I was so trying to avoid blogging about the Pope. For a bunch of reasons. For starters, I was raised Catholic — Catholic school, the whole shebang. I don’t practice anymore, but my extended family members are still churchgoers, and I very much respect what church attendance brings to their spiritual and social lives.
Further, I kind of like Pope Francis. Even though I don’t practice Catholicism anymore, it’s so steeped in my development that I can’t help but keep abreast of the goings-on at the Vatican. Personality-wise, Francis seems like a huge improvement over Pope Benedict. He is reputed to be a gentle man of inclusion, and I had hopes that his sensibility might linger after his departure.
Goodness knows our political discourse could use some strains of gentleness and inclusion.
And I appreciate the Pope’s role as a spiritual guide for so many people. We live in challenging times, and for people of faiths, spiritual guidance and mentorship can be an essential part of making sense of the world. Spiritual leaders provide humanity with a moral compass. Off the top of my head, I can think of the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and the list goes on.
But can a moral compass go too far in a democratic society?
I started to wonder that when I learned that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis of Kentucky, the county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Actually, my first inklings of the dark side of his visit came when he referred to preserving life while addressing a Congress almost crippled by the issue of abortion and the funding of Planned Parenthood.
Then came the news about the visit with Davis, and I thought, okay, that’s a bit much. Then I learned that he spoke of religious freedom and the right to conscientious objection (usually used in reference to refusing to perform military service) on the flight back to the Vatican. At that point, I knew I had to blog about it.
Because the Davis case is a perfect example of the importance of the separation of church and state. And of the right to religious freedom. And the right to conscientious objection.
Just not the way Pope Francis may think it is.
In a democratic society that values each citizen’s right to believe what he or she wants, governance must be separate from those beliefs in order to preserve that very right. If not, one belief system could take the reins of governance and outlaw the others. That’s a scary idea not playing out so well in other areas in the world.
In America, Davis is free to believe anything she freaking wants; no one is telling her she can’t. If she wants to believe all my gay friends are evil and shouldn’t have the right to marry, she can believe it all day long. However, if the law says otherwise, and her job is to uphold laws, she has to uphold the laws — even if the law contradicts her beliefs because the law serves the collective citizenry of a democratic society.
Davis is also free to conscientiously object. She was free to refuse issuing the licenses, tell the world why, then resign her position. An elected office is a paid position. You either meet the job requirements or you don’t.
I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one who thought the visit was a bit much. An article in the National Catholic Reporter said “the pope was ill served by whoever arranged this meeting.” The article discussed the Pope’s disdain for culture wars, but observed the meeting with Davis undermined his desire to remain above such things.
Whether the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and Davis agree or not, the system of governance in America has decided that homosexuals have the right to marry. Granting homosexuals this right may have prompted spiritual crises for some, and I could see the Pope wanting to speak to followers about navigating such crises. Maybe from the pulpit or in correspondence or other writings.
But Pope Francis was here on an official visit that included meeting with the president and addressing Congress, and he was treated with the utmost respect by our citizens and elected officials. Catholics and non-Catholics alike celebrated his visit because that’s the way we roll in a society that protects religious freedom and honors the various beliefs of its citizens.
I just wish the Pope had returned that respect and stayed out of the Davis situation. Now all that lingers after his visit is the same divisiveness that we had before.