Pope Francis has an irritating (and more than irritating) habit of saying ignorant and destructive things about economics and public policy, and conservatives, myself included, have not been hesitant to criticize him for this. Nor should we forbear — the pope has no special expertise, and no special grace, in these matters, and, like any leader of a large and significant organization, he needs to hear criticism and the forcible presentation of different points of view. But surely the political distance between us conservatives and Pope Francis is a good deal narrower than the chasm between Pope John Paul II, the great scourge of Communism, and Wojciech Jaruzelski, the scheming front man for Soviet brutality. Lech Wałesa prayed for the man who had imprisoned him for eleven months — surely we must not withhold our own prayers over a mere political disagreement.
Pope Francis presents us with an interesting challenge: What do we do when we find ourselves in a political disagreement with a good man? We’ve had bad popes, no doubt, but it is difficult to make the case that Pope Francis is one of them, that he is motivated by malice. Errors? Surely. Ignorance? Without doubt. But wickedness? Please.
It’s easier when history has worn away all but what was truly important about a man: Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. indulged any number of bad (and occasionally batty) political ideas, and each had substantial personal failings. We might say the same about Thomas Jefferson. But each of those men was right about one big thing that mattered, and we remember and admire them for that. Political perfection, to say nothing of personal perfection, is not a precondition for anything worth talking about.