One measure of Pope Francis' remarkable appeal is that everybody wants him on 'their side.' If we were making-up teams in gym class, he'd always be The Chosen One – never languishing among The Unpicked.
So it is that when he mentioned the sanctity of life during his congressional speech, Righties were all set to applaud his impending pro-life stance in the abortion stalemate. And when he veered-off instead into stating his death penalty opposition, the Left was thrilled and relieved. That under-anticipated juxtaposition was clearly no accident. Francis loves to surprise us – and challenge our comfortable preconceptions.
For while this Pontiff is most clearly a change agent for an institution and a world that both desperately need one, he deals much more in Process than in Outcomes. He wants to provoke both introspection within his audiences, and dialogue among them. So it is that he has called for emphases on inclusion, informality and on Christianity's first principles, and less attention to judgment, pomp, condemnation and doctrinal text.
Thus, the Pope's canny decision to meet with county clerk Kim Davis was clearly a shock to many on my side of the spectrum, but it was just as clearly no accident – nor was its private nature and lack of forewarning. Imagine the furor and spectacle if that audience had been announced, or held in public -- demonstrations and counter-demonstrations up and down the street, forever.
Since I started on this edition a few days ago, two more factoids have been revealed – the Davis visit was probably arranged by an underling with an anti-gay axe to grind, and the Pontiff almost met with a least one openly gay parishioner. That said, I still believe this action was very much in character.
First, matters of religious freedom are very much on his mind. There is an obvious tension between it and the conception of civic duty, dealt-with in an earlier column. While the specifics of the Pope's concerns have more to do with required free contraception under the ACA, Ms. Davis is clearly acting on a matter of religious conviction – regardless of how misplaced her priorities might appear to many/most of us. Highspotting a related issue seems directionally, philosophically consistent.
Second, the Catholic Church's implacable opposition to gay marriage is served by the interaction. Family matters are very much front and center, and the ecclesiastical definition thereof still has more to do with biology than with emotional kinship and caring acceptance. So be it, I guess – Francis has also indicated that he is generally less concerned with dogma than with ministering, and his church will be eternally slow to embrace change in this regard, anyway.
Third, and apropos of said ministry, Ms. Davis and her well-documented marital and liturgical wanderings clearly represent a soul in some evolution and torment. If a Papal meeting might lend solace in such circumstances, I believe that Francis would consider it an excellent use of his time and attention. It would be coldly judgmental to condemn her as beyond redemption, or undeserving of comfort. A Pope who washes the feet of convicts has a much warmer heartbeat than that.
Finally, this is a man who is calling on us – of every political, philosophical and (dare I say it?) religious stripe -- to put down our swords and our shields, our crosses and scimitars, and come together to reason and relate in peaceful ways. Even if he opposes her staunch obstructionism and its basis – and her absolutist failure to render unto Caesar – Francis stands for reconciliation among people of goodwill. That value transcends those philosophical differences and defines his papacy. Identifying too strongly with any particular approach to the world undermines that theme and papal teaching.
I doubt that the 'Davis incident' will be the last time this Pontiff will surprise and dismay partisans seeking to claim him as their own. Therein lies its message. And, having been so forced to cogitate on it a bit, I'll say 'amen' to that.
* Title chosen carefully. Various ‘rhymes with Pope’ were available, and left among The Unpicked.