It has been almost a month now since Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States – almost a month since he issued his clarion call to save the planet, eliminate capital punishment, open borders to refugees, and divest from the arms industry.
And what has happened since?
Nothing at all – as far as one can see from the vantage point of the parish pew, the diocesan newspaper, or statements from the national hierarchy.
None of this is surprising. It’s the same non-response achieved by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.” That document called literally for changing everything in the Catholic Church. But nothing at all has changed as a result.
That wasn’t, of course, the response to Pope Francis’ visit here in September. Then there was great enthusiasm for traveling to Philadelphia to demonstrate Catholic faith by showing up to see the Holy Father in person.
Even my small parish in Berea, Kentucky sent a whole busload of people Pictures were taken. Descriptions of crowd density and of the hardships of traveling so far and lodging under primitive conditions were detailed. Everyone agreed however that it was all worth it.
Apparently, taking the pope seriously about climate change, capital punishment, the refugee crisis and disarmament is not worth it.
After all, the climate change process advances unabated. Despite the pope’s warnings, Catholics presumably continue watching Fox News, listening to Rush Limbaugh, and supporting climate change deniers in the political arena.
All of this is true, even though the pope warned in Laudato Si’:
“Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.” (14)
The words are prophetic. Indifference, nonchalance, and resignation seem to be the order of the day. As for “blind confidence in technical solutions,” one has to acknowledge the problem before that can enter the picture.
The pope is no stranger to denial. It was the order of the day in the case of Argentina’s Dirty War. Many Argentinians pretended they didn’t know about the kidnappings and disappearances of their neighbors, about the army’s rampant torture program or its thousands of extra-judicial assassinations. As Argentinians said at the time, “We did not know, what no one could deny.”
That seems to be the very definition of Catholic majority consciousness relative to the issues this pope has centralized. It’s the very definition of Know-nothing-ism and religious irrelevance.
Instead, Catholics and others need to embrace the sense of urgency the pope has articulated so well. We need:
- Frank discussion of diocesan divestment from oil and coal companies even in a coal state like Kentucky.
- The conversion of parish plants away from dirty energy consumers and into solar energy generators.
- The opening of our churches to the refugees created by the endless wars our tax dollars fund unquestioningly.
- Church-sanctioned resistance to taxes that finance those wars, arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Israel, and continued extra-judicial assassinations by U.S. drones.
- Protests against the scandal of the executions that have missed scarcely a beat since the pope’s clear pronouncement against capital punishment.
- Consistent connection of Sunday liturgies and readings to the overriding issue of climate chaos.
Pope Francis is right: it’s time for action and prophetic witness in the face of the greatest set of problems our planet has ever faced.