The Pope’s Talking, Let’s Hope Somebody is Listening!

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, April 16, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)  April 16, 2016.

New Orleans    Pope Francis isn’t perfect.  None of them are.  All the same, it’s hard not to root for the guy, give him an attaboy and hope he pushes the Catholic Church and its parishioners to demand more social justice and social change.

The Pope issued something called an apostolic exhortation which is several degrees lower than an encyclical and doesn’t claim infallibility but is a guidance and, in this case, both a call to action and a word of caution, particularly to conservatives in the church.  The key takeaway was the Pope’s statement that the “defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate,” but “equally sacred, however are the lives of the poor, those already born,” along with the elderly and other victims whether of human trafficking or displaced migrants.

Not surprisingly, the Pope is not signing up for membership in Planned Parenthood, but he is saying that the one-hundred percenters on this issue need to step up on the issues of poverty and the demand for more equality and equity as an expression of their faith.  He argued that an all-consuming attention to abortion is “a harmful ideological error,” especially when it deflates and devalues fights for social change or claims that the struggles for change are “superficial, worldly, materialistic, communist or populist.”  Big amen to that point!

Hitting home, the Pope stated clearly that there is no claim to good living and holiness “that would ignore injustice.”  He was clear that he was talking about progress in dealing with economic inequality in his exhortation.  Give him another big amen there!

Furthermore, the Pope argued against false equivalencies.  He lashed out at church members that would claim dealing with poverty or the desperation of migrants was somehow a secondary or lesser issue compared to what he called “bioethical questions,” meaning abortion and right-to-life issues.  In a gut punch he referred to such comparisons as something a politician might say, “but not a Christian,” which has to rank in the religious community as a beatdown.

So, the Pope isn’t perfect, God knows.  Critics are clear that his work has not matched his statements about sexual abuse by clericals within the church for example.  Nonetheless, we have to embrace him as a fellow traveler when it comes to the fight for justice and equality for all people.  His voice has power and range there.  We need to hope it’s heard and heeded.  We need all the help we can get.


What’s a Woman to Do?

Norma Swenson and Betsy Cole at an exhibit booth for Our Bodies, Ourselves

Norma Swenson and Betsy Cole at an exhibit booth for Our Bodies, Ourselves

New Orleans   The ascent of Trump may be proving that the personal is not the political, but it also seems to be establishing to a frightening degree that the political is very, very personal.

I read a lengthy and poignant story in Harper’s in the wake of the election. It was centered in Rapid City, South Dakota, a city I know reasonably well and have visited often over a lifetime. A young nurse in her mid-twenties with one child found herself pregnant by a man passing through her life with what turned out to be no interest in raising a child or building a permanent relationship with her. She had just submitted her application to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner. Despite the fact that Roe v. Wade establishing a legal right to abortion still exists for the time being at least, various road blocks had been thrown in the way of actually receiving one by the hard red legislature in South Dakota. A retiring ob-gyn had effectively close down the last clinic anywhere near Rapid City with the last one in this small population state now located in Sioux Falls, a vast expanse away in this western state about 350 miles distant. Required 72-hour waits and other delays though meant that if she were able to schedule a procedure with the clinic the cost would be over $1000 out of pocket, not counting gas, lodging and incidentals, like lost work time. Frequently, the state laws and limited capacity led to the clinic counseling people to instead try to go to Fargo, North Dakota where the next nearest clinic was available with only slightly less restrictive laws. When a legislator was asked to comment on these difficulties, he seems to have shrugged and said essentially, too bad about that, go to Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota or someplace other than South Dakota. Having seen reality and laws make a mockery out of anything like “freedom of choice,” the story ended with her having the baby and trying to make the best of it as a single-mother of two children, fortunately still employed, and facing the future.

The Times quoted four young women in a southern state planning to go and get IUDs before the end of the year for fear that coming changes in the Affordable Care Act might make it impossible for them to obtain birth control.

As the political overwhelms the personal for women all over the country, it’s impossible to be prematurely nostalgic, because even though women are oppressed and restrained everywhere, a woman’s lot in the South and the West has never been easy or equal either. I overheard two women of different generations talking between themselves in the patio of one of our New Orleans social enterprise coffeehouses. They were discussing cervical biopsies in very forthright terms. The procedure involves cutting a piece of flesh for testing. One asked the other if she had had anesthesia. Her friend probably shook her head, “no,” because then I heard her clearly say it was the most painful experience she had ever had. The first said that the women’s bible, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” dating to my generation, said that you should have anesthesia for the procedure. The second woman simply stated, yes, probably if you are in Boston. The denouement was almost sadder, when the older woman said she had called a nurse to complain at the doctor’s after it was all over, and the nurse had simply stated that women had never complained in the past.

Trump says he will appoint another Supreme Court judge pretty darned quick and he’ll make sure that that justice is ready to suit up to overturn Roe v. Wade. In state after state Republican legislatures are already killing the freedom of choice for women with a thousand cuts as they use the political knives to eviscerate a woman’s personal integrity over her body and her ability to protect it. Where there’s really no regard for women and their pain, these will just be more cuts in a tradition of them. And, tragically, there won’t be anesthesia, just pain.


Thanks to a loyal reader for suggesting this song by the recently deceased Mose Allison. 


Mose Allison performs Everybody Cryin’ Mercy on Later… with Jools Holland, BBC Two (20 May 2005)