As it turns out, Pope Francis’ political instincts are as wily as his face is kind. This is no novice. Just as one gets hypnotized under a spell cast by his lifted brow and chalky voice, as vulnerable to his next reach as that spot beneath a puppy’s ribs, his touch intensifies from soft massage into the full-on pinch of a pressure point.
It would have been so easy — and so effortlessly dismissible — for Francis to have gotten up in front of Congress and lectured Republicans over their rank hypocrisy. But he knew that real shame isn’t in being called a hypocrite, but rather in being exposed as a hypocrite. And so he delivered a blow the likes of which I have rarely seen.
Here is a man whose motives are unassailable. He has nothing left to gain during his tour of this planet, having already ascended to a high post to which he needn’t be reelected. He seems uniquely immune to the trappings of high office. What can one say about a man who’d rather wash the feet of a hobo than hold court on his throne — that he’s just out to prove something?
Only a person of this moral authority, and only a man as deft as he is irreproachable, could have done what Francis did. And here is what he did: He said to a joint meeting of Congress, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
The Republican side of the chamber erupted. Prepared mostly to be schooled about climate change by a chemist who is also Pope, conservatives thought aloud with their cheering, here comes some red meat for us. They practically frothed, their fangs dripping with hunger and anticipation. The next sentence could not come fast enough for the Bagger caucus, and Baggers slimed their seats with ass sweat, writhing against the ancient leather beneath their cheeks.
And then, Republican tails all awag, the next sentence came: “This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty.” And then the next sentence: “I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
And suddenly, on the Republican side, silence.
The right had been exposed. Those prepared to cheer the sanctity of human cellular life without consciousness sat on their hands when a global spiritual leader suggested the sanctity of human life — even on the cellular level — when it is attached to consciousness. What is it about human consciousness that makes Republicans lose their affection for cellular human life?
That is the question Pope Francis left Republicans to answer in their sudden, dumbfounded silence.
by Brendan Beery