A Pope You Can Believe In

AP Photo via NBC NewsIt was like an Aaron Sorkin wet-dream made real in DC yesterday: a liberal president met with a progressive pope to talk about poverty, immigration, and climate change. Can you imagine how much fun Sorkin would have had scripting that? Yet if he’d written the scene, would anyone believe it?

The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics led a short parade around the Ellipse in his open-air popemobile, waving and making the sign of the cross as Vatican officials brought him babies to kiss. He later celebrated Mass for more than 20,000 people and presided over the first canonization in the United States.

In his first visit to the United States, Francis, 78, seemed eager to pass over his previous criticisms of a materialistic, capitalist culture and instead reach out to the world’s most powerful nation. He praised the country’s devotion to freedom of liberty and religion even as he cautioned that its vast resources demanded a deep sense of moral responsibility. “God bless America,” he said at the White House. …

Mr. Obama thanked the pope for his help in restoring American diplomatic relations with Cuba and hailed him for speaking out for the world’s most impoverished. “You shake our conscience from slumber,” he said. “You call on us to rejoice in good news and give us confidence that we can come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just and more free.”

In Philly, the pope underlined his commitment to the world’s most impoverished by visiting inmates at a prison.

Some 80% of those inmates at that prison, Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFCF), have not yet been convicted of the crime with which they were charged. Most of them are behind bars because they have not paid or cannot afford to pay bail while awaiting trial, prison spokesperson Shawn Hawes told the Guardian.

Francis has visited prisons in multiple countries, and told the Argentinian newspaper La Voz del Pueblo that when he visits a prison, he asks himself: “Why did God allow that I shouldn’t be here?” …

the facility presents an extreme microcosm of two of the most pressing national prison problems: pretrial detention and overcrowding. And advocates such as Phil Telfeyan, a founder of the nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law, argue that the prison system – particularly in holding those who cannot afford to pay bail – targets the very people Pope Francis has shown the most concern for: the poor.

Perhaps he too read that heart-rending piece in the New York Times Magazine about our broken criminal justice system, and specifically its use of bail as a way to keep low-income people behind bars even before they are found to be guilty of any crime.

Of the 2.2 million people currently locked up in this country, fewer than one in 10 is being held in a federal prison. Far more are serving time in state prisons, and nearly three-quarters of a million aren’t in prison at all but in local city and county jails. Of those in jails, 60 percent haven’t been convicted of anything. They’re innocent in the eyes of the law, awaiting resolution in their cases. Some of these inmates are being held because they’re considered dangerous or unlikely to return to court for their hearings. But many of them simply cannot afford to pay the bail that has been set.

President Obama too has been speaking up lately about ending our hideous system of “mass incarceration.” For more about how that system got started, check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’s #longread indictment of the same — and its long-term effect on black families — in The Atlantic

For more by Pope Hopey-Changey, here’s the text of his address to Congress.


Photo by AP’s Andrew Harnik via NBC News



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