Speak up, Francis

Mother Teresa spoke the harsh truth to a U.S. president. Can the Pope do it?

Recently New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan, in discussing the synodal process, spoke of seven “non negotiables.” Jesus, he said, intends each of them. One is that “mercy, love, invitation, humility, joy, selfless generous service, and good example are our only tools, never harshness, condemnation, or pride.” Sadly, we sometimes obscure this essential witness.

Sometimes, too, we misunderstand just what this witness asks of us. For a start, it is not at odds with St. John Paul II’s urging us to call things by their proper names. Noting the wide acceptance of abortion, even in the law, he wrote that “we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to…the temptation of self-deception” (Evangelium Vitae, 58).

Cardinal Dolan himself asks, “Who is more fragile…than the tiny infant in the womb?” Indeed he charges that “to suck that baby out of the womb, dismember it, or poison it is, as Pope Francis describes, like hiring a ‘hitman’ to assassinate a victim.”

That’s strong language, and critics might say that it’s harsh. Isn’t it more of a condemnation than an invitation? Shouldn’t we, in any case, choose our audience carefully in calling things by their proper names? Wouldn’t it be divisive, for example, to say such things to President Biden, especially in public?

No doubt. But it would not be needlessly divisive. St. Teresa of Kolkata called things by name in the presence of Bill and Hilary Clinton. And we have the words of Jesus: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing…Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three….” (Luke 12: 49-53).

Yes, we are to accompany one another. Yes, we are to walk with one another. But in doing so, what are we to say to one another? With John the Baptist, we need to speak of repentance and do so out of love. But what is this love? It is to desire the good of the other and to act steadfastly to bring it about. Dorothy Day, using language from Dostoyevsky’s character Fr. Zossima, taught that love in practice — unlike love in dreams — can be a harsh and dreadful thing.

To his credit, Pope Francis speaks often of Satan’s relentless war against humankind. (Oddly, the secular media allow him to do so without arching their collective eyebrows.) As St. Peter, the first pope, teaches, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Doubtless Satan does so in the corridors of power and even as their denizens gather for “photo ops.” Perhaps protocol requires the Holy Father to grace such an event with President Biden. If so, I suggest that protocol be damned. But if we must give the devil his due, let us pray mightily that Francis not smile for the cameras.

To return to Cardinal Dolan: just several days ago he urged all men and women, with faith or without, to speak up for the “defenseless” unborn babies and to denounce the “right” to abortion as “inhumane, violent, and contrary to human rights.” Now, Francis, is the perfect time to do so.


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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