On so many levels it has been exciting to see Pope Francis in the USA. His deep compassion for the environment, immigrants and the poor, along with urging us all to work together for the common good is important and refreshing in the current social and political climate in America.
On other important issues, however, I have been deeply disappointed. Not a word on the role of women in the church of today, and a clear shot at women’s reproductive rights in his speech to Congress. And don’t get me wrong, I was born and raised in the Land of Lincoln, but I might agree with a colleague who suggested that Harriet Tubman may have been and even better choice than Abraham Lincoln for an American who lived her hopes and dreams in a concrete way, not just in political theory and declaration. Personally, Sojourner Truth would be my choice. Her “Ain’t I a woman…” speech delivered at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851, for me still sadly defines the struggles for equality women face both here and abroad.
I was also disappointed to hear him take up the cry for the so-called need for “religious liberty” in this country, a wedge issue of the conservative and evangelical right who dare to claim that Christianity is under attack in this country. All fifteen or so Republican primary candidates have taken up this cry, despite the U.S. Constitution’s “no religious test” clause in Article VI paragraph 3. The American Catholic Bishops have joined onto this wedge issue which was unabashedly validated by the pope in his address to the joint houses of Congress.
I think, however, the greatest disappointment is his choosing to canonize Fr. Junipero Serra during this historic and important visit. Fr. Serra oversaw and aggressively put in place the Church Mission system along the California coast. It was a successful evangelization program that sadly depended on enslaving the native peoples of this continent resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of American Indians. For a pontiff so sensitive to the humanity and needs of all people, this canonization can only be seen as demeaning of the Native peoples of the American continent whose ancestors were victims of the Mission System. Further, there does not appear to be anything that distinguishes Fr. Serra’s missionary efforts apart from other zealous church missionaries of the same period. To have justified his choice to go through with the canonization by saying that “we cannot measure the actions of those in the past by the criteria of today” I found to a facile and disappointing moment in his address to Congress.
Each time I see the logo, “Pope of the People” on the television coverage I find myself contemplating how it is that our Native Peoples, women and all persons of other religious beliefs outside Christianity seem not to be included in the hope and vision of a pope who clearly has the broadest vision of inclusion of any pope in my lifetime. To be clear, I truly love much of what he has brought to the world-wide conversation on the role of religion in our common life together. My hope and prayer is for a pope one day who as a “Pope of the People” is a pope that can be a pope for all people everywhere. But that just may be asking for too much.