Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday government officials have a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty, such as issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals, if they feel it violates their conscience.

Speaking to reporters as he returned home from a 10-day trip to the United States and Cuba, Francis also repeated his condemnation of priests who had sexually abused children, saying the victims had been “crushed by evil”.

Although the Argentine-born pontiff delved into some of the United States’ thorniest political debates during his visit, he never specifically referred to a controversy over same-sex marriages, which the Church firmly opposes.

On the flight back to Rome, he was asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licenses to gays.

“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said.

Earlier this month a city official in the U.S. state of Kentucky, Kim Davis, went to jail because she refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple following a Supreme Court decision to make homosexual marriage legal.

Davis’s case has taken on national significance in the 2016 presidential campaign, with one Republican contender, Mike Huckabee, holding rallies in favor of Davis, a Apostolic Christian, who has since joined the Republican party.

“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right,” he said, speaking in Italian.

“And if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right,” he added.

Francis said conscientious objection had to be respected in legal structures. “Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying: ‘This right has merit, this one does not.'”


In the hour-long, freewheeling talk that has become a trademark of his papacy, the pope returned to the problem of priestly abuse. On Sunday, he met five victims of sexual abuse and issued his most comprehensive condemnation of the crime.

On the plane, Francis said sexual abuse was not confined to the Church but it was worse when committed by men of religion.

“We know abuses are everywhere, in families, in the neighborhoods, in the schools, in the gyms, but when a priest abuses it is very grave because the vocation of the priest is to make that boy, that girl grow towards the love of God, toward maturity,” he said.

“But instead (the victim) is crushed by evil and this is nearly a sacrilege because the priest has betrayed his vocation, the calling of the Lord,” the pope said.

The pope had been fiercely criticized by abuse victims on Wednesday, after he initially addressed the scandal but did not utter the words “sexual abuse”, and praised American bishops for their handling of the crisis.

Asked about barriers being but up in Europe to stop the influx of migrants, the pope said: “All walls collapse, today, tomorrow or after 100 years, but they will collapse. Walls are not a solution.”

He said that while it was true that Europe was struggling in the face of a refugee crisis, the solution had to be found through dialogue. “Barriers last a short time or a long time, but the problem remains and with it, more hatred.”

A reporter said the pope had become a “star” in the United States following his visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia, and asked if this was good for the Church.

“The media uses this term, but there is another truth – how many stars have we seen go out and fall. It is a fleeting thing. Instead being a ‘servant of the servants of God’ does not pass,” the pope said, referring to one of the titles of his office.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Tom Heneghan)

Pope Francis talks aboard the papal plane while en route to Italy September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

  • Sand_Cat

    It has some virtues, but one must remember that the Catholic Church has never recognized separation of church and state, nor “religious freedom” as most of us define that term. The church sees the latter as the “right” of Catholics to do as their told by the church (and be punished by the church if they don’t) without government interference rather than any real choice in matters of religion.

    • TZToronto

      The Pope’s status as head of state of a religious establishment gives him a unique ability to express as “government policy” the dogma of the church. Of course, in this case the head of state is considered (by some, at least) to be infallible. He is the custodian of what was created many centuries ago, but unlike the faithful of some religions, Pope Francis seems to be willing to view the world and adjust the position of the church in that light. His dilemma is not alienating the traditionally faithful while attracting or retaining those who disagree with some of the church’s policies. However, unlike many of his predecessors, Pope Francis is willing to say, in effect, “Who am I to judge you?”

      • Sand_Cat

        I am far from unaware of his problem, and I have been very favorably impressed by his attitude on most issues. I’m just pointing out another of the obstacles he faces. Clearly, for those stuck a thousand years in the past, the Pope is “infallible” except when he says something that challenges their preconceptions. That’s why some so-called “Christian” websites and spokesman say he’s the AntiChrist (when they’re not giving that title to President Obama), and I suspect most Catholic Traditionalists don’t care much for him, either.

        So far as infallibility goes, the behavior of Pius XII – not to mention a host of murderous Medieval incumbents – should dispense with that absurdity once and for all. Yes, I’m well aware of the claim that he’s only “infallible” when he says so explicitly though would all those thugs (and those admitted by the church to have been heretics) from the past agree? Fortunately for the doctrine, they’re not around to weigh in, but the fact that only the original guy who got the doctrine proclaimed and the pompous but craven Nazi collaborator have ever used it explicitly says to me that there were and are grave doubts about the truth of the doctrine. Purportedly John XXIII said he was infallible enough when a council was suggested to him, and a perceptive observer whose name I can’t recall – possibly a dissident Catholic theologian – inquired rhetorically how the Pope and his supporters could expect Catholics to give “internal assent” to the proclamations of the pope when he has the power to proclaim them infallible but explicitly declines to do so.
        I do not wish to offend Catholics, but what I regard as the truth will inevitably do so, and saying truthfully that for all my criticisms, I believe most of the modern church’s actions and doctrines a vast improvement on the right-wing lunatic Protestant fundamentalists and hard-line traditionalists within their own fold is unlikely to soften the blow.

  • @HawaiianTater

    This is not surprising in the least. What’s funny is certain liberals acting like this is some sort of betrayal. Just because the Pope has been pissing off the right wing (entertainingly so) with talk of helping the poor and acting on climate change doesn’t mean he was ever on our side. This is as expected. There have always been an abundance of reasons to hate the Catholic church but I can still enjoy him pissing off the Republicans. I do both. It’s called multi-tasking.

    • Carolyn1520

      I agree. He’s the leader of the Catholic church.None of his beliefs or opinions should come as any surprise. The thing is, he has no power here, except for those who CHOOSE to be practicing Catholics and follow their book of rules. I’m not Catholic,( but half my family is so I’m familiar with the hypocrisy one has to adopt to remain practicing and sane at the same time) so I have no obligation to think his opinions are any more important than anyone else’s. He’s more reasonable in some areas that past church leaders and while he seems to have the greater good at heart, his main agenda was always the same, decided long ago. He gets to tweak it but not change it.
      Yeah, you gotta love the Republican wrath. 🙂

  • Daniel Jones

    I don’t feel betrayed at all by this view.

    Kim DOES have the right to object, and even to refuse to issue, until her superiors put her out of the way. The law has its way until people change it. And Kim can be fired for her refusals, just as she has the right to run that risk by refusing.

    That’s the confluence of objection and obligation.

    • TZToronto

      You’re correct. I have no problem with Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples–as long as she is willing to accept the consequences of her objection. However, there is a difference between a Walmart employee’s refusing, for example, to sell a gun and an elected public official refusing to do her sworn duty. The former is a private enterprise, the latter a public, taxpayer-funded governmental entity. And, apparently, she can’t be fired. She must be impeached to lose her position as County Clerk. It’s highly unlikely that if impeached she will be convicted.

      • TVulgaris

        Likely or not that she would be impeached, it is the ONLY legal recourse. This is a very good indication that the law is improperly written, and is what people should truly be going after- but that’s an awfully lot harder task than bashing some benighted fool (in this case, an apparently quite hypocritical fanatic, or just a venal opportunist) who disagrees with my (or your) world view. The Pope is arguing a MUCH bigger issue than a relatively new liberal touchpoint, and everyone’s in for a bitter surprise if conscience is removed as a determinant in public service, because there’s a virtual guarantee much more evil than good would result, the authoritarian mentality permeating all forms of government would see to that…

        • TZToronto

          Conscience is necessary in any field of endeavor. There must be people who, when they see injustice or just plain evil, will blow the whistle. As well, there will always be people who , for self-enrichment or thirst for power, will do unconscionable things to get ahead. Like Snowden or not, he had sufficient conscience to see that the NSA spying was evil and unjust, an over-reach based on a bad law, a grandiose fishing expedition that rarely if ever caught anything but was costing a lot of money and endangering people’s freedom. Jeffrey Wigand was another who saw the evil in the tobacco industry and spoke up. Both Snowden and Wigand had their lives turned upside down by their actions, but they did the right thing anyway even though they knew it would destroy their careers. Kim Davis seems to be a self-important person who just doesn’t understand the difference between religious belief and sworn obligations.

  • pjm19606

    As liberal as we would want Pope Francis to be, he must still challenge the old guard of the Church. Remember, John Paul l did not die by accident.

  • Just another indian

    So as a Quaker, I could refuse to allow gun licenses. That would last about thirty seconds. And Jews and Muslims are not allowed to issue permits for feedlots, slaughterhouses and even grocery stores that sell pork. And Baptists are allowed to disregard liquor permits, etc. So where does all this stop? You know, our Founding Fathers didn’t trust the human instinct. That is why they put checks and balances in our government and one reason why they separated church and state.

    • Larry Gagnon

      Hi Just another indian: Really, you completely captured the problem. Even people within a given religion do not agree on all religious issues. If this country raises religious freedom above duty of office for government employees, we will become a nation governed by individuals instead of laws. This will happen even if every single person acts in good faith in compliance with their interpretation of their bible. I applaud Ms. Davis for not acting contrary to her principles, but she should resign or find a way for others in her office to perform the duties she refuses to do.

      • tomtype

        The judge found one for her. Under KY law, any clerk in the office can sign off on the marriage, or any other document. Their signatures are equally valid. The clerk does not have to actually sign them. Before this all started, two clerks offered to do that. When the judge asked them, 5 of the 6 offered no objection. So the office is again issuing marriage license. That is a reasonable accommodation. Kim Davis had repeatedly rejected such accommodation. I can understand he does not want to trade a $80K/yr for a minimum wage at the local Piggly Wiggly.
        She has the right to refuse to actually touch and sign the papers, but the office of Clerk has no such right. She needs to understand there is a difference between the office of Clerk of Rowan County and Kim Davis. Kim has a religious objection, the Clerk does not.

        • Larry Gagnon

          Hi tomtype: I think the important distinction here is that Ms. Davis really won the right to not perform an action inconsistent with her moral beliefs BUT she did not win the right to prohibit others from performing such actions. Many conservative commentators appear to understand the difference but Ms. Davis apparently does not. On the other hand, her insistence on interfering with the rights of others is winning her significant praise from certain religious people (including the Pope, according to news stories today). So, I think she is enjoying herself. BTW: You said it perfectly: Clerk’s office did not get waiver from following the law.

    • tomtype

      It is important to remember even if the person has a right to refuse to perform a certain act, the office that he/she holds does not. The usual way of handling it is to have a colleague who does not object, to perform the action. Otherwise the person resigns so that the office can continue to function as designed. About the same time a Muslim stewardess won her case. She objected to serving alcohol, but one of the other stews did the actual serving. That actually worked for 2 years, until another stewardess returning from maternity leave objected, and the airline tried to fire the Muslim. Labor relations over turned the termination.
      This case worked because the customer still got his drink, it was not outside the duties of the other stewardesses, and worked no particular hardship on the others.
      Kim Davis refused to have other clerks sign off. She wanted an accommodation where the customers did not get service, not understanding that she can get an accommodation, but the office of the clerk cannot. The customer must get served, even if she does not have to do it personally. Under the ADA, law in 1992, accommodations must be reasonable and only be a minor part of the job or largely irrelevant to a job. The person cannot claim an exception that interferes in any major way in doing the job, or in getting the job done.

      • Just another indian

        Well put, and quite logical. But we must remember that logic and reasonable outcomes are not the realm that the religious right live in. Quite right about what she should do if she were you, or me, standing on whatever principle we felt was being trampled upon. But this isn’t about persinal integrity; it is about imposing upon society and other people what she feels is right.

  • Carolyn1520

    I also believe if someone feels strongly enough about something they should stand by their beliefs. They should also be strong enough to accept the consequences of doing so. Kim Davis wants it all. It just doesn’t work that way.

  • The lucky one

    Davis has always had the right of conscientious objection. All she had to do is resign or better yet not take a job that involves violating her ethics.