Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pope Francis and the Narrow Focus

So everyone is all abuzz about an interview with Pope Francis published by America. The New York Times take is here.

As usual, there is both more and less here than meets the eye. There is less in the sense that the Pope is not changing any doctrine or advocating the same. There is more in the sense that I don't think the NYT really understands what the Pope is getting at.

The issues mentioned by Francis - abortion, gay marriage and contraception - are peculiar obsessions of the Catholic Church in the West, particularly the United States. From a global perspective, the great challenges facing the Church are the persistent persecution of the Church in Africa and the Middle East, and the millions of people living in desperate poverty and hopelessness. You don't care much about gay marriage either way when your church has just been burned down or your kids have nothing to eat. And you don't start experimenting with gay marriage unless you are so wealthy and bored that you've got nothing better to do.

I think what Francis has done is give a subtle rebuke to Western Catholics for their self-obsession, and indicated that his priorities are not his priorities. It's not "all about us" anymore. Pope Francis is no more in favor of gay marriage than was Benedict XVI; the difference is that he's not going to give the West's obsession with boutique issues like gay marriage significance by spending time on it. Gay marriage is a rich nation's problem not a poor nation's.

That is what the NYT misses. It thinks the Pope is finally starting to think like it does. In fact, the Pope thinks the NYT's obsessions are so trivial as to be not worth bothering about. The "narrow focus" the Pope is rejecting is the narrow focus of the West on itself, as epitomized by the NYT.