As the religious leader of one of the strongest world religions, the Pope of the Catholic Church has a remarkable amount of political and social influence. This influence has been particularly noticeable with recently elected Pope Francis—originally Jorge Mario Bergoglio—who has already proven to be a very popular leader. Since he was elected, Pope Francis has been shocking the world and reshaping the Catholic Church. The Pope has been re-focusing the Church on simpler means and spiritual renewal by living a humble lifestyle, being more liberal and open-minded than previous Popes, and placing a strong emphasis on helping the poor. The Pope’s influence extends to Catholics everywhere and thus has the potential to have long-term effects on American politics.
Pope Francis has said that the Catholic Church has been obsessed with issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, etc which has caused followers of the Catholic faith to lose focus on Catholicism’s true meanings. Actions such as refusing to live in the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace and not using the Pope’s luxury car shows the world that the Church is being redirected and refocused. In “Pope Francis: Resurrecting Catholicism’s Image,” Roland Flamini discusses the humility of the Pope as well as his contrast to other Popes. In this piece Flamini notes how the Pope has not spoken out directly about the issues he says we have been obsessed with (abortion, homosexuality, etc) or other international issues such as the increasing persecution of Christians in the Arab world. However, this piece was written in September, and the Pope has since made comments about some of these issues—some of which surprised many and could have a significant effect on American policies and agendas.
In “States Are Diverging on Polarizing Social Issues,” Ronald Bronstein discusses the deepening polarization of red and blue states on hot button issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. According to his article, while Democratic states are becoming increasingly tolerant and accepting of same-sex marriage, Republican states are becoming increasingly restrictive of abortions. In fact, some conservative states have the most conservative abortion restrictions that our country has seen since the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. A popular argument for the increasing argument against abortion is improvements made in science, which give people a better understanding of pregnancy.
While the Pope has not made many direct positional claims according to Flamini, he has spoken out on same-sex marriage and abortion, which is where he is likely to have the most influence in American politics. In late September, Pope Francis reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to abortion, but it was not until early November that the Pope made much more surprising statements. Earlier this month, the Pope made statements of tolerance for homosexuality and same-sex marriage. While he said that the Bible does see homosexuality as a sin, he followed that by saying, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Since surveys show that most people who oppose same-sex marriage do so because they feel it violates religious teachings, this statement will have a profound effect on Catholics and other Christians. According to GOP political strategist Peter Wehner, the Pope’s stance is likely to reduce controversy and opposition to same-sex marriage because they “make it less of a grave moral transgression.” Wehner also states that his could “have public-policy consequences.”
The Pope’s stance on abortion is likely to have a similar amount of influence. The United States is already in a precarious position on the abortion issue. The country is still heavily divided over abortion and in some states opposition is increasing. The Pope’s reaffirmation of the Church’s opposition to abortion is likely to reignite the pro-life movement and once again spark the abortion debate.
Popes always have a heavy amount of influence—religiously, socially, and politically. For a long time, the Church has been accused of being behind on the times and painfully stagnant. Pope Francis is breathing new life into the Catholic faith and refocusing its followers. We can all hope that the world will heed his example and help the poor, place less importance on material possessions, and lead more modest and giving lifestyles. Politically, Pope Francis’ influence is to be determined in the United States. However, it is safe to say that his tolerance for same-sex marriage and homosexuality will move our nation on this trajectory of equality while his opposition to abortion makes it almost certain that the pro-life/pro-choice debate will continue to rage on.
States Are Diverging on Polarizing Social Issues. By: Brownstein, Ronald, National Journal, 03604217, 8/3/2013
World Affairs. Sep/Oct2013, Vol. 176 Issue 3, p25-34. 10p.