Among my facebook friends, there has been a lot of talk about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and their hopes for the next Pope. Many of my progressive friends dislike Benedict for his conservative views. If I met Pope Benedict, I’m sure I’d like him as a person. I deeply disagree, though, with his attempts to squash dissenting voices in his church and his push to make the Catholic Church smaller and more conservative. From my perspective, Pope Benedict seems like this shy bookwormy scholar who seems more comfortable talking about theology than in dealing with the pastoral needs of his flock. Unlike Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, Pope Benedict had almost no pastoral experience, in taking care of the diverse needs of people in a church. Almost his entire experience has been in academia. In my cartoon, I’m hoping the next Pope reaches out to both Catholics and nonCatholics and offers a helping hand to the poor and the marginalized, like Jesus did 2,000 years ago.
There are a lot of suffering people in the world who need the Church to speak out for those who can not speak for themselves. Though I am no longer Catholic, one of the things that I most admire about the Catholic Church is their history of fighting for social justice. When I grew up during the 1980s, I deeply admired the Catholics who were integral parts of three important struggles for the poor: the Catholic Church was deeply involved in the People Power revolution in the Philippines and helped insure that it remained largely nonviolent; Catholic priests, nuns, and lay people risked their lives to fight for the poor in Latin America; and the Catholic Church supported the Solidarity movement in Poland that helped lead to the downfall of communism in Poland.
A few years ago I read The Hidden Encyclical of Pope Pius XI by George Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky that talked about a secret encyclical that Pope Pius XI commissioned that would explicitly condemn the Nazi policies against the Jews. Pope Pius XI was pope during the 1930s and he grew increasingly dismayed at Hitler’s totalitarian regime and the Nazi attacks on Jews and religious people in general. In 1937 the Pope had his German secretary of state smuggle to the German churches the encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge or “With Burning Dismay” , which denounced the Nazi intimidation of Catholic schools, the hostility of the Nazis towards free religious activity, and indirectly condemned Nazi racism. In a 1938 address to Belgian pilgrims, the pope said that “we are the spiritual offspring of Abraham… We are spiritually Semites.” That same year, Pope Pius XI commissioned an American priest named John LeFarge to write an encyclical titled Humani Generis Unitas to more explicitly denounce the Nazi policy against the Jews. Before LeFarge could finish the encyclical, however, Pope Pius XI died in 1939 and his successor, Pope Pius XII shelved the project. George Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky’s book asks: if Pope Pius the Eleventh was willing to explicitly condemn the Nazi’s policies towards the Jews in 1939, why couldn’t Pope Pius the Twelfth make an explicit condemnation of Nazi anti-Jewish policies during World War II?
It would be unfair to say that Pope Pius XII did nothing. Pope Pius XII hated the Nazis just as much at his predecessor, but Pius XII was trained as a diplomat, and he couched his criticisms of the Nazis in vague diplomatic terms. Pope Pius XII made vague criticisms against totalitarianism and racism in encyclicals like Summi Pontificatus, while he secretly allowed Jewish refugees to be sheltered in monasteries and convents while arranging for thousands to escaped to safer countries. The Nazis though, could easily ignore vague criticisms of totalitarianism and racism that could easily apply to the Soviet Union or any countless countries. They would not have been able to ignore a direct criticism of Nazi anti-Jewish laws from the Catholic Church, as Pope Pius XI had wanted to do with his encylical Humani Generis Unitas. This is one example on why the Pope must speak out on social justice issues.
I’m hoping for a reformer Pope, like Pope John XXIII was in the 1950s and 1960s, when he began Vatican II. That’s probably not going to happen, but a recent New York Times survey of American Catholics found that a majority of American Catholics hope for a more modern pope to be elected. Here are some good books on the papacy and on the Catholic Church:
Lives of the Popes by Richard P. McBrien
A Church In Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future by Robert Blair Kaiser
Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait by Peter Seewald
Pope John XXIII by Thomas Cahill
The Hidden Encyclical of Pope Pius XI by George Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky
My next cartoon is about the sad situation in Uganda, where conservative Evangelical Christians have been promoting an anti-gay agenda that has led to laws against the LGBT community and a proposed death penalty for anyone who is homosexual. Thirteen years ago, when I attended a more evangelical Christian Church, I learned that underneath the surface, there was more diversity of opinions on LGBT issues among Evangelicals than is generally realized. Many Evangelical Christians thought homosexuality was a sin and hated gays and lesbians. Some Evangelicals were either gay or supported gay rights and didn’t think homosexuality was a sin. A large number of Evangelical Christians thought homosexuality was a sin, but they also had gay friends and family members and were bothered by the way their fellow churchgoers treated their gay friends and relatives. I witnessed a few times a group of Evangelicals harass or shun a gay or lesbian individual in their church. The trouble was that the Evangelicals who didn’t approve of the harassment or the shunning didn’t speak out against it and remained silent. They only spoke about it later, in private. Everyone got caught up in groupthink.
I have a feeling this situation is similar in Uganda. In the U.S., more and more Evangelical Christians are speaking out against homophobia in their churches. Several Evangelical groups now, like Soulforce, Faith In America and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists are dedicated to fighting religious based bigotry. I think that’s why conservative Evangelicals are going to places like Uganda to spread their ideas. Gay and lesbian Ugandans are a minority and they need allies. Christians who support gay rights or who have gay friends and family members have to speak out loudly in Uganda, or their silence will make them complicit in the harassment and murders.
Here are some magazine articles on the situation in Uganda:
Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-gay Push by Jeffrey Gettleman for the January 3, 2010 edition of the New York Times
Out In Africa: A Gay Rights Struggle With Deadly Stakes by Alexis Okeowo for the December 24, 2012 edition of the New Yorker
The Ugandan Anti-Gay Movement: An Analysis of Evangelical Christian Ethics by J. Langford for Ezinearticles.com
If you enjoy this cartoon, take a look at these links for more of my political cartoons at Everyday Citizen. You could also join my Jasper the Cat facebook page. If you’d like to email me, you can write a comment at email@example.com
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