Dec 15th 2013

Not Anywhere Close to Person of the Year: Why Time Magazine Is Wrong About Pope Francis

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology
Time Magazine has named Pope Francis as its Person of the Year. They should not have; he has no qualifications to be included even in the top 10 finalists. To understand this, we first need to understand how Time makes the selection. Remember that the title does not necessarily imply laudatory accomplishments, only those that have had significant impact for better or worse. The designation recognizes notoriety. The list of those honored in the past includes Adolf Hitler (1938), Joseph Stalin twice (1939 and 1942), Nikita Khrushchev (1957), and Ayatollah Khomeini (1979). In the opposite extreme honorees include Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and Bill and Melinda Gates (for their charitable works). Prior to Francis, two other popes populated the list: Pope John XXIII cited for his role in helping to mediate the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Pope John Paul II for his contributions in ending the Cold War, before the pedophilia epidemic became a public crises.

Pope Francis does not qualify in either category of good or evil; his impact has been in the realm of theater rather than substance. Outside of good photo ops, he has accomplished little in the little time he has been in office; if he is chosen based on such thin grue of accomplishment, then every Pope since the first would qualify as Person of the Year just by holding the title of Pope. Yet that would make little sense.

Throughout most of history, Popes have claimed to be connected to the divine, the successor of Peter, infallible as a representative of god on Earth and the right and ability to judge and excommunicate angels. Yet with this power Pope Francis, like all of his predecessors, continues to perpetrate poverty, misery, hunger and suffering throughout the world by preventing access to contraception; and denying women the ability to choose their own reproductive futures, which has been proven to perpetuate the cycle of poverty. He has abetted the spread of AIDS by preventing the distribution of condoms, the most effective and least expensive means of doing so. He has done nothing substantial to address the continuing problem of pedophilia among priests. Kissing the deformed is good drama, and nothing more. The media has been had, as has been the fawning public. Eschewing the regal trappings of the papacy for a modest apartment does not make one a saint when people are starving outside your gate.

Time Magazine and the gullible among us need to get over the man crush on this Pope. The explanation of why Francis was selected is almost creepy in its misplaced adulation:

Time called the Pope "a new voice of conscience." The editors explain that, "In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time, about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power," she said. "When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church."

No, really, the image does not resonate with anyone other than the already besotted. The images are just that: images. Nothing has changed. I have heard argued that the ship of state can only turn slowly; or that the Pope is doing all he can in the face of institutional inertia and conservative push back. Even if true, and the Pope were actually trying to make significant change, you don't get an "E" for effort in real life. Time's award is meant to note significant impact, not good intent. But worse, the Pope has not actually shown good intent, only good media skill. Look at the particulars cited. How about the role of women? We are not discussing female priests or in fact any meaningful change of the role of women in or outside the church; and the Pope staunchly defends the Church's position on contraception, giving women in impoverished nations no role at all other than to produce more offspring. On the subject of abortion, Pope Francis urged a group of gynecologists to refuse to perform abortions, one day after admonishing Catholics to stop obsessing about abortions. This is the Pope's pattern: make a media friendly statement to catch attention and admiration, and then reverse that when it comes to policy and doctrine.

The nature of marriage? After some supporting statement by the Pope on gay marriage, the Church reaffirms its unyielding opposition. There has been no change in doctrine or policy. Fairness and justice? This is almost obscene given that the Church under the new Pope continues to defend pedophile priests, does little to prevent future abuse, and continues to deny victims proper compensation. Ask the tens of thousands of abuse victims about how fair and just the new Pope has been. Like all before him, the Pope largely ignores the issue beyond bland promises to do better. Here is Pope Francis on the pedophile crisis: "The Church hierarchy doesn't need new rules on abuse. It needs to follow long-established secular laws." That has not worked out so well, but there is no call for reform here; just more of the same. No meaningful change in doctrine, and no change in policy.

The citation for transparency is nearly comical; where is the open and transparent discussion about condoms, homosexuality in the priesthood, female education and the right to choose one's one reproductive fate? What about transparency within the Vatican? Pope Francis oversaw a new law punishing any Vatican whistle-blower with eight years in prison, which includes anyone who leaks information concerning the "fundamental interests" of the Vatican. This is the opposite of transparency for which the Pope was lauded.

And really, all the adulation because the Pope kissed the face of a disfigured man? As a representative of Christ, is that not in his job description? That would be like fawning over a fireman because he battled a blaze. A doctor does not get an award when he treats a sick patient. The response to the Pope's kiss is simply embarrassing.

Pope Francis may be a good man; I have no way of knowing either way. But he is not Person of the Year material. As Pope he is leading an institution that is perpetuating gross injustices in the world without tackling those head on and honestly. That is not fair, open, transparent or just.

Time got this wrong. Smoke and mirrors do not greatness make.



Originally posted on the Huffington Post, posted here with the kind permission of the author.


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