Pope Francis’ most recent surprise is a pleasant one to liberals and a not-so-pleasant one to conservatives, as he has taken on the much discussed issue of climate change. Since assuming the role of Pontiff in 2013, the pope has surprised people at all different ends of the spectrum with his progressive views and actions on issues never addressed by previous popes. In doing so, although he has upset some traditionalists, conservatives, and big businessmen, he has connected with the people in a way that no other pope has in the past, helping to resolve issues, some which had lingered for more than a hundred years.
In 2013, he challenged the Vatican Bank, also known as the Works of Religion (IOR), to come clean with its secret money laundering operations, and even threatened to shut it down unless they showed more transparency in their actions. Although, according to reports, this put the pope at risk of being assassinated by the Italian Mafia, in the end, the IOR, for the first time in its 125-year history, released an annual report. As a result of the bank’s financial reforms, a European committee evaluating it issued the IOR a positive report on its progress.
In addition to outing the IOR’s financial activities, the pope changed the focus of the church from an institution that practiced free market capitalism, and focused too much on issues such as abortion and contraception. Instead, he geared its focus to taking on more global issues, such as poverty and social justice, even upsetting conservatives by dismissing the Reaganesque “trickle-down” economics. To reflect its new priorities, Francis, the pope, insisted that the Church live humbly and “out on the streets.” In some cases, church officials, such as German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, were stripped of their posts as an act of disciplinary action for living extravagant lifestyles.
Further going against the traditional grain, Francis, the pontiff, addressed social issues normally considered taboo by conservatives as well as traditional Catholics. In September 2014, in an appeal to people involved in relationships considered by Catholicism to be forbidden, the pope invited couples who had been living together for several years – some with children – to Saint Peter’s Basilica for an historical group wedding. Alhough he has not yet stated his views on same-gender marriages, the pope has acknowledged the issue. The following month, Francis, the pope, once again shocked the religious community, as well as those who believe exclusively in scientific origins of the universe, by stating that the Big Bang Theory and views of evolution did not contradict the Bible.
In his most recent progressive act, Pope Francis is now taking on the issue of climate change, which, much to the chagrin of conservatives, he attributes to actions of human beings. This is not the first time a pope has addressed environmental issues. Pope Benedict XVI, who preceded him, was titled by some as the “green pope,” and created a number of papers on the environment, which he compiled into a book called The Environment. Although this was a positive step toward addressing environmental concerns, it did not have much impact on the issue of global warming, nor did the previous pope take on the issue as aggressively as the current one. Francis, in his latest take on climate change, is going above and beyond what has been expected or anticipated of other religious leaders, but it should be of no surprise. In just the first two years of his papacy, he has done much to provide feelings of hope to the general world population and transitioned the Church from a wealthy religious aristocracy to one that strives to be an active partner in making the world a better place.
Opinion by Bill Ades
Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales – Creativecommons Flickr License