53.4 F
Fort Worth
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
- Advertisements -
Opinion Gerson: Pope uses political skills to pursue spiritual goals

Gerson: Pope uses political skills to pursue spiritual goals

Other News

Commentary: TCC Chancellor Eugene Giovannini: Maintaining Our Mission

Since our inception, one of Tarrant County College’s hallmarks has been our unwavering commitment to serving our community. As we all work to navigate...

Commentary: M. Ray Perryman: The Fed is taking largely unseen but essential action

The inevitable and unavoidable result of the extraordinary measures taken to curb the tragic health effects of the coronavirus has been a strong shock...

Commentary: Rising to the Challenge: Coronavirus Spurs Sacrifice and Generosity in Time of Need

These are difficult days. We’re frightened by the havoc COVID-19 may wreak on our families, friends, local businesses and the simple pleasures of life...

Analysis: Notes from a coronavirus hot spot

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans is right outside my door. But I can't go out. Not much, anyway. My wife and I are...
Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.



WASHINGTON – When a pope meets a president – and the Vicar of Christ gets pulled into political coverage – trivialization ensues.

As a reporter, I covered the St. Louis meeting between Pope John Paul II and President Bill Clinton in January 1999, not long after Clinton admitted to “inappropriate, intimate contact” with Monica Lewinsky. There was a frenzy of speculation that, well, what? That the pope would force Clinton to kneel in penance for three days in the snow, like Henry IV? That if they touched hands, it would cause spontaneous spiritual combustion?

The media acted as though a priest had never met an adulterer before, and as though two seasoned world leaders didn’t know how to act in public. (What I remember from the event was walking backstage and seeing a handwritten sign on a door, “Restroom for Pope and President Only.” Certainly the world’s most exclusive washroom.)

In the current round of coverage, we have been treated to comparisons between the approval ratings of President Obama and Pope Francis, and analysis about similarities between the Democratic and the Vatican platforms. Obama supporters emphasize the remarkable overlap of agendas – on everything except life, marriage and religious liberty. In the run-up to the meeting, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., challenged Obama to “explain to the pope” his views on the Hobby Lobby case – while holding a libertarian political philosophy at odds with Catholic social thought on most points. The whole enterprise of handicapping the papal primary is absurd. Catholic teaching stands in judgment of both ideological sides in American politics, as one would expect of a faith that combines moral traditionalism with a belief in social justice. And, though it is sometimes hard for Americans to comprehend, the church is working on projects and problems – like grace, mercy and original sin – that preceded the American experiment and will outlast it. That said, popes have been known to employ political skills in divine purposes. And here, Pope Francis seems particularly blessed. In a recent session at the Faith Angle Forum, papal experts John Allen, associate editor at The Boston Globe, and Paul Vallely, author of Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, described Francis’ first year as one of the more consequential in recent church history. 

A year ago, the prevailing narrative about the Catholic Church could hardly have been worse – pedophile priests, financial misdeeds, the arrest of the pope’s butler, for goodness’ sake. The Holy Spirit seemed to be on an extended vacation. Pope Francis’ “most important accomplishment so far,” said Allen is a “massive change in story” from church in crisis to “humble, people’s pope takes world by storm.” It is a transformation that could be “taught in business school as a rebranding exercise.”

This has been more than public relations, but not devoid of public relations. Francis has a feel for powerful symbols of simplicity, humility and compassion, such as carrying his own suitcase, washing the feet of Muslim prisoners, inviting the homeless to his birthday party, touching the disfigured. In this case, old Coke is pretty old – the example of a wandering preacher who touched lepers and consorted with a variety of sinners and outcasts. As in that ancient example, Francis has combined traditional moral teachings with a scandalous belief that people are ultimately more important than rules.

This is among the least understood aspects of Francis’ revolution. “His path to reform is not changing the catechism,” says Allen. Instead, it is “creating a zone for the most merciful application of pastoral teaching.”

Francis also seems to understand the urgency of his institutional reform task, pressing forward with reforms of the Vatican bank that were begun under Pope Benedict.

But the possibility of institutional change is made real and vivid because Francis demonstrates the possibility of personal change. During his early rise to influence in Argentina, according to Vallely, Jorge Bergoglio was an “unflinching traditionalist” who was “dynamic, strong and very autocratic.” Following a humiliating demotion and profound interior crisis, the future pope emerged as “an icon of radical humility.”

It is not a natural tendency. “Humility is a discipline for him,” says Vallely. “It is calculated, but not fake.”

Francis speaks of mercy with the passion of a man who has received it, and was never the same again. This virtue – showing mercy to others, and accepting God’s pity on our own pitiful hearts – is perhaps the least political of the virtues. Also the most humane.

Michael Gerson’s column is distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.  


- Advertisements -
- Advertisements -

Latest News

Letter from the Editor: The Big One

Military Museum of Fort Worth www.facebook.com/militarymuseumoffortworth/ I got one of the last...

Commentary: Empowering Seniors 2020 Goes Virtual

Empowering Seniors 2020 Cost: Free Location: Virtual event available on computers, tablets and smartphones

Commentary: Tourism is in the fabric of our city

Bob Jameson Visit Fort Worth National estimates show that COVID-19 has wiped out more...

Can Trump and McConnell get through the 4 steps to seat a Supreme Court justice in just 6 weeks?

Caren Morrison, Georgia State University United States Supreme Court...

Letter from the Editor: The Two Katies

On Sept. 12 I went to see the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Asleep at the Wheel at the Will Rogers Coliseum....