GUEST POST:Pope Mania—Or Feel-Good Road Show?

Justice Jim Nelson, Montana Supreme Court, RetiredJustice Jim Nelson, Montana Supreme Court, Retired

By Jim Nelson, 

Montana Supreme Court Justice (Ret.)

Pope Mania! The Papal visit was an emotional and spiritual experience for many of the religious faithful. For countless, Francis’ appearances in Washington, New York and Philadelphia were a defining personal moment to be treasured and savored. Indeed, the outpouring of adulation and media blitz put the Pontiff in the rarified company of Super Bowl champions and visiting English royalty.

I suggest, though, that there is also a revealing and troubling aspect to Pope Mania. For one thing, in theory (although you’d never know it in this day and age), our government is supposed to be neutral when it comes to matters of religion.  The First Amendment guarantees each individual the right to freely practice his religion. But just as importantly, the First Amendment guarantees that our government will not become entangled in sectarian affairs; that is, our government will not “establish” religion.  Indeed, one of the fundamental precepts of our republic is that church and state are separated by an “impenetrable wall.” The flip side of Freedom of Religion is Freedom from Religion.

Understandably, the President might be forgiven for his effusive welcome of the Pontiff.  After all, presidential duties include greeting and hosting heads of state. And the Pope, among other things, is the Vatican’s official representative.

Yet the sight of a Pontiff, for the first time ever, addressing a joint session of Congress, with the Speaker of the House and other elected officials in the background, misting up, and wiping away their tears is just a bit too much.

More to the point, if the Pope’s congressional appearance was just as a head of state, that is one thing.  But, in addition to his comments on climate change, immigration, wealth distribution and trickle-down economics—globally important topics, all–Francis could not resist inserting into his remarks, albeit indirectly, mainline Catholic religious doctrine on gay marriage,  a defense of religious liberty, the importance of the “traditional” family, and the sanctity of life at “every stage of its development.”  Ironically, though, while the Pontiff mentioned overpopulation, he ignored his Church’s condemnation of birth control.  On that score, the Catholics are part of the problem, not the solution.

It is also worth noting that when John Kennedy was running for President, he had to convince the American People that he would not be under the Vatican’s thumb.  What a change a couple of generations make! Now, while conservative Americans and politicians fall all over each other condemning Islamic theocracies, those same people seem perfectly comfortable with creating (in direct violation of the Constitution) a Christian theocracy in America.

Secondly, and, even more troubling, is the legerdemain the Pope demonstrated in his recent visit. One can hardly argue that the Francis is an affable person who makes many people feel good. And that’s alright up to a point. But there comes the time when a real leader has to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Cases in point.  What substantive change has Francis accomplished during his tenure?  Are women any better off?  No, they are still marginalized by the Church.  Women’s rights issues—birth control, reproductive choice, equal pay, healthcare, day care, maternity leave, to name a few—are still subsumed in the notion that (a) women are not equal with men and (b) the real function of women in society is to procreate and raise children.  The Pope seems oblivious to the fact that the only way most of the 99% survive in our 1% society, is because women work outside the home, often, as single mothers, and that women, are discriminated against by male-dominated secular and sectarian institutions in almost every way.

And how about children who were sexually abused by pedophile clergy?  True, the Pope has apologized.  But has the Vatican and each diocese been required to disclose the identity and (location, if living) of each offending member of the clergy? And what about the Bishops, Cardinals and the retired Pope that participated in the conspiracy to cover up these criminal assaults? Many of them are still alive.  But, how many of these Church officials have been turned over to the authorities for criminal prosecution?  Indeed, how many pedophile priests and nuns have been actually prosecuted and are incarcerated or listed in sex-offender registries?  It is short list that approaches zero, you can be sure. In these circumstances, mere apologies ring hollow.

And finally, as for our homosexual and transgender brothers and sisters.  The Pope gushes love and forgiveness (as if these folks needed to be forgiven for simply being who they are). But these people are still condemned by the Church for their sexual orientation and gender identities—God-created human characteristics, if you are a believer; hard-wired genetics, if you are not.  These peoples’ right to marry, to raise families, and to love who they want—indeed, their dignity as human beings—was effectively trashed by the Pope in his speech to Congress.

Worse, the Pontiff was not satisfied to stop there when it came to gays and lesbians.  Francis had a private audience with the face of hate herself, Kim Davis. According to her, the Pope praised her for following her conscience—i.e. refusing to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples in defiance of the law, because doing so would offend her personal religious beliefs.

No doubt, many Nazi’s were simply following their personal consciences when they refused to condemn the Holocaust—the moral outrage that sent Jews, homosexuals,  gypsies, and mentally and developmentally disabled people to the furnaces.  Indeed, another representative of the Vatican, Pope Pius XII, has been criticized for failing to vigorously and early-on condemn Hitler’s crimes against humanity.  If recollection serves, there was recently another Papal apology for that, too.

No matter what the Pope Francis seems to think, one is not permitted to discriminate, demonize, denigrate the dignity, and deny any person social justice, equal protection of the laws and due process of law because one’s personal conscience justifies that conduct.  C. S. Lewis was point-on when he observed that, “those who torment us with their religious beliefs will do so without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

In short, the titular leader of the Catholic Church does not seem to be able to connect the dots.  The Pope cannot preach love out of one side of his mouth and, at the same time, out of the other, continue to marginalize women, continue to facilitate the devastation caused by the sexual abuse of children, and continue to openly facilitate, if not encourage, hatred and discrimination directed against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. He just can’t have it both ways.

Pope mania?  In truth, Francis did not contribute substantively to solve any of the real problems and social justice issues that face our global society and the vast majority of its people.  Indeed, for the most part, he sugar-coated the status quo, and when it came to gay and lesbian rights, he made things worse.

Pope Mania turned out to be little more than a feel-good road show.  How disappointing. But, how so not surprising.



32 Comments on "GUEST POST:Pope Mania—Or Feel-Good Road Show?"

  1. Well said, Justice Nelson. These are words that should be available to millions – both those buying into the “feel good road show” and those of us with our dukes up as we read page after page of fluff skipping over the hoped for consequences of a papal visit. Little has changed or will change as a result of his visit, as you point out. A good example:
    “Ironically, though, while the Pontiff mentioned overpopulation, he ignored his Church’s condemnation of birth control. On that score, the Catholics are part of the problem, not the solution.”
    Thank you.

  2. Far be it for me to defend the Pope, for I left the Catholic Church behind some fifty years ago. But I really must take issue with your post, for you appear to know nothing about the Catholic religion. Nor the people that inhabit it. Did you forget the other Jesuit educated man that Pope Francis met with? I think you did. Did you really miss the fact that Pope Francis met with Fidel Castro? Well, if you did, that’s just real sad. For you see, if you knew anything about Catholicism, you would realize that there are many, many, a countless number really, of folks who were inculcated with Catholic doctrine as young people and went out in the world and changed it for the better. And that is exactly why us ex-Catholics still have a fondness for the Catholic Church.

    We never hear about the everyday common Catholic people out there doing great things for people all around the world. All we hear about is pedophile priests, etc. I would respectfully suggest that you have no ideas what you’re talking about. Are you even from Montana? Maybe you should talk to some of our older residents before they all pass away about the Catholic educations they received free of charge to become nurses and teachers here in Montana.

    Yes, I despise religion in general for many reasons, but you appear to be totally ignorant of the good that the Catholic Church has done and continues to do in Montana and around the country.

    But one last point. We would not even be having this discussion if it were not for one other Catholic educated boy by the name of John F. Kennedy. When all his joint chiefs of staff wanted to start WW III by nuking the Soviet Union, Kennedy said no. He would no allow the military industrial war mongers to destroy the world. You best pay a little thanks to the Catholic Church for producing such a man.

    You’re welcome for the history lesson.

  3. “Francis had a private audience with the face of hate herself, Kim Davis. According to her, the Pope praised her for following her conscience—i.e. refusing to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples in defiance of the law, because doing so would offend her personal religious beliefs.”

    Here’s a link to the Vatican’s comments about the meeting with Kim Davis.

    In particular, it wasn’t a private meeting, wasn’t “an audience,” and shouldn’t be considered a form of support.

    My take on this is that Davis is probably exaggerating.

  4. Niles, I assume that your presumptuous diatribe was meant for me and not Justice Nelson, and therefor I’ll respond.
    How you presumed my dislike for Catholics from my agreement with Jim Nelson that this particular trip by this particular pope did not measure up to the adulation given it in the press is beyond me. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    I grew up in an Irish ghetto in New York City, even went into the service with many of the Irish kids with whom I grew up. I played ball for St.Margaret’s in the Bronx and served in the wedding of a college roommate at St.Patrick’s Cathedral.
    None of that changes my feelings about the Catholic Church’s policies regarding abortion and same sex marriage and the absence of proper penalty for those who abused children – I loathe them. To interpret that as my being ignorant of history as regards Catholics – whether JFK, for whom I worked hard in 1960 or folks who benefitted from education they received through the Catholic Church – is simply juvenile and ridiculous. I was raised to honor all people’s beliefs and have never wavered from that lesson.

  5. The Dali Lama, Countless bishops, Countless Rabbis and Rebbes, the leaders of American Churches have all met with the president, yet everyone goes Media blitz when the pope visits. Where is the stories of all others?????

    Of course it was a feel good road show….Its Media pandering and you bought into it hook line and sinker. By the way a republican invited the Pope not the president. John Boehner to be exact.

    They were hoping for a conservative ass whipping on Obama and it ended up being the other way around. Good christians don’t play into conservative American politics!

    A pope, just like a president can only do so much. When he was a bishop he did lift up women, and treated them equally. He feed the poor and clothed them. He did all that was right in church doctrine and he did not judge. He’s Jesuit, which is exactly what the Catholics need. A man who isn’t going to judge because it isn’t his job. In my lifetime the first Pope to really follow jesus’s teaching.

    Between him and the Dali lama I see a better world if people follow them. a kinder one.

    Too bad conservatives lost that path. and I am glad Pope Francis reminded them what true christianity is. Personally I see the same man. Something even the politics of the vatican haven’t tarnished. and that’s the best part of this story period. the story that American media will never speak to.

    Lastly the Media has become hopeless. unable to conjure the image of a better American, because that kind of feel good story doesn’t sell. They have fallen to the lowest depths I have seen. Our president is a good man and father, and husband yet stories like this are on the back pages of most newspapers. Why? I think we need this kind of story myself.

  6. What easy subjects to search for! Pope Francis. Kim Davis.
    And what you will find, is a lot more interesting than what you might expect.

    Main stream mediators did copycat the American-Vatican Kim Davis “story.”
    Now looks more and more like she was planted in long handshake line,
    Planted of course by a Papal nuncio. Mario ambushes Mario.

    For a real kick, check out both of the excellent discussions with Catholic Nuns
    on two consecutive TV Programs with Amy Goodman. Nuns on the bus. I did not realize Pope Francis shut down some kind of Vatican organization acting to suppress the role of women workers in the Roman Catholic Church.

    And I got to watch Nuns fill in the blanks, on the works also the significance of Dorothy Day. Then finally I got the big picture. Lincoln. King. Day. Merton. Day the grandmother worker at layity level. Merton highlighting similarities between ritual and beliefs
    between Roman Catholics, and people from the Far East. Day and Merton of seperate missions

    Yes, oh yes, Chris Matthews’ eulogies towards Pope Francis were excessive, and missed the mark by a mile. Yes, Matt Taibi agreed with George Will’s “story” that Pope Francis is prone to employing empty words.

    Yes oh yes woulda been helpful to read the words Pope Francis was softly speaking to the Joint Session of Congress. Read them on a text line across the bottom of a screen, yet to be. Words warning “the entire people” of the USA about fundamentalism = view of world as “righteous” and “sinners”.

    Full transcript at What’s odd, is that non-empty words of Pope Francis pointed out that too much fundamentalism will take away religous, and intellectual, and personal freedom.

    Odd, because from what little I have gathered, main stream media oligopoly selectively acheived their seperate missions of censoring the religous and intellectual freedom of Pope Francis.

    Come on, he’s the one who upped the ante away from yea/nay global Catholic debate about climate change, to the “moral responsibility” to deal with climate change, and NOW when in America, he says NOW it’s time for COMMITMENT to a moral responsibility to deal with climate change.

    Now, might be good time to take a look at: “MSU – winners say must act to protect a planet in peril” in the Bozeman Chronicle.

    Now when we know we were right long before now, that it was time for committed action to deal with what was forcing climate change. Now while still observing trillion dollar global subsidies to fossile fuel operations of global proportions.

    What damn madness! And no easy fix, in sight!

    Then came common sense. What is Pope Francis teaching about moral responsibility to deal with climate change???

    Common sense teaching. Greedy destruction of air and water can involve three sins.
    Sin against concepts reflecting Creation. Sin against neighbor on this common home. And sin against the image of God, for God is certainly not a greedy destroyer.

  7. The major failing of the catholic church is failing to change their position on birth control. The rapidly increasing human population (9 billion by 2050)is the cause of the extinction of dozens of species every single day. Our expanding population is rapidly destroying life on earth and will eventually cause our extinction in the end.

  8. Justice Jim Nelson offers herein a well-written, compelling comment on an institution that cannot come to terms with itself on how to justify its behavior as yesterday’s Christians in the twenty-first century. It all comes down to the Golden Rule, pure and simple, without qualifications added on by mortals claiming to know the mind of God.

    Indeed, the Pope’s trip to the Mid-Atlantic was a feel-good visit, a public relations success. There, riding through the cheering crowds, was the apostolic descendant of St. Peter himself, a super star, giving us the thumbs-up, a wave and a smile, a kiss for the babies and the children, a holy man, a politician, a man elected to office for as long as he wants to stay there. He got through his visit almost completely without fair review and criticism.

    I was disappointed but not amazed by the shallow national television coverage of the Pope’s visit, which was a visit containing a heavy political component. Only brief reports were given of Native Americans in California who opposed the naming of Spanish missionary Junipero Serra a saint, a one-miracle saint at that. Serra is to this day a hated figure among many, a result of the fact that you cannot physically force your religious beliefs upon those who do not want such and expect to be loved for doing it.

    As for Kim Davis, she continues to be a willing tool for any and all who would shamelessly use her to host, support, bolster, highlight, sell their religious and political beliefs. The fact that Kim Davis was even among those reportedly invited to shake hands with the Pope in Washington, D.C., is a statement of Vatican support for the woman and her recalcitrance to the civil duty she swore to uphold. Fear the day a civil official, claiming religious beliefs which prevent serving fat people, those guilty of gluttony, gets away with it.

    Yes, the Roman Catholic Church certainly did put together a wonderfully successful Mid-Atlantic feel-good visit for Pope Francis, but the church also loudly restated, sometimes in its silence, how it intends to do nothing to address all those issues raised by Justice Nelson.

    Beyond what Justice Nelson wrote, it’s fair to say it’s not just the Roman Catholic Church that thinks it knows and can qualify who benefits from God’s loves. All of them are sure they know how God works, seemingly depending on how they get up in the morning. But, I’m not worried: I heard a Roman Catholic priest on the radio pronounce that at death all souls would be sent to Purgatory, made into Roman Catholics, and then sent on to heaven.

    Thank God. There is help awaiting the Buddhist.

  9. I think Kim Davis is not the face of hate. Rather, she’s the face of a hillbilly, drunk on religion, howling at the moon.

  10. Thank you, Jim Nelson. Very well put and needs saying over and over. Progressive causes have been so beat up since the slash-and-burn Reagan years that many of us are tempted to jump aboard anything that looks like a lifeboat. Hollow words from powerful theologians are the equivelant to an overloaded refugee raft just about to sink off the coast of Italy. Francis’ predecessor, Cardinal Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI) was a Nazi in Hitler’s Germany when he was a kid, and was among the main ringleaders of the church who attacked Liberation Theology as “communist” and unleashed the horrific death squads in predominantly-Catholic Central America. Those death squads’ crimes–with the approval of their own and the church’s conscience no doubt–included the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1979. And now they want to make Romero a saint??!! How about making every 10-year-old Honduran kid who died trying to make it up to Texas where our hate mongers threw the ones who survived in jail a saint, too. That’d be a little less hollow. I admit to feeling a little buoyant and hopeful, too, when Francis told Congress that capitalism and global warming was bad. Not exactly rocket science but needs saying’. Fine, I thought. Let him school Congress, then. Better than Bibi, right? Progress? No. Within a couple days he was blessing Kim Davis. Certainly the temptation of progressives is to solicit all the help we can get from any quarter these days, but you’re right, Jim. A Pope schooling Congress on religion was way over the top and it’s too bad he was even allowed in there. Sounds like you were ahead of most of us on that. Thanks again.

    • You make one big mistake, the same mistake that Justice Nelson makes. You assume that the Pope is the Catholic Church. He is not. In fact, he’s only marginally Catholic, for he’s a Jesuit, a group that has been nearly kicked out to of the mainstream Catholic Church many times throughout history. The Church is really the people, and the Pope does not speak for them. The Catholics that I know who still practice like the Pope, but pretty much ignore his teachings and go merrily along following their own consciences, as it should be.

      I wouldn’t be too hard on ol’ Pope Frank. He’s doing the best he can with an unruly, recalcitrant flock which is way ahead of Vatican teaching. In fact, I think it’s the flock that is setting doctrine for Pope Frank. And that’s the way it should be.

      When you criticize the poor Pope, who really is trying to change things, you inadvertently attack the Catholics who really are trying to bring the Church into the modern era. Guess that I would suggest that you maybe back off a bit, for your attacks on this particular Pope simply anger the folks out there trying to do good. In other words, all those things Nelson says the Pope isn’t doing. Try talking to your average Catholic some time before calling the Pope to account. I think you will be surprised. Remember, even though he’s the big guy, the people are the church. And it’s the people who are bringing about changes in all the areas you mention.

      • Thanks, and I’m not unmindful of all that. Some of my best friends etc….Don’t want to be hard on them when they’re trying etc…But yesterday I passed a couple hundred protesters along Hamilton’s main drag (Hwy 93) with signs accusing pro-choice people of murdering babies. This less than a week after yet another mass shooting caused by this crazy religious-Right alliance that hasn’t allowed for any accountability to those actually aiding and abetting real murder for decades. Some folks I knew even. Perfectly nice folks, etc…The insult is so deep that it is almost beyond repair, and I’m a “nice guy”! Folks espousing the various Christian dogmas can’t have it both ways. Either you walk the walk, or you’re just talking. For far, far too long too many of those who would like to do better have not stood up to these insults in their name and they bear the responsibility for the result. Blood on their hands etc…

      • It’s the people bringing about change . . . in Ecuador and Bolivia insisting on a new legal system, built on prior rights of life forms to have clean air and water. That’s what Pope Francis challenged the UN to deal with. And that’s exactly why subsidized, extractive fossil fuel interests formed the coalition to censor and gag the teachings of Pope Francis. Fossil fuel extractors acted against the Pope, and especially against the people he represents. Gianforte and Archbishop Vigano had minor roles to play.

  11. With all due respect, I think that this might not be so complicated as may be made out. Before the Pope came to the United States he visited the Republic of Cuba. Correct me if I am wrong, but the ruling party of the Republic of Cuba is the Communist Party of Cuba. While I am not familiar with the principles of this particular party, it seems to me that most Communist parties are not in favor of religion if not blatantly atheist. So, one might ask why did Cuba allow a known deist to celebrate mass in a public square and meet with, not only the President of Cuba, but also the former president, Fidel Castro?

    I would suggest that the invitations by Cuba and the US were responses to a good deed done by the Pope. See Say, a victory lap? Of course, there may be some exaggeration about the importance of his role but I am pretty sure that his endorsement of the deal took the wind out of the sails of a certain ethnic group in Florida and their representatives in Congress.

    To paraphrase Phillip IV, “Cuba is well worth a mass.”

  12. Time again to search for: Greg Gianforte and Kim Davis

    then search for Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the benedictine loyalist
    maybe responsible for vetting/getting Kim Davis in the handshake line.

    • Somehow they have liberty to lie:

      Thankyou Justice Jim Nelson for your well presented, honest view of reactions also consequences of the visit of Pope Francis to the USA. You gave voice to yet unexpressed voice, to a host of people to post their views on Pope Francis in the USA. Without your Guest Post, this run of quality comments, would not be here today! Good job! Well done!

      • 34,000 protest Kim Davis setup to entrap Pope

        Not to worry, just heard on makebelievenewzz, that Kim Davis has recanted and repents!! Turns out her moment with Pope Francis was not a moment.
        But an experience, an uplifting experience. All the way up to an epiphany plus a conversion!! Breakaway from your Attorneys at Liberty Counsel! Fire them! They are incontinent with the scripture they do take in!

        Turn around and bear truthfull witness! The new Kim Davis demands Liberty Counsel fire its’ ten attorneys, and declare where the $4,000,000.00 of contributions originated in 2013. The new Kim Davis demands all yet unused contributions from 2014, and 2015, to be promptly returned to source! Even if source as far away as Montana.

        The new Kim Davis is embarrassed for getting set up by the whore of Babylon!

  13. For the record, I personally agree completely with Justice Nelson’s post.

    • I think most of us do.

      • Except to the extent that the analysis depends on the idea that Pope Francis was somehow supporting Kim Davis’ refusal to issue licenses. That’s the Davis version of what happened, not the Vatican version of what happened. I suppose it depends on which version you think is more accurate or credible, but if I were a juror, I’d go with the Vatican on this point.

        • Kim Davis traveled from Kentucky to Washington DC at the invitation of Vatican planners. She was invited for a purpose, to be used to make a statement. She was a willing tool. The Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church clearly used the Pope to make a statement of support for Davis, which includes all she has done as a self-absorbed Christian and all she has refused to do as an elected county clerk.

          • The things that I’ve read suggest that the story is a bit more complicated than that. Davis was invited by a Vatican representative in the U.S. The guy in the U.S. doesn’t like that Pope Francis is putting less emphasis on abortion and homosexuality. She was invited to make a statement, but by the guy in the U.S., not by the Pope. He didn’t fill the Pope in on who she was.

            The Catholic church isn’t immune to people playing politics, and Davis got pulled into that. The Pope didn’t intend to show support for Davis’ refusal to issue licenses. The Vatican representative in the U.S. was trying to give that impression. Some Catholics are calling for the guy in the U.S. to resign.

            Bob Williams posted some good links earlier in this thread, and I posted a link to Vatican’s comments about the meeting. There’s more out there. The Catholic press has much more talk about the controversy than the non-Catholic press has.

            • This Vatican operative (maybe, operatives) we have been reading about, who probably has cohorts here and in Rome, invited Kim Davis, the willing Christian victim and PR tool, to Washington DC, sent her through the receiving line, and used an unsuspecting Pope Francis to make at least a visual statement of support for Davis. I doubt we will ever learn whether the Pope was briefed on who the woman is. Obviously, Davis was not vetted before she entered the line. Someone put here in there purposefully. I do not believe the truth in all this will come from the church press, and I doubt the Vatican will do anything with it publicly.

      • Although Bob Williams is right that there are a lot of good comments for this post.

Comments are closed.