January 27, 2020

An Open Letter to the Pope 

Pope Francis in Genoa, Italy, on May 27. Photo by Giorgio Perottino/Reuters

Dear Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, and Servant of the Servants of God,

Forgive me for raising some concerns that I suspect reflect the hearts and minds of a broad cross section of Americans.

I have admired your humility and compassion to the common folk. Your recent public policy positions, however, are causing a sharp philosophical divide, which I lament.

First, your handling of the global church priest sex scandal disappoints. Many American Catholics are in pain over decadeslong serial abuse and prolific cover-ups, corruption and lying by pastors and officials in Rome, the United States, South America, Europe and Africa. When U.S. bishops met recently to vote on serious reform and accountability measures, the Vatican shut down their voices.

The present pontificate has been criticized for ignoring the thousands of victims of episcopal misconduct. Clerical sexual abuse of children has damaged the credibility of the Catholic Church.  And yet you have not risen to lead, heal and repair. You have asked, “Where are the victims?” They are everywhere, and they have written to you and spoken to you and prayed to you.

Leading American Catholic thinker George Weigel has objected to an “anti-American” attitude in Rome, which has dismayed many leaders and laity. A recent headline read: Francis Has Mobilized the Papacy’s Absolute Monarchy Against Justice.

Second, I’m troubled by your statements regarding jihadi terrorism. You stated, for example, “Muslim terrorism does not exist.”

Your voice has been one of weakness, not strength, one of religious harmony, not moral clarity.

You are silent regarding an epidemic of radical Islamism, which is the declared enemy of peaceful Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and nonbelievers alike. As ISIS seeks to install a caliphate, and many other nonstate actors commit beheadings, mass rape attacks, the sacking of churches and unending assaults against innocents, you have failed to lead against evil.

The Catholic News Service quotes you as saying “the lives of 19 religious men and women martyred during the Algerian civil war are a testament to God’s plan of love and peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims.”

Catholics are among millions of religious faithful desperate for you to lead a campaign against religious fanaticism and brutality, including state-sponsored female genital mutilation and honor killings of Muslims.

Your voice has been one of weakness, not strength, one of religious harmony, not moral clarity, and one of idealized humanity, not sympathy for human suffering. Christians today are being systematically and actively persecuted throughout the Arab/Muslim world. You have not been their servant.

Third, your campaign against capital punishment reveals a lack of interest in the Old Testament. The death penalty is the only law in all five books of the Torah. Genesis 9:6 establishes that “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”

Rabbinic literature argues for witnesses and modern DNA science assists our legal society to advance justice to protect the innocent. But your moral claim is not to protect the innocent but rather to keep alive the admitted and adjudged guilty.

Executing terrorists or rapist-torturers of children is the state-sanctioned legal path anticipated by the wise American founders. Would you keep alive every evil dictator in the world who commits genocide, and every convict who might murder innocent prison guards or court witnesses? Our moral compasses point in opposite directions.

Finally, your campaign against capitalism is hostile to the American way of life. Regulated market capitalism liberates human creativity and incentivizes honest work, uplifting the morality of individuals and serving communities and families. The U.S. is the most prosperous and the most generous nation because of capitalism.

The United States was built on the Protestant work ethic, rooted in Hebrew teachings that humans serve God, society and themselves through honorable effort.

Jewish industriousness has benefited humanity with Nobel laureate scholarship and cancer-curing technologies produced by profit-making enterprises. The debate against socialism is long won, except in dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela, and in some academic ivory towers.

Capitalism builds hospitals, museums and climate-improving technology. May it continue to fund the good works of the Roman Catholic Church.

I welcome your kind reply, and with every good wish to Your Excellency this Christmas season.

Larry Greenfield is a fellow at the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.