According to an aging Italian journalist — so take it with a grain of salt – Pope Francis has declared that there is no hell. The Vatican has denied that he said that, exactly. Apparently, the Vatican says he has been misquoted. Hard to believe that any Italian would misquote the Pope, but there it is.
Not being a Catholic, or particularly religious, I must nevertheless admit that the Pope’s declaration is a bit of a relief. I’ve been spending the evening listening to Beatles music, downing Lite beers, and trying to follow the Cavs game, and my understanding of Catholic theology is that my actions have probably involve a number of sins. Like sloth, for example, or gluttony because I’ve downed a few brewskis, or maybe envy too because I’m a Cleveland sports fan and, well, envy is about all we’ve got to go on.
I’m not saying that I thought I was going to hell because I’ve downed a few beers, but it’s nice to have some reassurance from the Ultimate Authority on that front. But having quaffed a few beers I wonder: If you’re Catholic and you don’t have to worry about going to a fiery hell, doesn’t that cause you to revisit the very basic tenets of your faith?
I suspect that the Pope will soon regret his response, if he doesn’t regret it already. It’s not that the Pope doesn’t have every right to give his opinion on what qualities or actions are “Christian” and what are not — of course he does, because after all this is the Pope we’re talking about. As the head of a Christian denomination with millions of members spanning the globe, he obviously can, and regularly does, speak about such topics.
In this instance, though, I think the Pope’s comments were ill-advised, because they come in the middle of an American presidential campaign and obviously were directed at a particular candidate. It seems to diminish the Pope, somehow, for him to weigh in on something so secular and tawdry as an American political campaign. We’ve come a long way since the days of the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960 — when John F. Kennedy’s Catholic faith was a big issue, because opponents whispered that he would be taking direction from Vatican City — but the Pope’s comments on a candidate still seem . . . unwise. When most people associate the Pope with a focus on the spiritual, even a brief foray by him into an increasingly bitter, mud-slinging political campaign is a bit jarring.
And, of course, Pope Francis’ comments just serve to allow Donald Trump to mount his high horse, clothe himself in righteous indignation, and further burnish his reputation as the anti-establishment candidate. I’m afraid that Pope Francis will learn that anyone who associates or interacts with Donald Trump ends up being tarnished by the experience. Why stoop to comment about such a person?