By Alan Bean
How do we explain the bizarre reaction from the American left when it was revealed that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis? It was as if we thought the Pope was our man, that, deep in his soul he must agree with us on every subject even if, as Pope, he can’t admit as much.
But this Pope is loved precisely because he transcends the culture war divide. He can embrace both a gay ex-student (in the company of the student’s male lover) then, without missing a beat, embrace a woman like Kim Davis.
Did the Pope know that Kim Davis was a conservative icon when he was introduced to her? Maybe; maybe not.
Pope Francis stays current with American politics, but the nuances of the Kim Davis affair haven’t received that much attention from the international press. I suspect Francis would have nixed the meeting had he known the full truth but, once Kim Davis was ushered into the papal presence, she received the warm embrace all human beings should expect from such a man.
Americans respond to Kim Davis as a symbol of homophobic intolerance or as a hero of conscience–few see her as a human being. Francis welcomed her as just another frail, struggling creature who needs all the blessings she can get.
It now appears that the visit between Kim and Francis was the brain child of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a papal nuncio who, unlike Pope Francis, has taken sides in the American culture war. The meeting may even have been intended to create the impression that Kim Davis is as beloved by Pope Francis as she is by Mike Huckabee. Maybe Viganò thought the Vatican would avoid comment on the Kim Davis business because the encounter made Francis look ill-informed and open to manipulation. If so, Archbishop Viganò didn’t understand how much Francis means to the American left.
Pope Francis can speak to combatants on both sides of the culture war because his loyalties lie with Roman Catholic social teaching.
Catholic social teaching is unabashedly Utopian. We are in this world, Catholics believe, to reflect the glory of a good and loving God. Everything flows from there. Since God’s glory is a minor consideration for most of us, Catholic teaching can seem unrealistic, even bizarre.
Take sex, for instance. Since God’s gift of sexuality is only good when enjoyed within a committed marital relationship, all other forms of sexual encounter are ruled out of bounds.
Because the gift of sex is bestowed, at least potentially, for the purpose of procreation, any expression of sexual intimacy that isn’t open to the possibility of conception is wrong (couples that can’t conceive are fine so long as they would if they could).
This explains the Catholic opposition to abortion and even contraception.
Because two males (or females), however much they love one another, have no expectation of bringing new life in the world, gay marriage is a non-starter and gay men and women must remain celibate for life. That may sound homophobic, or just unrealistic; but it is logically consistent if you grant the premise.
Catholics (in theory at least) stand with the unborn for the same reason they stand with the immigrant, the exploited worker, the victim of war, the death row inmate and the physically and mentally impaired. We protect the weak and vulnerable because the love of a compassionate God compels us.
Liberals think its unrealistic (and therefore wrong) to link sexuality with procreation. Conservatives cried foul when the Vatican opposed the Iraq war. They believe it is unrealistic (and therefore wrong) for the Church to oppose capital punishment, or find fault with both Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism.
We love Francis because he upholds the Utopian tenets of Catholic social teaching without damning those who do not (or cannot).
The Pope maintains that contraception is always wrong, but he isn’t surprised that few American Catholics stick with the program.
Francis believes that gay men and women should lead celibate lives, but he embraces Yayo Gracci a former student who has chosen to follow a different path.
Francis slams the door on abortion but opens a window for women who have had abortions and now wish they hadn’t.
Catholic social teaching has something for everyone to hate; but it is the only widely shared ethical vision on offer (at least in the Christian world).
Francis wants liberals to rethink abortion. He wants conservatives to re-think “the myth of redemptive violence” as it applies to war and capital punishment. He links the fate of the unborn to the fate of the immigrant, the refugee and the economically exploited. We are all challenged to view the world through divine eyes. It’s a liberating exercise even if you don’t share the Catholic vision of the Divine.
Few (including the vast majority of Catholics) would agree with Catholic social teaching in its entirety, but we are all challenged by it. And that’s true for Protestants as well as Catholics.
The liberal freak-out over the Pope’s meeting with Kim Davis implies that Pope Francis, at heart, is really one of us, or that we hoped he was and it now appears he isn’t. That’s just flat wrong. Pope Francis is a compassionate champion of Catholic social teaching. That’s how he rolls, and that’s why he inspires such hope.