Is Pope Francis Liberal Or Conservative?
Conservatism, in its purest form, should be based upon a mission to preserve that which is good, true, and beautiful for posterity. Hence, it should be, by its very nature, a creative force. And all creativity has the imagination for an engine. This in turn serves as the open and innovative energy that undergirds all of the Liberal Arts. In other words, by responsible conserving, a flowering of liberality is made possible. It is a marriage of the left and right sides of the brain.
Perhaps in the broad sociological sphere, conservatism and liberalism are not so much at odds as inextricably intertwined. The former makes way for the latter, while the latter pours back into the former. Kept in balance, it is possible for one to be both truly conservative and truly liberal at the same time. It is only through small-minded political definitions that the terms become so polarizing. Furthermore, they are often downright inaccurate to the original meanings of the words “conservative” and “liberal.”
Indeed, perhaps I am being most conservative in my desire to protect endangered species (typically considered a liberal obsession) and most liberal in my desire to secure the right to life for all human beings, including those in the womb (typically considered to be a conservative prerogative). Labels can often be misleading, and happy mediums a rarity. Embracing one extreme or the other is sadly much more common.
All this brings to mind Pope Francis and the eternal query as to whether he is a conservative or a liberal. As a Catholic, there is hardly a day that I do not see one religious newspaper article or other raging about the controversies of our admittedly zany pontiff. For many people, especially those who are hard-wired to measure the world by American political constructs, he proves to be a perplexing puzzle if ever there was one. But perhaps the key here is to simply set aside the labels for a spell and define him by that which he loves: Life.
Yes, life in all places, conditions, and forms. And does that not make sense? Is he not standing in the place of Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe to be the Font of All Life? Thus we see his desire to end the death penalty, care for the needs of the impoverished and oppressed, aid those suffering from drug abuse and exploitation, comfort the displaced and rejected, save endangered animal species, protect the environment, and naturally, see the day when abortion, an act resulting in the death of helpless and innocent human lives, is no longer sanctioned under the law.
There is no contradiction here; he is simply pro-life across the board. Indeed, the first of many papal remarks to become controversial was his comment that abortion is not all that Catholics care about. This statement should not have been controversial at all. The word Catholic means universal, and that means that our concerns for the world have a universal reach. Of course, we should focus on abortion…but not only that. He is being consistent, not contradictory.
If there is a contradiction to be found, it should be in ultra-liberals and ultra-conservatives. My thoughts are drawn to Bernie Sanders, who said that Pope Francis is one of his spiritual heroes and who recently met the pope in a hotel lobby in Rome. If they had more time to chat, and if the world of political endorsement seeking were not so maniacal, the pope and Sanders would probably find a number of issues on which they might agree and support one another, including aiding the underprivileged, saving the environment, and trying to bring greater equality to society at large.
I do believe both their hearts are in the right place. Indeed, in this election cycle, Sanders comes off as being much more sincere in my view then the front-runners of both parties. The veracity of his planned policies is another matter entirely (I personally feel that some of them are impractical at best, misguided at worst). But nevertheless, at least in the transcendent sphere, I believe God will still judge the heart.
That having been said, Bernie Sanders has a serious blind-spot in his logic that assures he and the pope remain on opposite pages: he may be all about helping people outside the womb, but those inside are as good as dead meat should those who gave them life decide to kill them. Not only does Sanders support abortion in “rare cases”, but in any and all cases whatsoever, even as late as partial birth.
One might equally point out the severe disconnect found among some hard-line conservatives who claim to be “pro-life”, but yet at the same time are found lacking in empathy and mercy towards those struggling for survival in a harsh world. Indeed, they can be so obsessed with the letter of the law that they fail to remember common humanity and the image of God imprinted on all hearts.
This can be the case when dealing with refugees, immigrants, and those in need of government-sponsored monetary assistance. Beyond individual policies, which should be discussed and debated as proper solutions are sought out for all these complex cases, it is also a matter of justice being tempered by mercy and judgment being put into perspective through understanding. It is a matter of putting yourself in another man’s shoes and not being so tight-fisted as to scorn the extension of a helping hand.
The same contradiction can be found in those who would extract punitive measures against those who have had abortions, who would pursue policies that advocate and unnecessary torture and death, who disparage those with genuine concerns about the environment and the lives of all living creatures, and who indeed are unable to see beyond their own tunnel vision to embrace the world in its fullness.
Herein lies the origin our great societal disconnect. Indeed, we find ourselves swinging to extremes and then categorizing ourselves by what divides us instead of what should unite us. As everyone keeps saying, this is an election year, and the heat is on. But perhaps it is time to free ourselves from the boxes foisted on us by others. I am neither fully “conservative” nor fully “liberal”, but I would like to consider myself both in the best senses of the words.
I am a Catholic, a true “universalist”, and as such I believe I make up a part of the Body of Christ in this world. That is what I would wish to be defined by, and like Pope Francis, I would like to be marked out in the Book of Life as one who loves life – all of it – and was never afraid to stand up for it. Whether Catholic or not, I believe all Americans – no, all persons – can find unity in that.
February 25, 2021
February 23, 2021
February 16, 2021