, “War always marks the failure of peace” (which is true by definition, a tautology). “It is always a defeat for humanity.” (True enough, in that it wouldn’t happen in the first place if humanity were in harmony with God and one another—if we weren’t sinners.)

But he overstates his case when he says, “Violence and war are never the way to peace!”

Really? Never? He’s contradicting his own church’s tradition of “just war” principles when he says this.

Like it or not, violence and war are the way to peace and justice sometimes. Not perfect peace and not perfect justice, both of which will never be accomplished on this side of resurrection. But peace and justice borne by violence and war are sometimes better than any conceivable alternative.

Surely the pope knows this. Or is he really saying that pacifism is now the only path that leads to peace? If so, he’s fortunate to live in Western Europe, where the doctrine won’t be put to the test any time soon! Besides, even the Vatican has the Swiss Guard. Even in their silly uniforms, they look well-prepared to throw a punch or wrestle someone to the ground. And surely they can do so without violating Jesus’ words about “turning the other cheek.”

The problem with pacifism is not that you get to oppose violent intervention in Syria or Iraq, but that you must also oppose it, for example, to prevent further genocide in places like Darfur or Rwanda. You must oppose violent force by your local police—including even tasers and billy clubs—not to mention violent force in your own home, even to defend the lives of your family.

Do we really believe that violence is never the path to peace? Does the pope?

Even if he’s saying that, he’s not really saying that, as some Vatican press flunky will surely point out.

Anyway, I’ll leave it to Cranmer’s satirical blog, and this sharp post from the Rev. Dr. Peter Mullen, to put the pope’s remarks in historical perspective:

I perceive that this Pope of Rome hath departed so far from true doctrine as to stand in the following of Renaissance Humanism and that moreover he hath fallen in with the Pelagian or Manichæan thing which saith that acts be morally right or wrong in themselves without reference to the intention applied thereof. One might as well say, Your Grace, that the very stones are capable of palpable evil without there be any man which chucketh them.

Wherefrom cometh this worldly doctrine except it be a following after the fashion of the secular sort, of the unilateralism of them which do cloke their self-righteousness under the veil of pacifism and peacenickery? By the which the widow and the orphan go all unprotected and the innocent are preyed upon by the malice of our enemies.

As thou knowest also, and for which we daily thank Our Father in heaven, The Pope of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England. 

6 Responses to “Breaking news: The pope is now a pacifist. Or not.”

  1. khargaden Says:

    I think it wise to read his actual comments, not the news media’s take on it. A reading of his speech that takes “atheists are a-ok” is probably a stretch, especially since he actually calls on them to “turn to God with a sincere and contrite heart”.

    But I would say that, as a crypto-Catholic pacifist. 🙂

    • brentwhite Says:

      It’s like 2,500 words! I’d rather read the British tabloids’ summary of the speech, because they always get it right. 😉

      I’m sure he’s more theologically nuanced, but if words can be so easily misunderstood, then he ought to choose them with more care. We pastors are constantly reminded to do this.

      It’s easy to suspect that the pope wants to have his cake and eat it too. The guy gets great press!


  2. […] internet buddy, the American Methodist minister Brent White wrote about reports this week suggesting that the Pope had made some kind of conciliatory speech towards […]

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    I sure hope the Pope is not speaking “ex cathedra” with all these statements! 😉

    • brentwhite Says:

      No worries there! The pope hasn’t done so since 1950 (and never mind what he said then!). I can’t quite imagine another pope doing it again.


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