Aug 27th 2015

Pope Francis in America

by Chris Patten

Chris Patten is a former EU Commissioner for External Relations, Chairman of the British Conservative Party, and was the last British Governor of Hong Kong. He is currently Chancellor of Oxford University and a member of the British House of Lords.
LONDON – It’s a dollar to a cent that Pope Francis’s visit to the United States in September will be one of the biggest news stories of 2015. Take the sheer number of American Catholics, add the diplomatic skill of the Vatican’s purple-and-scarlet-clad officials, then throw in Francis’s powerful statements on a variety of subjects – often antagonizing America’s right wing in the process – and you have all the ingredients of an epic event.

Start with the diplomats. Vatican officials catch their share of criticism, not least from Francis himself. But their ranks include intelligent top-rank officials – led by the Pope’s chief adviser, Cardinal Pietro Parolin – who are experienced at working quietly for peace and social justice in some of the most perilous parts of the world.

When such smart diplomacy is put at the service of an appealing and influential Pope, not to mention the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, the result is an engine for doing good that is more formidable than anything the world has seen for some time.

Anecdotes about Francis – from his propensity for making personal phone calls to those in distress to his decision to wash the feet of criminals, Muslims, and women (to the horror of some churchmen) – ring true. Such acts of graceful nobility have contributed to his reputation as a kind, approachable, charismatic, and decisive leader – one who has proved to be highly appealing worldwide.

My personal experience with Francis suggests that his reputation is well deserved. Though, at age 71, I may be a little old to indulge in hero worship, I cannot remember a public figure to whom I have warmed more. He embodies the message, delivered in the Gospel of St. Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6).

The moral authority that Francis exudes makes his interventions in controversial contemporary issues – such as his condemnation of the Armenian genocide, Islamic jihadi violence, Mafia criminality and corruption in Italy, and the deaths of African and Middle Eastern migrants in the Mediterranean – extremely powerful. Before and during his visit to the US, his views on three issues – none of which is without controversy in the US – will have a particularly strong impact.

First, Francis is helping to end the decades-long standoff between the US and Cuba. Not only did Cardinal Parolin, formerly the Vatican’s man in Venezuela, play a key role in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba; Francis plans to visit the island on his way to the US.

But the thaw in US-Cuba relations has not been welcomed by all US politicians. Indeed, despite President Barack Obama’s apparent desire to end the pointless diplomatic freeze, some right-wing US politicians would, it seems, prefer a pariah to a potential partner off Florida’s coast.

The second key issue that Francis will address relates to the Israel-Palestine conflict – a fraught subject for the US, Israel’s most important ally. The Vatican has announced its intention to sign a treaty that includes recognition of a Palestinian state. Given Francis’s long record of friendship with Jews, and his understanding of their religion and culture, no Israeli politician can possibly condemn him as an anti-Semite.

Nonetheless, in parts of the American political establishment, Israel – specifically, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party – can do no wrong. A US senator once told me, “We are all members of Likud here.”

The third issue – the most challenging for some American politicians, especially the most conservative among them – is Francis’s recent encyclical on environmental stewardship, climate change, and sustainable and fair economic development. He clearly intends to put the full moral weight of his papacy behind the efforts to conclude a deal on climate change at the United Nations conference in Paris in December. Obama’s recent statement on carbon-dioxide emissions is clearly very much in line with the encyclical.

Francis will undoubtedly discuss the subject in his address to Congress, 30% of whose members – including House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican – are Catholic. Given that several of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination – including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal – also are Catholic, Francis’s strong stance on climate change may create a serious political dilemma for some.

Already, some of the most conservative elements in American politics – backed by those, like the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, who benefit from inaction on climate change – are attempting to denounce Francis’s views. Whereas the Catholic Church once tried to suppress science and reason, most notably in its condemnation of Galileo, it is now defending them, while conservative US politicians deny the facts. The pope is on the side of reason, as well as that of the angels.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII produced Rerum Novarum, an encyclical on workers’ rights that fundamentally challenged the contemporary political discourse and approach to policymaking. Francis hopes to have a similar impact today, helping to catalyze action on climate change. In this manner, he hopes, the world can achieve sustainable growth that improves the lot of the poor, while safeguarding the planet on which we depend.

The 78-year-old Francis often talks of the limited time he has ahead of him. Most Catholics pray that this is not the case. Given the positive impact that such a charismatic and forward-thinking pope can have on the world, we should all share that hope.

.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 15th 2019
".....one of the most accurate recession indicators, known as the yield curve, has recently been flashing warning signs. Every postwar recession in the US was preceded by an inversion of the yield curve, meaning that long-term interest rates had fallen below short-term interest rates, some 12 to 18 months before the outset of the economic downturn."
Jul 6th 2019
Extract: ".........growing poverty even when working, the collapse of stable and safe social identities linked to work, the increasing instability of employment security, and the rapid change of local communities due to emigration, migration, collapsing housing affordability, and redevelopment initiatives that displace communities. These provide precise and urgent electoral rallying points. They are particularly effective given that so many mainstream politicians ignore these basic grievances. In recent years, the lineup of politicians opposing the New Right – Hillary Clinton, the Remain campaign, Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Renzi – have been unwilling to even recognise these structural problems. This provided the New Right the opportunity to appear credible, simply by acknowledging them."
Jul 6th 2019
".........an openly Russophilic administration in the US may be one reason why Putin’s domestic support has been declining so sharply."
Jul 3rd 2019
"Extract: .........in a world of rapidly expanding automation potential, demographic shrinkage is largely a boon, not a threat. Our expanding ability to automate human work across all sectors – agriculture, industry, and services – makes an ever-growing workforce increasingly irrelevant to improvements in human welfare. Conversely, automation makes it impossible to achieve full employment in countries still facing rapid population growth........The greatest demographic challenges therefore lie not in countries facing population stabilization and then gradual decline, but in Africa, which still faces rapid population growth."
Jul 1st 2019
Trump’s personal style – vocal, expertise-averse, scandal-prone and driven by a focus on his partisan base – may be unusual, but aspiring Democratic presidential contenders may be making a serious error in allowing Trump’s “Wizard of Oz” act of big claims and small achievements to pass unchallenged. There is a massive gap between the pledges he made to voters and the reality of an outsider presidency thoroughly co-opted by its party. So far, the “Trump revolution” turns out to be an ordinary Republican presidency.
Jun 25th 2019
"Trump’s vindictive bluster has steamrolled economic-policy deliberations – ignoring the lessons of history, rejecting the analytics of modern economics, and undermining the institutional integrity of the policymaking process. Policy blunders of epic proportion have become the rule, not the exception. It won’t be nearly as easy to spin the looming consequences."
Jun 19th 2019
Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sectors in the world, and has the great advantage of producing no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is raising the average surface temperature of the earth. India is now for the first time in history investing more in solar energy than in coal. There is a simple reason for this. Coal costs roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity. India just let a bid for 1.2 gigawatts of solar energy and four companies scooped it up at 3.6 cents a kilowatt hour.
Jun 19th 2019
Extract: "Abe has reportedly nominated Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize – at the request of the US – for opening talks with North Korea. And he has offered to mediate in America’s dispute with Iran. (His recent visit to Tehran – where he reportedly asked Iran’s leaders, at Trump’s request, to release detained Americans – made clear that, even squeezed by sanctions, Iran has no interest in negotiating with a serial violator of signed agreements.) What Trump calls an “incredible partnership” is, in reality, a largely one-sided relationship. But, for Abe, appeasing Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side."
Jun 17th 2019
Extarct: "We know well the damage that corrupt leaders do to their people. We should therefore have much more to say about the quintessential corruption entailed by tolerating lies. Such tolerance allows the poison to spread through the body and soul of democracy, undermining democracy’s institutions by attacking the invisible norms and tacit understandings that support them."
Jun 11th 2019
Extract: "I noticed this dynamic firsthand a few years ago in Blagoveshchensk, on the Siberian border, just a half-mile from the Chinese town of Heihe. A century and a half ago, Blagoveshchensk was part of China. Then the Cossacks took control of it, along with many other territories in Chinese Outer Manchuria, on behalf of the Russian czar. Blagoveshchensk’s local history museum presents the development of the town after the Cossack takeover as a civilizing mission. The Russians, it seems, still view themselves as superior Westerners. As for Heihe, it got rich a quarter-century ago, after capitalizing on Russia’s post-Soviet disarray to sell cheap goods to then-starving Russians. Its own history museum presents the Cossacks as “hairy barbarians” (Lao Maozi) and lists the towns of Russia’s far east by their historical Chinese names: Blagoveshchensk is Hailanpao, Vladivostok is Haishenwai, and Sakhalin is Kuye. Local behavior reflects these perspectives. At the ferry port, the Russians sneer at the Chinese traders who bring Russian vodka and chocolate to Heihe, while the Chinese move past the Russians as if they do not exist."
Jun 5th 2019
Extract: "....the Constitution, which established the impeachment process as a check on the president’s behavior between elections, says nothing about using it only when politically convenient. Moreover, given the results in 2018, Democratic Party leaders might well discourage making the disposition of the president the key issue in the next election. Most important, a decision not to initiate an impeachment process against Trump could set a terrible precedent. If Trump isn’t impeached for his numerous criminal acts and abuses of power, would impeachment remain a viable check on the presidency? "
Jun 3rd 2019
Extracts: "Sooner or later, all smaller powers dependent on global markets would have to choose a side, unless they are somehow strong enough to withstand both American and Chinese pressure. With China and the US both demanding clarity, even economic giants like the European Union, India, and Japan would be faced with an intractable economic dilemma."
May 24th 2019
Waging a war against Iran, or even thinking of doing so, is sheer madness. Trump has thus far wisely rejected the warmonger National Security Advisor John Bolton’s outrageous advice. Waging another war in the Mideast, this time against Iran, would have not only disastrous consequences for the US but will also engulf our allies from which they would suffer incalculable human losses and destruction. Bolton was the architect behind the devastating war in Iraq in 2003, which inflicted more than 5,000 US casualties and a cost exceeding two trillion dollars, allowed Iran to entrench itself in Iraq, and gave way to the rise of ISIS.
May 24th 2019
The private Tasnim news agency reports from Iran that in a speech to thousands of university students, Iran’s clerical leader Ali Khamenei made an unusual and extraordinary criticism of president Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over their handling of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
May 21st 2019
Extract: "Brexit, after all, is as much a Kremlin project as it is anyone else’s. Putin wants to divide Europeans, and in the UK, Brexit has succeeded in dividing Britons like nothing since the Corn Law debates almost 200 years ago. Putin wants the EU to fragment, and Brexit is causing the biggest crack yet in the bloc’s history. Putin wants to sow doubt about the legitimacy of traditional news sources; pro-Brexit media consistently promote lies as truth and inveigh against reputable papers like the Financial Times as elitist enemies of the people."
May 16th 2019
Iraq’s population when invaded was 26 million. Iran’s population today is 81 million..........Whereas Iraq’s neighbors– Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular– had been mauled by Saddam and so did not strongly oppose Bush’s invasion, Shiite Iraqis, many Syrians, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, and the some 40 million Shiites of Pakistan would support Iran.
May 15th 2019
It’s time that economists, pundits, and politicians start looking holistically at life in our times, and take seriously the long-term structural changes needed to address the multiple crises of health care, despair, inequality, and stress in the US and many other countries. US citizens, in particular, should reflect on the fact that many other countries’ people are happier and less worried, and are living longer. In general, those other countries’ governments are not cutting taxes for the rich and slashing services for the rest. They are attending to the common good, instead of catering to the rich while pointing to illusory economic statistics that hide as much as they reveal.
May 8th 2019
"........Meanwhile, Trump is leaving the door open for Russia to come to his aid again in 2020. The White House and congressional Republican leaders have been blocking a bill to secure US elections against foreign attacks. And administration officials have been instructed not to raise the issue of Russian interference with the president, lest it cast a shadow on his legitimacy.  The next phase in this affair is already coming into focus. Barr, with the help of Trump’s golfing buddy Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now enlisted in peddling the president’s fantasy that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “deep-state” supporters of Hillary Clinton. Once again, current and former FBI agents will be targeted, either because they expressed criticism of Trump or because they opened a national security investigation into a hostile power’s meddling in the US presidential election (which continued in the 2018 midterms). FBI director Christopher Wray, commenting on the Mueller report, said that the Russians are “upping their game” for 2020. "
May 7th 2019
We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.