Donate to RNS

The Pope does an Obama

By beholding the beam in his own tradition's eye.

The Parable of the Mote and the Beam, by Domenico Fetti
The Parable of the Mote and the Beam, by Domenico Fetti

The Parable of the Mote and the Beam, by Domenico Fetti

Asked about fundamentalism and Islam at his press conference on the flight home from the Central African Republic yesterday, Pope Francis made sure to behold the beam in his own tradition’s eye. “Fundamentalism,” he said,

is a disease that exists in all religions. In the Catholic Church we have some – many – who believe they possess the absolute truth and they go on sullying others through slander and defamation and this is wrong. I say this because it is my Church. Religious fundamentalism must be combatted. It is not religious, God is lacking, it is idolatrous.

As for Islam:

Dialogue is possible, they have many values and these values are constructive…You cannot wipe out a religion just because there are some or a number of groups of fundamentalists at one moment in history. It is true, there have always been wars between faiths and we too need to ask for forgiveness: Catherine de’ Medici was no saint and that war that lasted 30 years, St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre…

For the record, in late August of 1572, thousands of Huguenots (French Protestants) were massacred by Catholic mobs believed to be instigated by Catherine de’ Medici, the mother of King Charles IX. The massacre began on St. Bartholomew’s Day in Paris, where many of the Huguenot elite were gathered to celebrate the wedding of Henry of Navarre, a Protestant, to Catherine’s daughter Margaret. In other words, responding to his questioner’s reference to the recent attacks in Paris, the pope called to mind the most notorious episode of religious violence in French history.

All this is reminiscent of President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast last February, when he reflected on religious violence around the world, including in the Central African Republic. “Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he said.

And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

For this, Obama received unshirted hell from the usual suspects, and from some Christian leaders who should have known better. Such as Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who called his comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison.” One wonders what Moore and Co. will have to say about the comments of the pope.