Pope Francis’s visit to Brazil fulfils his predecessor’s promise
True to form, the pontiff will visit the favelas and a hospital for addicts and will travel in an open-top jeep
What has been interesting, and is of particular relevance to Ireland, is the lack of emphasis so far on the once “non-negotiable” Catholic values on issues such as abortion, euthenasia, gay marriage and sexual morality generally. It is not that Francis has any intention of changing Church teaching on such issues. On the contrary, as we all know, his track record is that of a conservative traditionalist.
It is more that he simply does not see these matters as “priority” issues. Where John Paul II and Benedict were wont to give twice-weekly public diatribes, with Benedict calling homosexuality “an intrinsic moral evil” (as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a 1986 letter to the bishops) and with John Paul II calling abortion “a terrible rejection of God’s gift of life and love” (in St Louis in 1999), Francis is relatively silent.
Some Irish media have made much of his “special message” to Catholics in Ireland and Britain in relation to the church’s Day For Life, released last Tuesday, in which the Pope emphasised the need to “care for life from conception to natural end”. To an obvious extent, this was intended as a comment on the new Irish abortion legislation yet, as such, it came late in the day, after the bill had already been passed by the Dáil.
During the gruelling abortion debate, there were no direct interventions by Francis himself. By contrast, John Paul II had no such temerity in 1995, openly calling on the Irish faithful to reject divorce in the referendum that ultimately sanctioned the 1996 Family Law (Divorce) Act.
When The Irish Times asks Fr Lombardi whether either the Pope or the Holy See would be commenting on Ireland’s new abortion legislation, his (not unpredictable) answer is that “We leave comment on issues like that to the local bishops”. In other words, we are steering clear of this one.
In a similar vein, the papal trip will steer clear of the sex-abuse issue, something which prompted meeting with victims on previous papal trips. Fr Lombardi says this is simply because the church in Brazil did not schedule such a meeting.
Given the Pope’s Argentine nationality and given that all the indications are that he will not travel much (this Brazil trip is the only overseas one planned for this year), this visit marks a monumental moment in the fledgling papacy.
‘Bit of an adventure’
While Francis himself is averse to any cult of the personality – a few days ago, he ordered that a recently erected statue of himself in the grounds of Buenos Aires cathedral be removed immediately – this trip will still represent a huge continental homecoming attended by up to three million people.
And, as Fr Lombardi puts it, knowing Francesco, it might be a “bit of an adventure” containing some unscripted moments.