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Column: The Pope is not a political figure, he is a religious one

It goes without saying that Pope Francis’ inaugural visit to the U.S. last month was a massive success. In a breath of fresh air during the midst of the tumultuous 2016 election season, Americans from all demographic backgrounds seemed to finally celebrate the presence of a single, highly politicized figure.

There certainly was a lot to celebrate, too. The pope used his visit as an opportunity to address pressing issues like climate change, immigration reform and other “controversial” issues that most image-conscious figures tend to steer clear of. It was refreshing to hear to the pope speak with candor and hold American politicians accountable to serving their constituents.

With all the press surrounding the pope’s visit, it didn’t take long for his presence and statements to become highly politicized. Support for the pope grew from the left when he championed climate change, stating that our environment is “devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature.” Liberals grew even more excited when the pope seized the opportunity to call for humane treatment of the refugees who “drown in the search for a better tomorrow”.

Francis’ actions on U.S. soil served to affirm to young liberals that he truly is the people’s pope. Even non-Catholic Americans, from those of other faiths to the completely secular, supported the pope’s cause.

That is, until they heard about the pope’s “secret” meeting with Kim Davis.

The news of a meeting with the staunchly conservative, anti-gay Kentucky clerk who has recently dominated national media immediately turned off progressive pope supporters and caused polar responses along the political spectrum.

Before any details about what even happened during the meeting were released (and there weren’t many to begin with; the exchange lasted about 10 minutes), Americans began to speculate about what the meeting could mean for the pope’s political message.

There’s the problem. The pope doesn’t have a political message. Sure, some of Francis’s previous statements align with values of the American left, but Americans have read far too much into that.

Nobody has the right to feel affronted or validated by the pope’s decision to meet with Davis. The pope is not an American official elected to represent the interests of one particular party. He is not a Republican or a Democrat. (Must we be reminded he is not even American?) He is not a conservative or a liberal. He is a Catholic.

Americans are obsessed with trying to place public figures into little boxes that fit neatly on either side of party lines. Pundits and commentators only seem to be capable of comprehending Francis’ messages in terms of rigid political terms.

We should be glad such a prominent leader doesn’t conform to America’s stale and unimaginative bipartisan system. We finally get to listen to an apolitical figure whose public ideologies aren’t governed by a fixation for collecting votes.

The pope meets with lots of different people for a lot of different reasons. By now you’ve probably also heard (and potentially been relieved) that Francis also met with a gay couple—a former student and his spouse—during his visit. There was no political agenda behind that meeting, either. It’s good that partisan issues don’t get in the way of a man trying to form human connections with people from all walks of life.

Pope Francis isn’t getting “too political” any time he baffles narrow-minded Americans by going against the grain of our arbitrary left/right binary. He isn’t getting political at all. He is a spiritual leader attempting to guide the public, Catholic or not, toward a more virtuous future through leading by example.


Follow Hailey Dickson on Twitter.


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