To say Pope Francis has jolted the world with his proclamations on capitalism, poverty, homosexuality and abortion may be understated. These and other pronouncements, made to shake up a Catholic Church hierarchy seen as more obsessed with enforcing orthodoxy than ministering to people’s material and spiritual needs, landed him on the cover of TIME magazine and the gay rights magazine The Advocate, as their “2013 Person of the Year.” TIME dubbed Francis, “The People’s Pope.”
Elected in March after his predecessor stepped down, Francis wasted no time in setting a new course for the church that has recently been rocked by child sex abuse crimes and cover-up scandals, its grotesque view of women and sexuality, stagnant or declining membership, and an increasingly harsh tone, more appropriate for the Middle Ages than the 21st century. Going back some 30 years, with the election of the Cold War pope, John Paul II, the church gained a reputation of being more interested in damning souls than saving lives.
The new pope from Argentina – a first “New World” pontiff – seems determined to end all that, if not in doctrine, then in practice, by re-orienting the church to a New Testament prime directive: love, peace and charity in a modern day global context. Which, for this pope, appears to mean tackling the evils of economic inequality and environmental destruction, and listening to its followers’ voices in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and those of the exploited and discarded in the “rich” countries. The pope says such work should be done with joy – and modesty – and is modeling it for others, by choosing to live in the more humble guest house instead of the papal palace, driving a 1984 Renault beater around the Vatican grounds and suspending the infamous Bishop of Bling.
Francis is not without controversy. Jorge Bergoglio, his name before becoming pope, was accused of collaborating with Argentina’s right-wing military dictatorship. Bergoglio, as head of the country’s Jesuits, ordered two priests to end their ministry in the slums of Buenos Aires. The priests refused. They were arrested and tortured, but released after five months, supposedly after Bergoglio intervened to demand their release. However, one of the priests, Orlando Yorio, who died in 2000, accused Bergoglio of giving them up to the junta. The other, Francisco Jalics, released a statement after Bergoglio became Francis, saying the former head of the Jesuits had “never given up” the priests to the military. Francis said he was never a “right-winger.” “It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems,” he said.
Disclaimer: I am not Catholic, but I grew up in the culture. I am an atheist, and according to what I have read, this pope is OK with that. Believers and nonbelievers can have more in common than not, if we work towards “goodness.” In that spirit and during this holiday season, here is a list of 14 quotes that, in my opinion, capture the “revolutionary hope” of Christmas and help believers and nonbelievers in the quest towards a better world.
Prioritizing the Catholic social doctrine of serving the poor and feeding the hungry, Pope Francis said, in a June 14 address to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, that the Catholic and Episcopal churches share this mission:
1) “Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers.”
The pope expressed concern for immigrants July 7 in a homily on Italy’s Lampedusa island, three months later, a rickety boat full of immigrants from Ghana, Somalia and Eritrea, sank off the coast of Lampedusa, killing more than 100 men, women and children:
2) “These our brothers and sisters seek to leave difficult situations in order to find a little serenity and peace, they seek a better place for themselves and for their families – but they found death. How many times to those who seek this not find understanding, do not find welcome, do not find solidarity!”
Returning to the Vatican from Brazil, Francis spoke with journalists on the papal airplane, July 29, and made world headlines when he said:
3) “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?”
Again, in September, the pope made global news when he said the church has been too “obsessed” with issues of abortion, contraception and gay marriage. The following quotes come from the English translation of his wide-ranging and lengthy interview, published Sept. 30 in the Jesuit journal, America:
4) “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods … The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently … We have to find a new balance …”
5) “Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists – they have a static and inward-directed view of things.”
6) “Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops.”
(Yet Francis also said the door is closed on women becoming ordained.)
Pope Francis made the following comments during a dialog with Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, translated to English, Oct. 1. The dialog covered many topics, from politics to Marxism to the pope’s favorite saints. La Repubblica is considered a progressive-left newspaper, and Scalfari is a well-known atheist.
7) “I also had a teacher for whom I had a lot of respect and developed a friendship and who was a fervent communist. She often read Communist Party texts to me and gave them to me to read. So I also got to know that very materialistic conception. I remember that she also gave me the statement from the American Communists in defense of the Rosenbergs, who had been sentenced to death. The woman I’m talking about was later arrested, tortured and killed by the dictatorship then ruling in Argentina. Her materialism had no hold over me. But learning about it through a courageous and honest person was helpful. I realized a few things, an aspect of the social, which I then found in the social doctrine of the Church.”
8) “The real trouble is that those most affected by [an excessive love for oneself] – which is actually a kind of mental disorder – are people who have a lot of power. Often bosses are narcissists.”
9) “I think so-called unrestrained [economic] liberalism only makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker and excludes the most excluded. We need great freedom, no discrimination, no demagoguery and a lot of love. We need rules of conduct and also, if necessary, direct intervention from the state to correct the more intolerable inequalities.”
On Nov. 25, the pope again made headlines with his Apostolic Exhortation, which included a sharp condemnation of the capitalist economy.
10) “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
11) “The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”
12) “No to a financial system, which rules rather than serves. Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God.”
13) “We are far from the so called ‘end of history,’ since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized.”
Reacting to right-wingers who criticized him by labeling him “Marxist,” Pope Francis said in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa, Dec. 15 that Marxism is wrong, but:
14) “I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I do not feel offended.”
Photo: Pope Francis greets people in Varginha, Brazil, July 27. (Agencia Brazil/CC)