Pope Francis will be visiting the United States starting next Tuesday, and if his remarks to Catholic religious orders are any indication, his speech to Congress is sure to ruffle a few political feathers. Since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope in 2013 and took the name Francis, he has angered many conservative Catholics and American politicians with his remarks on topics like income inequality and climate change.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who is also Catholic, challenged Pope Francis earlier this year on climate change and stated that he should “leave science to the scientists.” The conservative media has been especially critical of him, despite his very conservative views opposing reproductive rights, and some have referred to him as Marxist for his stance on income inequality.
Now Pope Francis has instructed Catholic religious orders who own hotels to take in refugees or pay taxes like other businesses.
“Some religious orders say ‘No, now that the convent is empty we are going to make a hotel and we can have guests, and support ourselves that way, or make money,’” the pontiff said.
“Well, if that is what you want to do, then pay taxes! A religious school is tax-exempt because it is religious, but if it is functioning as a hotel, then it should pay taxes just like its neighbor. Otherwise it is not fair business.”
Renting space to help with operating expenses is a common practice among religious orders in Europe. For example, in Rome, a pensione operated by an order of nuns just outside St. Peter’s Square offers a room, breakfast, and Mass at 7 a.m. each day for $90 a night. They also rent their rooftop to CBS during major papal events.
The pope also announced that the two refugee families he plans to take in at the Vatican have been identified, and that they will remain “as long as the Lord wants.” (Source)
As a “recovering Catholic” who is now an atheist, I do have quite a bit of respect for Pope Francis and his willingness to call out many of the wrongs in the Catholic Church. Sure, he has a long way to go on reproductive rights and marriage equality, but you have to give people credit when they get things right.
Jesus is said to have instructed his followers to take care of the poor, the needy and strangers from foreign lands. The Christian bible is full of passages that say the same thing, yet all too often, people who claim to be Christians just concentrate on the couple of passages that involve gay people. Even the usually-wrong Rev. Franklin Graham has urged his followers to pray for the refugees and show compassion, although it remains to be seen whether or not he actually suggests that they contribute to a relief fund, or donates any of his large charity salary himself.
President Obama has already announced that the United States will take in at least 10,000 of the refugees, and of course, the conservative media is having a field day pandering to Islamophobes and conspiracy nuts. I believe that it is very likely that Pope Francis will bring up the Syrian refugee crisis when he speaks to Congress and he will urge them to do more, which is only fair considering our disastrous incursion into Iraq helped destabilize the region in the first place.
Like the Catholic clergy in Europe which seems to be focused more on running businesses than taking care of the needy, a lot of conservative Catholics here in the United States have also conveniently forgotten their church’s teachings on poverty and charity – and quite a few of them are in Congress. Let’s hope Pope Francis gets through to them.
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