When it comes to his strong, sometimes controversial statements on Christianity, society, and politics, Pope Francis shows no signs of slowing down.
At a youth rally in Turin, Italy on Sunday, the pontiff turned his gaze on the arms industry, criticizing those who manufacture or invest in weapons and yet call themselves Christians. The pope’s comments, part of a speech that touched on love, war, and wealth, come just days after the release of his contentious papal encyclical on climate change and are among the latest to fuel global debate about his involvement in politics.
“If you trust only men, you have lost,” Pope Francis said to a crowd of young people, according to a Reuters translation. “It makes me think of … people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and yet they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit of distrust, doesn’t it?”
He also condemned those who invest in the arms industry, saying, “[D]uplicity is the currency of today … they say one thing and do another.”
The statement quickly gained traction on social media: supporters applauded his stance while critics cried hypocrisy.
“First climate change, now guns,” Sarah Dougherty, a fellow at the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights, tweeted. “The Pope is developing pretty solid #publichealth cred.”
“His bodyguards use SIG P220 and Glock 19 pistols, Steyr TMPs, and H&K MP5A3 submachine guns,” National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke countered. “Where do they get them?”
It’s not the first time a pope has had strong views on politics and society — indeed, the papacy has a long history of political entanglements going back to the Middle Ages.
But this pope, leading as he does at a time when every soundbite is accessible to billions of people, has developed a reputation for dividing opinion: his positions on homosexuality, capitalism, and other issues have sparked plenty of discussion within and outside the Catholic community.
His climate change encyclical in particular – a 200-page document affirming the science of the issue and calling on leaders to cut down on the use of fossil fuels – has caused some discomfort, especially among conservative American politicians who have long questioned or denied climate change.
As a result, some leaders have criticized the pope’s involvement in political matters, albeit carefully.
“I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a 2016 Republican presidential hopeful and practicing Catholic, said after the encyclical went public. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting in the political realm.”
Other pundits have made more pointed criticisms, saying the pope’s frequent forays into world politics threatens to distort the religion he represents.
“Francis’ … loquacity, and political instincts have a disorienting effect,” correspondent Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote for The Week. “They exacerbate the fact that the modern papacy has become as much a media institution as an ecclesiastical one.”
Still, the pope remains popular, with about 86 percent of US Catholics viewing him favorably, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
The pontiff’s defenders also say that he isn’t forcing Catholics to conform to his views. Rather, the pope is urging them to see how their decisions affect those around them, and to consider the moral consequences of every issue, whether it’s climate change or dealing arms.
“The pope is talking about what we should be doing, not, ‘Here is a political agenda that you must accept,’” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the bishop of Washington, told Fox News.
“Whether it’s economics, whether it’s politics, whether it’s finance, everything has a moral dimension to it because it’s human,” he added. “And what the Pope is holding up for us is, we can't just close in on ourselves, our own personal interests, our economic ... or political interests. We have to look at this through the moral dimension of how does this affect everybody on the planet.”