Sep 24th 2015

Our Embarrassing Man Crush on Pope Francis

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

Pope Francis arrives in Washington, D.C. as a conquering hero, with jostling crowds lining the street in rapt adulation. Trumpets, pomp, elaborate ceremony and fawning commentary herald the presence of a global rock star. This man crush is as unwarranted as it is embarrassing.

In spite of some interesting rhetoric, Francis has implemented no significant policy changes in the Catholic Church, home to 1.2 billion worshipers. 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 support Church policies that perpetrate poverty, misery, hunger and suffering throughout the world.

An Op-Ed piece in the New York Times (Sep 24, 2015) by Nicholas Kristof starts off with what is commonly said about the Pope: "We all know that Pope Francis cares deeply for the marginalized..." This claim is perpetuated without evaluation or support, and in fact is patently untrue. Let's focus for a moment on family planning. 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. Yet we know that giving women control over their own reproduction rights is the most effective means of ending the cycle of poverty and promoting sustainable economic growth. Here is the conclusion from the National Institutes of Health:

"Failure to sustain family planning programs, both domestically and abroad, will lead to increased population growth and poorer health worldwide, especially among the poor.

However, robust family planning services have a range of benefits, including maternal and infant survival, nutrition, educational attainment, the status of girls and women at home and in society, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention, and environmental conservation efforts.

Family planning is a prerequisite for achievement of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals and for realizing the human right of reproductive choice."

Despite this well-documented need for and benefits of contraception, the Pope opposes any effort to give women the right to control their own reproductive destiny. You cannot claim an affinity for the poor while promoting the very policies that ensure the poor will remain ever so. The Pope's claim to care for the poor is fraud supported by media that refuse to call him on his hypocrisy.

Addressing AIDS? Pope Francis 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. More than 20 million people worldwide have died of AIDS. In the words of one Brazilian priest, "If I were pope, I would start a condom factory right in the Vatican. What's the point of sending food and medicine when we let people get infected with AIDS and die?" Interestingly this quote about Pope Benedict XVI is in an article by the same author (Kristof) who now is drooling over Pope Francis -- and there has been absolutely no change in policy between the two popes. Apparently love and man crushes are both blind.

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. (He ignores too the obvious that distributing condoms would reduce the need for 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. The LGBTQ community is no better off under Francis than under any of his predecessors, making the liberal singing of Kumbaya with this pope a big mystery.

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 Pope has been lauded as bringing new transparency to the Vatican bank, but has done little to increase transparency in policy. Where is this transparency on the question about condom distribution, homosexuality in the priesthood, female education and female clergy? 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

So when you see the Pope, see this: a man who is responsible for perpetuating the never-ending cycle of crushing poverty (opposing contraception) for a billion people globally, the unnecessary spread of AIDS (opposing condom distribution) and the unabated continuation of priests molesting children (no policy change, no assigned responsibilities to those who committed the crimes). This is the man being celebrated in Washington.

Yes, the Pope is charismatic. He sometimes makes statements that seem modern or progressive. He talks a good game. But he is nothing new, only old wine in a new bottle. Nothing has changed; no major policies have shifted. You all need to get over your man crush. It is embarrassing.



Dr. Jeff Schweitzer is a marine biologist, consultant and internationally recognized authority in ethics, conservation and development. He is the author of five books including Calorie Wars: Fat, Fact and Fiction (July 2011), and A New Moral Code (2010). Dr. Schweitzer has spoken at numerous international conferences in Asia, Russia, Europe and the United States.Dr. Schweitzer's work is based on his desire to introduce a stronger set of ethics into American efforts to improve the human condition worldwide. He has been instrumental in designing programs that demonstrate how third world development and protecting our resources are compatible goals. His vision is to inspire a framework that ensures that humans can grow and prosper indefinitely in a healthy environment.Formerly, Dr. Schweitzer served as an Assistant Director for International Affairs in the Office of Science and Technology Policy under former President Clinton. Prior to that, Dr. Schweitzer served as the Chief Environmental Officer at the State Department's Agency for International Development. In that role, he founded the multi-agency International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program, a U.S. Government that promoted conservation through rational economic use of natural resources.Dr. Schweitzer began his scientific career in the field of marine biology. He earned his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He expanded his research at the Center for Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine. While at U.C. Irvine he was awarded the Science, Engineering and Diplomacy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.Dr. Schweitzer is a pilot and he founded and edited the Malibu Mirage, an aviation magazine dedicated to pilots flying these single-engine airplanes. He and his wife Sally are avid SCUBA divers and they travel widely to see new wildlife, never far from their roots as marine scientists..To learn more about Dr Schweitzer, visit his website at http://www.JeffSchweitzer.com.

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