Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. was the Papal Monarchy at its best, and Francis was received by the U.S. government with all the respect due to a reigning monarch. The benevolent Pope was welcomed by his adoring public – some, including me, moved to tears by his obvious compassion for the least among us. His joyful interchange with children was heartwarming. But are we as Roman Catholics comfortable with the Pope as a monarch?
Francis’ message was political; he again sounded alarm about the crisis of climate change and the responsibility of all people and all nations to save the planet. Surprisingly there was little complaint about a political message from the Roman Pontiff. Could this have happened in the first half of the 20th century or earlier?
But what about workers? He did not ignore them. He brought up income inequality as an issue. Francis strongly advocated for immigrants before Congress itself. He noted that his parents were American immigrants from Italy. Catholic Social Teaching was a cornerstone for the Pope’s visit.
Francis named Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, as a great American. She was an advocate for Worker Justice. In 1949, Dorothy Day joined New York cemetery workers in their strike against the Diocese of New York and Cardinal Spellman. Spellman brought seminarians in as strike-breakers to dig the graves. With the audacity of a feudal lord, the Cardinal Archbishop said he was “proud to be a strike-breaker.” Day said that Spellman was “ill advised” exercising an “overwhelming show of force against a handful of poor working men.” Dorothy joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in a demonstration in 1973. She was arrested and spent time in jail.
Non-violence is a basic principle of the Day’s Catholic Worker movement. Pope Francis denounced war before the United Nations; he also cited the immorality of the death penalty in front of the U.S. Congress. The F.B.I. kept track of Dorothy Day. J. Edgar Hoover thought she was dangerous.
Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate (Relationship to Non Christian Religions) was re-affirmed by the Pope’s participation in a prayer service at Ground Zero with representatives of non–Christian faith communities. A visit with Kim Davis of Kentucky, a clerk who refused a marriage license for a gay couple, underlined the Vatican II document on freedom of conscience. (Dignitatis Humanae)
A major failure was Francis’ failure to call to task the U.S. Bishops for the attempted cover–up of the pedophile scandal. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was treated as a colleague. The Pope met with victims but “the People of God” did not prevail. The hierarchical structure of the Church remains solid despite a decided change in tone by the ‘Benevolent Monarch’, Pope Francis.