Contrary to US public perception, Pope Francis is neither left-leaning nor are his stances a radical departure from his predecessors, a Rome-based US theologian tells DW. On one issue, he even collides with both parties.
DW: Pope Francis' in the US' binary political spectrum is largely viewed as liberal or left. Is this assessment justified in your opinion?
David Dawson Vasquez: To me it is not justified. Pope Francis is simply expressing various points from the Catholic tradition. He is picking up points that are more amenable to the left or more progressive views. But he is not taking particularly progressive stances on them. He is simply taking issues that are more categorized as left than previous popes who focused on issues more congenial to the right. But I don't see him as particularly left-leaning. He is just highlighting issues that are in the news today.
Francis highlighted perceived left issues like climate change or economic equality, but on social issues such as abortion or gay marriage the Pope's stance clearly reflects Republicans positions. Why then do many Republicans oppose him as liberal while Democrats often seem to consider him politically like-minded?
On the hand I think the love of the Democrats comes from the fact that he is highlighting issues that previous popes hadn't spent a lot of time on. Economic stability and economic justice is something that the United States Bishops have highlighted in the past, but papal views on those things have been more in the background. It has been at least 25 years since a papal statement on those social issues. But Francis is not really saying anything different than before.
The Republicans don't like him because they have more the idea that religion should stay out of economic policy. They think that official statements from the Church should stick to moral statements which they are very happy to support Francis on and not social statements. But the Catholic tradition has never hesitated to comment on social conditions. It is just that these particular social positions are not amenable to the Republican agenda.
One issue where Francis' position collides with both Democrats and Republicans is Palestine, which the Vatican officially recognized as a state earlier this year. Why is it difficult for US politicians to accept that Pope Francis may not easily fit into the traditional American political framework?
We in the United States like to see the world through our own lens. And it is very helpful when world religious figures, especially the Pope, are seen to be behind issues that are near and dear to our hearts. It is very difficult to try and stand behind the Pope as many Americans are indeed Catholic as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, but also give him weight on the wide range of social issues. Certainly not every Catholic in the US would be behind everything, particularly on social teachings, that the Church says. On the question of Palestine, there is a very clear conflict between political interests and what the Pope sees as basic human rights issues.
Especially in the US, Pope Francis' political stances are often viewed as a radical departure from those of his predecessors Benedict and John Paul. Are they?
To my reading, they are not. They are all picking up on teachings that have been common since at least the late 19th century with Leo XIII. Francis may be highlighting things that John Paul II and Benedict XVI didn't put as much stress on, but I have not seen him say anything very different than what his predecessors have said.
David Dawson Vasquez is director of The Rome Center of The Catholic University of America and the Australian Catholic University.
The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge.