If I needed further evidence that Pope Francis is not - as millions the world over believe - the one chosen earthly representative of an infallible, omniscient, super-power, and is, in fact, just a bloke in a frock, “winging it as he goes along”, then his current tour of the Philippines has delivered it.
The Pope’s words last week decreeing that anyone who insults faith should expect “a punch” were, quite frankly, flabbergasting. Not very Christian at all. Like a man who’d had too much sacrament wine speaking off the cuff and failing. In a post-Hebdo world which is crying out for peaceable, sage words on freedom of speech and expression, here was one of Christianity’s figureheads preaching “an eye for an eye” and using the macho example that it’s natural to want to punch someone who’s insulted your mother.
As his lackeys smiled and shuffled proceedings along, I was left wondering whether he was safe in charge of a microphone. Was he saying that Catholics are just far too reasonable? And that more black eyes should be doled out in HMV by the Father Ted boxsets? Was he cajoling the most boggle-eyed hardline Christians of all genres to feel justified in avenging any attack on their faith? Perhaps, he was being a berk and hadn’t quite thought at all.
I may be only one small, flimsy non-ordained woman with a Sunday School grounding in the New Testament, but condoning punching religious rivals doesn’t sound like the sort of thing Jesus would say. In fact, the parable of Jesus breaking up argy-bargy between the macho idiots insulting each other’s faiths and mothers sounds like a great unwritten chapter in the Book of Matthew.
Six million flock to see Pope in Philippines
Six million flock to see Pope in Philippines
Six million people attended the event in Rizal Mark, Manila
Dancers put on a show for the spectators
People standing with their families and friends at the event
Pope Francis also wore a poncho to protect from the rain
The pope making his way through the crowd in the pope-mobile
Dancers dressed in elaborate costumes
More followers of the Catholic faith in the Philippines amid the six million who attended
The pope leading the huge outdoor Mass session
A military scout watches the event from a nearby rooftop
Pope Francis talking to 12-year-old girl Glyzelle Palomar
But let’s move from the Pope enciting religious violence because then he popped to Manila – where millions upon millions crowded the streets, hanging on his every word - and incited homophobia. “The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage,” he said. He means gays and lesbians, by the way. Do keep up. How pleasant for the gays and lesbians of Manila to have the big man in town diminishing all the small freedoms they have, while also underlining that it’s fine to punch people who upset your faith.
Oh, those pesky LGBT types wanting their equal marriage. Now, here is a scourge the Pope can really work his dander up over. Not Isis or Boko Haram. The world, he says, is “under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation.” Yes, he’s still talking about bumming here. Not bombing. The terrible threat of Brian and Steve at Number 47 having a wedding and a nice after-party. The terrible threat of people loving and being loved and living free lives without secrets and persecution. “Every threat to the family,” the Pope says, “is a threat to society itself.”
Gosh - big, bold, divisive words – and a complete back-pedal on the more tolerant things that he’s said on homosexuality in the past. But then this is Pope Francis playing “a gig” in the Philippines. Audience-wise this is a bit like Robbie Williams playing a Greatest Hits set at Wembley Arena: one can expect a great deal of showboating and chutzpah. I will not, incidentally, apologise for comparing Pope Francis to Robbie Williams. Francis, the affable, chipper crowdpleaser, is, until now, the image we’ve willingly played along with merely because he's cheerier than the last incarnation, who disappeared mysteriously and was once in the Hitler Youth.
But thank God Francis went in hard on the real problems we face right now. Gays. Why must they threaten the sanctity of marriage by, um, wanting to settle down and be married? Why must they “destroy society” by having babies and adopting the children that straights mess up and can’t cope with, then building strong family units. And how clever of Pope Francis to know that currently, when I walk around London, it’s the ever-present fear of a siege or a bomb planned by furious, bloodthirsty gays - not God-obsessed nutjobs - which worries me the most.
At this point in any discourse of Catholicism, someone tends to rush in shouting, “Well you wouldn’t say this about Muslims would you?” And while this ignores the yards and yards I might have written on female genital mutilation or women’s rights in Saudi Arabia or my current absolute disgust at Isis throwing gay men off buildings in Iraq, the most important thing it overlooks is that Catholic tolerance is a good thing.
Christianity, in the main, should be proud that it is by and large, more open to criticism, more tolerant of attacks, more accepting of lampooning, strong enough to out-stand a cartoon strip or a satirical column, and built on a grounding of forgiveness and compassion. This is a positive tenet, not a weakness. One of our greatest hopes for world peace is the continuation of pockets of humanity - of every religion, atheist and agnostic - who realise that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. If Pope Francis has given up on this, then the outlook looks quite hellish.Reuse content