St Pope John Paul II seems to have had more electoral successes than Pope Francis. This opening sentence will probably surprise many given that popes do not lead political parties and neither do they contest general elections. This is true indeed.
Fr Joe Borg, on the Sunday Times (7th July) writes on how “what a pope says can – and sometimes does – have a political impact on voters and elections.”
He speaks about the electoral effect of what St Pope John Paul II did and said made, in Poland. The positive effect of his support for Solidarność is not only well known but also cast in films. Perhaps many do not know his contribution to Poland’s accession to the EU.
Similarly, Pope Francis does and says many things that could have political impact. His frequent speeches and prophetic actions about migration are both politically relevant and controversial.
His first official trip outside Rome was to Lampedusa. He had appealed for a “reawakening of consciences” to counter the “indifference” shown to migrants as “we have lost a sense of brotherly responsibility”. Since then, he repeatedly pressured governments and challenged common citizens who “have forgotten how to cry” for migrants lost at sea.
One can be tempted to say that all this has had little or no effect. The electoral victories of the anti-immigrant parties in Italy, Hungary and Poland can be touted as proof of the inefficacy of the strivings of Pope Francis. Similar failure met his foray into the last presidential campaign in the United States.
Pope Francis had then harshly criticised Donald Trump’s electoral promise to build a wall on the US/Mexico border. “You cannot be a Christian and be in favour of such a wall,” Francis told journalists during one of his airborne press conferences. Francis’ words, like those of St John Paul II exhorting people to “build bridges, not walls”, deterred neither Trump nor his voters.
Do these right-wing victories really mean that Pope Francis has lost the battle against the alt-right Christian sovereigntists? Should the Church restrict itself to churchy statements and stop insisting on its message of inclusivity and hospitality vis-à-vis immigrants?
And to take the argument to a particularly nasty conclusion, should the Church be taking public positions about anything that could be considered political?
Read more on The Sunday Times