Top 10 Reason Pope Francis Is Awesome Even If You’re Not Catholic: Top 10 Facts About Pope Francis
On February 11th, 2013, the world was shocked by the news that Pope Benedict XVI had decided to resign. What? Pope’s don’t quit. Well, they do in this case. It’s almost like he was giving his employer two weeks notice. By the end of he was gone. And on March 12th a conclave to elect his successor began, resulting in the election of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, soon to be known as Pope Francis.
It looked like a pretty shrewd maneuver. Romans, of course, like Italian Popes. But there had been talk that it was time for a Pope from Latin America, given that that’s the part of the world with the highest concentration of Catholics. Bergoglio, an Argentine born to Italian immigrants, was the perfect solution. He is also the first Jesuit Pope, the first from the southern hemisphere and the first to select the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. Prior to beginning his religious career, Bergoglio received a diploma as a chemical technician and later worked as a tech in a chemistry lab. So we may actually have a Pope who believes in science.
Francis hit the ground running and has been winning hearts and minds (and perhaps souls?) ever since. You don’t have to be a member of his church to admire him. This is a Pope even a secular humanist can love!
The Pope Has the Same Problems as the Rest of Us
Church leaders give advice on marriage and families, though they don’t have spouses or children. They don’t have to worry about the whole work-life balance thing, decide what to wear to work or worry about making the mortgage payment. So it’s kind of validating to hear that in at least one area, Pope Francis has the same problem as the rest of us…
The Pope is getting plump. More than plump, downright pudgy. The vicar of Christ has a ponch. The culprits? Pizza and pasta. We can relate.
Vatican Radio provides a translated and transcribed version of an interview with the Mexican television program Noticieros Televisa. The Pope described his desire to escape the cloistered world and sneak out, unrecognized to get some pizza. He’s even had a pizza delivered to him in the Pope-mobile. Sadly for Francis, doctors have told him he has to cut back on pasta and pizza, his two favorite foods. Seems a little unfair to invite a guy to move to Italy and then deny him pizza. We feel your pain, Francis! Apparently his new job doesn’t allow him to do as much walking as he used to do in Argentina. At a recent Easter celebration he went to a Roman prison and washed the feet of some of the prisoners. Afterwards, two assistants had to help him get up. Ooof.
What’s wrong with a portly pope anyway? If we’re all sinners, why not just admit that gluttony is by far the tastiest way to fall from grace. Have another slice, Francis!
He Doesn’t Believe in Giving Comfort to Jerks
Seriously, though, this Pope has made some big improvements. He made waves (and headlines with CNN and other news sources), in June of 2014 when he traveled to Calabria in southern Italy and told off the mafia. He did more than tell them off, he excommunicated them, basically kicked them out of the church. Finally!
This is the conundrum that comes with believing one can always repent, always be forgiven and always return to the right road. That’s all fine and good, but to allow folks who make their living trafficking in poisons, stealing and killing, to go to confession every week and have the slate wiped clean is pretty pathetic. While the good Catholic gangster dynamic makes for great television and movie characters, it also makes a joke out of the church. It’s about time someone stood up to the religious mafia hypocrisy.
Pope Francis isn’t limiting his frank words to the Italian mafia either. In the aftermath of the disappearance (and presumed death) of 43 student protesters in Mexico, the Pope said that the devil is punishing Mexico with violence. Mexico, a highly Catholic country is also known for its high levels of drug violence, impunity and corruption. The 43 students in question were handed over to the drug cartel by police who were acting on the orders of public officials. The message is clear. If you’re going to intentionally hurt people, Francis isn’t going to cover your ass.
He Said Catholics Don’t Have to Reproduce Like Rabbits
Like rabbits. Those were his words, as spoken on a plane on the way back from the Philippines and as reported by the BBC. While the Pope isn’t condoning “artificial” birth control, this is still a sharp turn around. And a welcome one. The fact is, that when Pope Francis was born in 1936, there were about 2.3 billion people on the planet. Now we have over 7 billion. Considering the environmental pressures of that kind of growth, not to mention the limited resources of individual families, doesn’t encouraging people to have lots of children seem …irresponsible?
The context for his comment was meeting a mother of seven children (all delivered by C-section) who was pregnant with her eighth. Does she want to leave seven orphans, the Pope asked? No, probably not. The truth is Catholics have traditionally been encouraged to have large families. It’s as if they were trying to win on some denominational score board.
He went on to say that “population experts” (Who are they? Social scientists?) recommend that families have three children, that parents should be responsible and plan their families using approved birth control methods (i.e. good timing).
The Pope Is Not Here to Judge
Signs that we were dealing with a Pope cut from a different cloth came early, when shortly after he had been elected, a reporter on a plane asked Pope Francis about gays. He responded, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” Who are you to judge?! Dude! Seriously? You’re the head of the Catholic church, that’s who you are. You guys have been judging people for two thousand years. People were burned at the stake for giving the wrong answer, and now you say ‘who am I to judge?’ Wow. That’s a pretty big shift. But according to the Catholic News Service, it’s a valid viewpoint according to church teaching. And if it’s not the Pope’s place to judge, it’s not yours or mine or anyone else’s either.
Along with not judging gays, Pope Francis seems to have said (the internet is full of quotes, disclaimers, clarifications, etc.) that you don’t necessarily have to be Catholic to go to heaven. Even atheists can make the cut! According to this Pope, the main thing is that people, whatever their faith (or lack thereof), need to do good. Do good. That’s it. Okey-dokey. We can get on board with that.
Of course, none of the Pope’s utterances change actual church doctrine. When the church adopted the dogma of Papal Infallibility, they sort of painted themselves into a corner. They should leave the painting to Michelangelo. The problem is once a you say a Pope is infallible, it makes it pretty hard for a future Pope to institute changes. But this is one of several indications that Francis is trying to make the church less political and more inclusive.
The Pope Believes in Being Inclusive
Pope Francis doesn’t just not judge. He reaches out, opening dialogue with people of all sorts of faiths. And with people of no faith. His record on this predates his Papacy, and his commitment to interfaith dialogue is documented in the 2011 book, On Heaven and Earth, which records his conversations with Rabbi Abraham Skorka. As Pope, he has engaged in dialogue with Muslims, Jews, Anglicans, Evangelical Protestants and even Eastern Orthodox Christians. In fact, the Patriarch of Constantinople (leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church) attend Francis’ installation, the first time this has happened in the thousand years since the two Churches broke up.
Pope Francis’ tent is so big there’s even room for non-believers. He referred to nonbelievers who search for truth, goodness and beauty as “valued allies…in safeguarding and caring for creation” and said that the important thing for God is that people follow their conscience.
The thing that’s striking about all this is that it’s so logical. At the core of most religions you find something akin to the Golden Rule. It’s the basis for morals, for ethics, for human decency. And human goodness, seems to be what this Pope is interested in, rather than worrying about what name people give their deity or whether they worship on Friday or Saturday or Sunday.
The Pope Made His Own Top Ten List
And it’s a good one. In an interview with an Argentinian newspaper, Francis reflected on his first 500 days as Pope and listed the things he thinks lead to happiness. Francis’ Top Ten Secrets to Happiness captures the attitudes that make him so accessible and likeable. Check it out:
- Let everyone be themselves.
- Give yourself tirelessly to others.
- Walk softly – as in move with kindness and humility.
- Be available to your kids and family.
- Spend Sundays (or a day of rest) with family.
- Work towards empowering young people.
- Care for the Environment.
- Move on – as in forgive and move on after negative experiences.
- Respect other’s opinions.
- Actively strive for peace.
Nice list, huh? Note that not only does Francis offer simple, down to earth ways to be happy, he also recognizes being happy as a reasonable goal. He’s not telling people to feel guilty or to suffer for the Lord. Just be happy.
The Pope Treats Child Molesters Like Child Molesters
Hallelujah! Finally. This one should seem like a no fricken brainer. In a letter to the National Bishops’ Conferences and Religious Orders, Francis has warned clergy that fear of scandal should never lead them to cover-up sex abuse and said that everything possible must be done to rid the church of the “scourge” of child abuse.
When we nonbelievers observe Catholicism from the outside and see things like multi-million dollar bonuses given to members of the curia, we think, “Yep, their just as greedy, corrupt and immoral as everyone else.” But when we hear about an organization-wide epidemic of child sex abuse, and a systematic cover up, we think that their a whole lot worse than just about anyone else out there. Pope Francis inherited a scandalized church. Previous Popes did quietly defrock some abusive priests, but they didn’t make a policy of reporting abuse to law enforcement until 2010, and seem to have largely relied on a procedure of looking the other way.
No doubt there are plenty more child abuse cases that have not yet come to light, but Francis seems to be approaching them with the appropriate gravity. Shortly after assuming the Papacy, he announced a Zero Tolerance policy towards sex abuse, he rebuked church Bishops who chose to cover up abuse and relocate abusers rather than protecting children, and he apologized to victims on behalf of the church. He defrocked Argentinian priest and pedophile Jose Mercau.
Understandably, victims of abuse would like to see less words and more action. Nothing can ever repair the damage that was done, but there’s reason to hope that we have a Pope who is interested in being on the right side of history with this one.
Pope Francis Believes in Being Humble
As noted by reporter David Willey, the Pope has set a new tone of humility which seems long overdue. He chooses, time and time again, to be humble – to take the plainer, simpler, cheaper option. The evening he was elected Pope, he took the bus back to his hotel with the other cardinals, passing up his first chance to be driven around in a Papal car. He’s also touted the virtues of using a bicycle as a means of transport.
Then there’s his living situation. Pope Francis chose not to move into the Papal palace, but rather to remain in a suite in the Vatican guest house. He said that he wanted to live in community, to live a normal life, and to not be isolated. Interesting. The leader of the church is choosing not to be in that proverbial ivory tower.
His humility extends beyond his living quarters. He’s chosen more humble (as in not trimmed with ermine) dress and has even gone so far as to auction off gifts he has received from world leaders – little things like racing bikes, video cameras, designer hats and cars – to give the proceeds to charity.
Francis has said that a Christian’s faith can be measured by how often they pull out their wallet to help others, indicating that he’s acting not only out of personal preference avoiding luxury, but also out of a deep commitment to the ideals of charity and generosity.
He Thinks His Church Should Be Humble Too
Many visitors to the Vatican will have been struck by the tremendous amount treasures laid up there waiting for moth and rust to corrupt. You sort of can’t help but wonder how much human suffering could be alleviated if they’d cash in on that stuff and use the money to help people. Pope Francis is not only choosing a road of less conspicuous consumption for himself, he’s trying to pull his church in that direction as well. A sharp contrast to the many of the religious leaders who claim that the Bible must be taken literally, but are also quite sure that when Jesus said it’s is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, he was speaking figuratively. Give me a break. It’s nice to see a Pope putting his money (and his church’s money) where his mouth is.
As reported by Catholic World News, Pope Francis has taken on the excess and corruption in his own house by abolishing the exorbitant (25,000 Euro) bonuses paid to Cardinals serving on the Board of the Vatican bank. He also did away with the bonuses traditionally paid to Vatican employees upon the election of new pope, redirecting the several million Euros to charity instead.
Then there was Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, better known as the “Bishop of Bling”. The stir about the financial choices made by the Bishop of Limburg started in 2012, when the press noted that he had flown first class on a recent trip to India. Elst swore in court that he had traveled business class using frequent flyer miles, a statement which proved to be false. A little more digging (how deep do you have to dig to find a 31 million Euro palace?) revealed an excessive life-style and a pile of financial irregularities. Elts was suspended in 2013 and Francis accepted his resignation in early 2014.
Pope Francis is Trying to Make This World A Better Place
As an outsider observing Catholicism, one is often struck by the attitude towards suffering. It’s almost as if it’s looked upon as a good thing. God loves you because you suffer. Take your reward in heaven. How refreshing to see a church leader who is committed to social justice right here and right now; a Pope who is interested in making this world a better place. Right on!
Francis has not shied away from commenting on some of the most pressing issues of our time. His statement that Catholics don’t need to reproduce like rabbits may allude to a broader understanding of the environmental stress on the planet caused by a burgeoning population. As indicated by the Catholic Climate Convent, the Pope has called on Christians to respect all creation and has said that exploiting the earth is sinful. He’s even preparing a Papal Encyclical on global warming (another hint that we have a Pope who believes in science).
Then there’s the world of geo-politics. During the riots and civil unrest that rocked Buenos Aires at the end of 2001, then Cardinal Bergoglio contacted the Ministry of the Interior and lobbied the police to distinguish between peaceful protestors and rioter committing vandalism. As Pope, he hosted a prayer meeting with himself, Israeli President Shimon Perez and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. And recently, the world was shocked to learn that relations may be warming (slowly) between Cuba and the United States thanks to a deal brokered Pope Francis. Now that’s a miracle.
And finally, finance. Along with fighting excess and corruption in his own house, Pope Francis has spoken out on the issues of poverty and inequality worldwide. He has criticized “unbridled capitalism” and called on the U.N. to take steps to encourage more equitable income distribution. Such comments inspired Rush Limbaugh to say that Francis’ views were Marxist. The Pope took it in stride, saying “Marxists ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people…” .
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Pope Francis is that he’s managed to be highly progressive while still being true, while being conservative even, in regards to church doctrine. He maintains that homosexual acts are a sin, but he’s not here to judge homosexual people. He’s against the use of artificial birth control, but promotes the ideals of family planning and responsible parenting. He seems to be interested in leading a church that is not only more humble, but also kinder and gentler.
Pope Francis has made several comments to the effect that he doesn’t expect to have a very long Papacy. Some have speculated that he may be alluding to something the rest of us don’t know about –perhaps an unrevealed health issue beyond the predictable pizza-induced pudge problem. Or maybe he just understands the implication of the fact that he’s already 78 years old and life expectancy for males tops out at about 80. (As noted earlier, this Pope understands science and therefore, math.)
If one believed in the power of prayer, it might be worth while to send up a good wish for a long life for Francis. Whether you’re a believer or not, it can’t be denied that Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is one of the most powerful positions on the planet. Historical precedent indicates that we’re unlikely to get another as humble, as committed to social justice in this life, as honest and astute as Pope Francis.