Pope Francis rejects legalization for "so-called recreational drugs"

Allahpundit gave this a perfect, NY Post-esque headline for the top section yesterday: Pope a nope on dope. Yesterday, Pope Francis inveighed against the momentum to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and other narcotics, predicting that such efforts would fail in the promises of lower crime and better responsibility of use. Society should organize against the ills of drug use, and would if they formed themselves to alleviate the conditions that drive people to addiction, the Pope advised:


The Vatican’s press office released the transcript of the Pontiff’s remarks:

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible”, he continued: “the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs! Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise. To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem. Attempts, however limited, to legalise so-called ‘recreational drugs’, are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects. Substitute drugs are not an adequate therapy but rather a veiled means of surrendering to the phenomenon. Here I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that. No to any kind of drug use. But to say this ‘no’, one has to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to others, ‘yes’ to education, ‘yes’ to greater job opportunities. If we say ‘yes’ to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction”.

“The Church, faithful to Jesus’ command to go out to all those places where people suffer, thirst, hunger and are imprisoned, does not abandon those who have fallen into the trap of drug addiction, but goes out to meet them with creative love. She takes them by the hand, thanks to the efforts of countless workers and volunteers, and helps them to rediscover their dignity and to revive those inner strengths, those personal talents, which drug use had buried but can never obliterate, since every man and woman is created in the image and likeness of God”.

“The example of all those young people who are striving to overcome drug dependency and to rebuild their lives can serve as a powerful incentive for all of us to look with confidence to the future”, Francis concluded, encouraging the members of the Conference to carry on their work with constantly renewed hope.


This occasioned a few jokes as well as amusing headlines. Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri offered up a couple of puns, while noting somewhat more seriously that Pope Francis isn’t just going to be “the Cool New Pope”:

But even the Cool New Pope has his limits. And one of those limits is the legalization of marijuana. …

But the message is clear. Hail Mary. Hold the Jane.

How can the Pope frown on marijuana? After all, St. Stephen became a martyr after getting stoned.

On this topic, though, Francis has a significant amount of personal experience. The Associated Press notes that as Cardinal Bergoglio, the Pope dedicated a lot of time to pastoral care for addicts as the impulse toward legalization crescendoed:

Francis has described drug addiction as evil and met addicts on several occasions. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he devoted much of his pastoral care to addicts.

Last month Argentina’s neighbor Uruguay cleared the way for legal sales of marijuana cigarettes in pharmacies. Recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, while Oregon may vote on the issue this year.

With those successes, the marijuana legalization movement is gaining traction from the Americas to Europe and North Africa, where officials are eager to pursue policies that focus on promoting public health rather than battling drug traffickers.

Beyond personal experience, Pope Francis is on sound theological ground as well. Anything that significantly interferes with human reason would tend to separate us from God, at least in principle. Reason is a unique gift from God to humanity to use for both its own benefit and to discern God’s presence so that we may serve Him. The purpose of law in Catholic teaching is to allow for both security and freedom, but also to form society to protect the basic social structure and promote the common good, both of which are damaged by drug abuse.


The catechism also makes that clear in the few passages that deal with law, society, and social order. “The political community has a duty to honor the family” (pp 2211), which includes “the right to private property [and] the right to free enterprise,” but also “the protection of security and health, especially with respect to dangers like drugs, pornography, alcoholism, etc[.]” Catholic teaching distinguishes between medicine and “drugs” in the sense used by Francis. In paragraph 2290, the Church warns against “every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine.” In 2291, though, we read that “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life,” separating the use of legitimate medicine for legitimate purpose and the recreational use of drugs into two distinct categories. On that basis, Francis warns that society has to form itself through law to prevent or at least discourage that grave damage to both individuals and families, and therefore society at large.

There is a legitimate counterargument to this as well, which is that the ills produced by prohibition outstrip the ills prevented by it. That has its own counterargument, though, which is that the type of prohibitive laws and the way they get enforced might produce the bad effects. Instead of full legalization (which, like it or not, sends a moral signal of acceptance), the moderate option of decriminalization might be a better option.

Chris Christie offered that third way as an alternative this week at the Faith And Freedom Coalition conference in Washington DC:


Christie’s appearance at the Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering exposed him to an audience of evangelical voters that has been slow to embrace the blue state governor. Christie has been noticeably absent from similar conservative gatherings in the past and rarely talks about the divisive social issues these voters prioritize.

Christie stayed away from issues like gay marriage, instead focusing on his belief that all life “is precious and must be protected.”

That includes those suffering from drug addiction. Christie, who has publicly talked about losing a friend to drugs, said society needs to show compassion to those who have committed non-violent crimes because of the disease.

“When we say we are pro life, we need to be pro life for the entire life. We need to stand up for the hurt and the wounded,” he said.

That would focus on rehabilitation rather than imprisonment for users and tougher measures for traffickers, while finding ways to keep the former from suffering the ill effects of criminal records on later job prospects. The US was moving in that direction over the last twenty years or so before the momentum caught fire for full legalization of marijuana.

At any rate, Francis’ remarks are not terribly surprising from any Catholic leader. What’s more interesting is the reaction to them, and the presumption that Francis wants to be seen as The Cool New Pope. He is the new Pope, but he’s still the leader of the Catholic Church and a faithful instructor of its teachings. The cool factor is not in Francis’ control (or his ambition), never was, and no one knows that better than Francis himself.


Update: Francis also made headlines today by declaring that participation in organized crime results in excommunication from God. The headline from AFP muddies up the distinction a bit:

Pope excommunicates mafia, urges expulsion from clan heartland

Pope Francis launched a scathing attack on organised crime during a trip to the heartland of a feared syndicate on Sunday, declaring all mafia members “excommunicated” from the Catholic Church.

The mafia “is the adoration of evil and contempt for common good. This evil must be beaten, expelled,” he told worshippers near the hometown of a toddler killed in a clan war earlier this year.

“Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” he told the congregation. …

The 77-year-old pontiff was speaking at the end of a trip to the territory controlled by the powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia, where he comforted relatives of “Coco” Campolongo, a three-year-old who was shot dead in January in an apparent mob hit over money.

“It must never again happen that a child suffers in this way,” the pope said as he met Coco’s father and grandmothers, according to a Vatican spokesman.

The Church will occasionally issue an order of excommunication against a particular individual, usually after a lengthy dispute and lots of attempts to resolve whatever issues are driving the impasse. In this case, though, the Pope is describing a latae sententiae excommunication: “by the commission of the offense.” (This is mentioned specifically as a canonical penalty for “formal cooperation in abortion” in paragraph 2272 of the Catechism.) Francis’ declaration today doesn’t expel anyone from anything, but is rather a warning to those who participate in organized crime that they excommunicate themselves with their participation. In either type of excommunication, though, there is always room for sincere confession, repentance, and reform, and a return to the Church. To underscore that point, Pope Francis delivered this message after visiting prisoners, some of whom were former mafiosi.


It’s not really accurate to report that the “Pope excommunicates the mafia,” although they’re not going to be any happier with his remarks because of that. As AFP explains, mafia leaders in Italy make a pretense of being good Catholics for PR and intimidation among the locals, and the Church has in recent decades become more and more aggressive in rebutting those claims. And because of that, priests have been murdered in the region Francis visited, and he stopped to pray at the place where one was beaten to death for refusing to submit to extortion. Francis didn’t speak from the cheap seats today, and it remains to be seen what the mafiosi in that area might do in retribution.

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