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October 4, 2015
Pope’s Outspoken Views Rattle U.S. Conservatives but Not U.N.
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26, 2015 (IPS) - Pope Francis’ outspoken views on some of
the politically-charged hot button issues – including refugees, migration, human
rights, climate change, Iran’s nuclear deal, U.S.-Cuban relations and the global arms
trade – have touched a raw nerve in the United States.
And most of these crucial and sensitive issues are currently on the agenda of the
United Nations where he was given a rousing welcome last week.
But several right wing conservatives say the Pope’s “infallibility” relates only to
theology – not to world politics or the degradation of the environment.
At least two of the Republican candidates seeking nomination for the U.S. presidency,
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, both
described as practicing Catholics, begged to differ with the Pope.
“I just think the Pope was wrong,” said Christie referring to the role played by the
Pope in the resumption of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations.
“And so the fact is, that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones.”
Rubio said, “the pope, as an individual, an important figure in the world, also has
political opinions. And those, of course, we are free to disagree with.”
Still, Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, an alliance of more than 75 U.
S. organisations and 400 faith communities, told IPS Pope Francis has never made an
And it’s questionable whether or not Pope Benedict ever made one either.
“When infallible statements are made, they are done in a very specific way from St.
Peter’s throne. Very few of these statements have ever been made in the entire
history of the Catholic Church,” he explained.
The more important issue to understand is that all of Pope Francis’ statements are
moral teaching for Catholics. When the Holy Father speaks on inequality, poverty, the
environment, war and the economy, he is providing very clear moral guidance for us,
said LeCompte, who also consults the Vatican and is a United Nations expert.
“His Holiness is applying specific Catholic and biblical teachings directly to the
economic policies that impact millions of people. He’s calling for a global bankruptcy
process to protect the vulnerable from financial crisis.”
He’s applying core Catholic teachings on poverty, compassion and mercy to the
economic policies that cause poverty,” said LeCompte, in defence of the Pope’s
The Holy Father also called for responsible lending and borrowing at the United
Nations to address financial crisis.
He said: “It’s amazing to see Pope Francis talk about responsibility of creditors. He
even referenced what was formally a sin in the Catholic Church: usury.”
After a historic address to a joint session of the United States Congress in
Washington DC – and also speaking before hundreds of parishioners and lay people
in New York – Pope Francis appeared Friday before the ultimate world stage: the
Singling out two of the issues on the U.N. agenda, namely economic inequality and
the global environment, the Pope told delegates the misuse and destruction of the
environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion.
In effect, he said, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity
leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the
weak and disadvantaged – either because they are differently abled (handicapped),
or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise or are incapable of
decisive political action.
He said economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a
grave offense against human rights and the environment.
“The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious
reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded, and suffer
unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and
quietly growing culture of waste”.
“The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident
effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take
stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those
who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions,” the Pope declared.
Going into political raptures over the Pope, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:
“You are at home not in palaces, but among the poor – not with the famous, but with
the forgotten – not in official portraits, but in “selfies” with young people.”
Like the United Nations, he told the Pope, “you are driven by a passion to help others.
Your views move millions. Your teachings bring action. Your example inspires us all.”
Meanwhile, most of the positive comments came from non-governmental
Ben Phillips, director of Policy, Research, Advocacy and Campaigns at ActionAid, told
IPS: “ActionAid strongly welcomes the Pope’s moral leadership on economic inequality
and climate change: he is speaking up for the many millions of people around the
world living with the effects. What is urgent action now is action by political leaders.”
Andrew Steer, President and chief executive officer of the World Resources Institute,
said Pope Francis brings a voice of unwavering moral clarity on the need to protect
“Simply put, caring for our planet and for the neediest among us is a responsibility we
This week, said Steer, the Pope has made it clear that climate change is an urgent
challenge and must be addressed without delay. The good news is that we now know
that many actions that will slow climate change are consistent with those that will
deliver economic benefits to society.
Barbara Frost, Chief Executive, of WaterAid, said the Pope has shone a light on the
plight of the poorest and most vulnerable, who are most affected by climate change
and by the tremendous inequalities that exist in our world today.
“He has done much to reaffirm access to safe, drinkable water and sanitation as basic
and universal rights essential to health and dignity. And he has asked us all to care
for everyone on our planet.”
In our 30-year history of working to provide water and sanitation, WaterAid has been
an advocate for some of the world’s poorest people and we welcome the Pope’s calls
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) welcomed Pope
Francis’ call and said it believes that the moral and humanitarian arguments
underpinning his speech should inspire governments to start negotiations of a treaty
banning nuclear weapons.
“Nuclear weapons are immoral, unethical and unacceptable weapons”, said Beatrice
Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, “governments should respond to the call of the Pope
and start negotiating a new legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons”.
Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, struck a critical
note when she said the Pope “speaks of some alleged “great sacrifice” made by
bishops because of the abuse and cover up crisis.
“What sacrifice? What bishop takes fewer vacations, drives a smaller car, does his
own laundry or has been passed over for promotion because he’s shielding predators
and endangering kids?,” she asked.
None, she added.
Blaine also said: “If you’re a woman, you can’t be a priest, if you’re married, you can’t
be a priest, but if you’ve raped children, you can still be a priest.”
Sydney Silva, a former Catholic priest based in the United States, told IPS infallibility is
not the issue here.
Papal Infallibility is only applied in very rare situations when pope specifically makes
official statements ex Cathedra (from the seat = official pronouncements ) solely on
matters of faith and morals pertaining to the Catholic doctrine of the church.
The Church in the last century has been quietly moving away from this type of
“What Francis and other recent popes have done and said is more like renowned
moral and pastoral leaders to address burning world problems and issues. They do
have a unique place on the world stage”.
He said none of the recent popes including Pope Paul VI even when writing about
Humane Vitae (on birth control) stayed the traditional course. All recent popes have
taken a very progressive stand on matters of poverty, financial inequality, exploitation
and even human degradation, he declared.
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