I am incensed that Pope Francis is coming to NYC. I am enraged that he is right now, as I write this, addressing members of Congress.
I am apoplectic at the media coverage that his first visit to the U.S. has garnered.
And yet, let me be clear: I like Pope Francis.
I'm one of the liberals that has raised my eyes to heaven (more than once!) and silently mouthed the words "thank you" to a god that he and I do not have in common. I've cheered his stance on global warming, immigration, and his compassion for animals. (Finally, someone in the Catholic church who believes they have souls and will meet us in heaven. If only my 7 year old self had heard that same message, I may not have been so bereft at the deaths of my hamsters and guinea pigs.) I believe that this man--and he is, after all, just a man--is part of a system that is broken, corrupt, power hungry, homophobic and misogynistic, but that he wants to make a difference in the world. He wants to help the poor, to heal the earth, to educate those who don't have access and to help us take a good hard look at our own corrupt, greedy practices.
I have spent days ranting about his visit. I have railed against his speaking to Congress. I have used up what I'm certain is a huge chunk of my friend's data plan with texts and links to articles that support my position. My heart has been racing. My voice has been reverberating with anger. I've been meditating to rid myself of negativity but I cannot shake this fury that I'm feeling.
Why am I so angry that the Pope is here? Why can't I just step back and see it for the historic moment that it is? Why can't I separate my beliefs from what is actually going on?
Ah. There's the rub.
I am having an impossible time getting behind this visit because, the last time I checked, this country adheres to the separation of church and state. Though the lines have become increasingly and alarmingly blurred, I am shocked by the level of pomp/circumstance/media frenzy/money being spent on a religious leader that governs out of a country that is not responsible for paying taxes, not held accountable by globally recognized banking practices, enjoys diplomatic immunity and is steeped in such wealth that it houses one of the most extensive precious art collections in the entire world.
I am horrified that while Pope Francis may have messages of hope and tolerance (and, as I'm writing this, he's receiving a standing ovation for mentioning that we are all children of immigrants. Oh, the GOP and its hilarious irony!) and caring for the poor, he is on his way to a $17 million dollar Vatican-owned penthouse on 5th Avenue, in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan, where he will benefit from street closures, increased NYPD presence, a full Secret Service detail, snipers on the roof--and that's just what's been relayed to the public. This does not count the military drills that have been taking place over the Hudson River for the last 2 weeks, with Chinooks and Coastie copters hovering and fighter jets flying in pairs, the roar of their engines audible long before and after they are visible. This does not include the overtime paid to Traffic Command, to countless city services that will ensure his visit goes off without a hitch; the hours input to enable the faithful to perhaps, for 10 seconds, catch a glimpse of this man that an ancient institution deems infallible. This faithful, by the way, does not include the poor who are working at minimum wage jobs and cannot afford to miss a day of work to try and actually see the messenger of the Holy See, for fear of not being able to pay their increasingly expensive rents in this city that favors only the very top beneficiaries of the capitalist system Francis is criticizing.
The separation of church and state has been conveniently forgotten as even Charlie Rose (Charlie Rose!) is leaning forward in his chair, hanging on the words of Monsignor so-and-so as he confides in us what the Pope has been thinking, feeling and hoping for as an outcome of this visit. We are not discussing world events. We have amnesia, for the week, about the refugee crisis that is plaguing the world (though not so convenient for the refugees who are displaced and living in filthy camps with crying children). We are suddenly a nation of Catholics, whether we are even Christian or not. We are charmed, captivated and completely oblivious to the fact that this is a religious leader, invited by a Catholic Speaker of the House, to speak to members of a supposedly secular government and its six out of nine Catholic Supreme Court Justices, about his agenda.
Oh, you'd better believe there is an agenda.
Did you hear, as you were straining to hang on his every word, the Pope's pro-life stance? The Republicans didn't know whether to clap or cry. First: anti-abortion rhetoric. Clapping! Foot stomping fervor! Boehner is crying! Again! Followed by anti-gun violence. End clapping! Cue head tilting and suspicious eye squinting! Another mention about protecting life. Hysteria! Thunderous applause! Boehner's hanky is back at his eyes! Fist bumps from Rubio! Finish with abolishing the death penalty. ABORT APPLAUSE! ABORT! ABORT! Oh. That's an unfortunate turn of phrase, now, isn't it?
And then some other sticking points for D.C.'s elite, a sea of white male faces in black and navy suits, punctuated sparsely with a Latino man, a black woman, a few orange, Botoxed faces (JK, I'm looking at you) and oh, thank goodness, there's Sotomayor...:
The children are the future. Yes! Invoke Whitney Houston! Black! Woman! AND successful! It's bi-partiscan applause now! Caring for the poor. Clap, cla...Uh, wait. We don't believe in welfare! Lindsey? Why are you staring at the ceiling? Tolerance. Non-violence. Camera 1, pan to a close-up of John Lewis. An obvious trick but it's a home run! Boehner is back at it! White hanky! Green tie! Climate change. Do not make eye contact! REPEAT: Avoid all eye contact! Justice Roberts, keep staring at Biden's toupee!
The hypocrisy of if all.
Are we so keen on Pope Francis and his address to Congress that we've forgotten that this is a privilege saved for heads of state? Are we that willing to make an exception for a religious leader of a populace that claims to have 76 million American followers that we're willing to fork over our tax dollars to fund this visit and allow our media channels to kowtow to this hysteria?
Our country is in the midst of a crisis of intolerance. We are plagued by racism, classism and unadulterated bigotry. Just last week, a Trump supporter stood up and stated that we have a "problem of Muslims" in this country. Trump nodded in agreement. This is a man vying for the GOP candidacy for presidency. But while all of our news outlets are currently wielding their throbbing "ratings erections", no one is asking what would happen if an Imam wished to speak to Congress on messages of hope and peace and tolerance. No one is standing up and saying that Islam shares the same tenants as Catholicism in that regard. No one is saying anything to that effect. It is, after all, an election year.
So yes. I'm furious that Pope Francis is coming to New York, and that instead of relying on the billions of tax-free dollars available to the Vatican, that I will have to participate in this charade with mine. I wish I could simply cherry pick what I agree with from his address, but instead, I see it as a gross injustice to the poor that he claims to care so much for, as an affront to the separation of church and state, as a sad commentary on how desperate corporate America is to capitalize on a money-making opportunity, even as it means marginalizing those upon whose backs their so-called "messages of good" have been built.
But hey. It's the American way. And now that he speaks English, I'd say the Pope is one step closer to wearing an Old Glory pin on that pristine white robe of his.
God Bless America. As long as he's Catholic.