Pope Francis is a kind and compassionate man. His papacy has emphasized care for the poor. He is not known, however, for taking bold and resolute positions against tyrannies.
He advocates for the little guy but buckles when it comes to standing up to the big guy. When it comes to human rights violations, Francis' papacy is often accommodating to a fault.
When he visited Cuba in 2015, for example, Francis was rightly criticized for appeasing Fidel and Raul Castro. Though he dropped some faint and nuanced notes favoring liberty and human dignity, his critics, including the Washington Post editorial board, were right in accusing him of saying and doing “absolutely nothing that might discomfit his official hosts.”
Later, in 2017, the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life responded in a distressing and cowardly way to the Baby Gard episode, siding against two British parents who wanted to give their terminally ill son what seemed his best chance of survival.
Then, there is China, where Vatican officials have asked two so-called underground bishops, loyal to the universal church, to step aside in favor of bishops nominated for ordination by the communist tyranny. And there’s also Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, who made the jaw-dropping statement that the totalitarian regime in Beijing, which forces women to abort their babies if their families are officially considered too big, is the “best implementer of Catholic social doctrine.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, this claim is either brainless or evil — if not both.
Perhaps the Vatican thinks its games of footsie with thugs benefits Catholics living in countries where the faithful are under attack. As the ever-more-interesting story of Pope Pius XII illustrates, sometimes a pope works in secret because only his flock will suffer the consequences if he makes himself a hero in public. Perhaps this is what Francis and his Vatican cohort have in mind.
But if there is a time to be as wise as serpents, there is also a time to let one's light shine for all to see. The world desperately needs someone to lead in upholding human dignity against totalitarianism, both hard totalitarianism and the soft kind, the "dictatorship of relativism" described by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI. Saint Peter's successor should consider his own role in making the world a better place.
In 1979, when St. John Paul II returned to his home country for the first time in several years, the newly appointed pope said mass in Victory Square in Warsaw's Old City. During his sermon, after he challenged celebrants to embrace the role they had been given as faithful Christians living under a hostile regime, the crowd, under the watchful eyes of their Soviet oppressors, broke into excited cheers of "We want God!"
Francis would do well to take a page from John Paul II's book. Francis would also do well to take to heart the Gospel of Matthew, where it reads: “You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.”
The world is filled with people like Lech Walesa, the Polish activist best known for his work opposing the communists in the 1980s. But every Walesa needs a John Paul II. The world would benefit from such leadership. It's time for the head of the universal church to take up his cross of leadership on universal values.