The Pope and Politics

Today, Pope Benedict’s profound theological vision comes up against the whirlwind of America’s 24/7 media culture and is, indeed, at the mercy of that culture. A man not know for soundbites will be the subject of soundbites. Instead of encyclicals and books and homilies, the Pope’s message will, for most Americans, be distilled through the lens of CNN and the punditocracy. It is undoubtedly true that the deeper ways Benedict will challenge America may be heard by some, and will over time, form and transform the consciousness of Catholics as bishops and priests quote the Pope in their homilies, as Benedict’s words find their ways into seminary lecture halls, and as prayerful reflection leads to a more thoughtful and nuanced appreciation of how the shadow of the Cross and the promise of Easter falls upon us all. But, it is also a safe bet that in the short-term, Benedict’s message will be distorted beyond recognition or not even grasped. Benedict, and his predecessor, both denounced the Iraq War, but will Americans embrace their objection to violence per se? Will Americans see that even for a superpower, military force is a blunt and coarse instrument, likely to wreak havoc and increase divisions? A central project of this pontificate has been to see reason and faith as two privileged ways for mankind to grasp the truth about himself. This project is threatened by both religious fanaticism and by the kind of capitalist-consumer culture that makes all truth claims relative and promotes an essential secularism that eats away at the possibility of faith. A smart article in this morning’s Washington Post saw this connection, but it was almost buried in the seventh paragraph, on the inside page. Already, the efforts to hijack the Pope’s visit are in full swing. A full-page ad in the Washington Times urged the Pope not to give communion to pro-choice politicians, as if the first duty of the Church’s principal pastor is to turn the altar rail into a frontline in the culture wars. President Bush, not running for re-election and enjoying the perk of being head of state, will get the best photo-ops. And, certain Catholic commentators like George Weigel, have made the Pope sound a lot like White House spokesperson Dana Perino. Mostly, such voices are preaching to their choirs, and they will have little effect. The most immediate political consequence of the Pope’s visit is that the news coverage over the next six days will be changed. The front pages of newspapers will feature photographs of the Pope, not of primary opponents. Barack Obama will surely appreciate a breather from the focus on his ill-chosen words about small town Pennsylvanians being bitter. But, by the time the Pope’s plane lands at Andrews Air Force base this afternoon, Barack also will not have the chance to change that last impression of himself. No one knows for sure how deeply the controversy has reached into the electorate’s, but the more it can steep over the next week, the better Sen. Clinton’s chances in next week’s Pennsylvania primary. If, on the other hand, the "bitter" pill has not gotten much past a few weekend news stories and the blogosphere, Barack will benefit from the Pope’s leading the news for the week. Benedict will say what he wants to say. How it is heard, and what consequences flow from his visit, are not in his hands. Still, not just Catholics should try this week to listen, to really listen. And to learn. What they might just hear is not spin but the Gospel. Michael Sean Winters
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9 years 7 months ago
Dear Michael: Greetings from your old CUA professor!! I enjoyed your article in the Washington Post!! I agree with you that the Bush Administyration should be concerned about the views of the Pope and the Vatican: The Vatican recognizes a key fact about the Iraq war that the so-called "Christian/Catholic" conservatives have brushed under the rug: This war has gravely endangered the survival of Christain communities all over the Islamic world, the destruction of these communities would be a terrible blow to the Church given that they are the oldest Christian communities in the world. I liked George Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II (although I feel he downplayed the Pope very real antagonism to capitalism), why Weigel continues to call for a continuation of the war in Iraq, a war that has already driven over half of the Iraqi Christians into exile, is quite beyond me. If we really do have "100 year occupation of Iraq", well before that 100 years is up there will not be a single Christian community left in the Middle East. Keep well, May God bless you as you continue to write on Catholic issues. Sincerely, Respectfully and In Christ, Ernest Evans PS: If you see any of our old CUA friends, tell them that I very, very happy teaching here in Kansas at Kansas City Kansas Coomunity College--a community college is the perfect place for someone like me who loves teaching because they so value good teachers!! (I have lots of friends out here, even finally have a girlfriend!!)

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