Pope challenges conservatives on Zika, immigration, death penalty

Pope Francis's remarks on issues such as contraception, immigration, and capital punishment this week are challenging some entrenched viewpoints among conservative Christians.

Tony Gentile/Reuters
Pope Francis waves as he leaves at the end of a Jubilee audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on Saturday.

With comments this week on contraception, immigration, and capital punishment, Pope Francis continues to challenge ideas that conservatives tend to hold dear.

Earlier this week during his historic visit to Mexico, he emphasized compassion for both the country’s citizens and for the migrants who pass through its borders, while also calling out its leaders for the violence, corruption, and poverty that affect its population. The final day of his trip through the Central American country saw the Pope specifically address the immigration system between Mexico and the United States, petitioning for recognition of the problems migrants face.

“We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people,” Francis said, according to the Associated Press. “They are our brothers and sisters, who are being expelled by poverty and violence, drug trafficking and organized crime.”

“No more death! No more exploitation!” he said.

The pope's defense of migrants continued through the week when he seemed to direct criticism at plans to build a wall covering the entire border between the US and its southern neighbor, as well as the policy of wall-building that affects many countries around the globe. The Mexico border proposal, enthusiastically supported by some US politicians including presidential hopeful Donald Trump, led Francis to say that those policies are not in line with Christian values.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” the Pope said, according to the AP, clarifying that he was not singling Mr. Trump out while adding that “I say only that this man is not a Christian if he has said things like that.”

For his part, Trump fired back while campaigning in South Carolina ahead of the Republican presidential primary election held there Saturday, which Trump went on to win.

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Trump said. “I am proud to be a Christian, and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened.”

The Pope also made waves Wednesday when he announced that contraception could be a viable defense against the Zika virus, saying that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil,” in the face of the crisis. He did maintain the Church’s stance on abortion, however, calling it “a human evil” and a “crime.”

Francis also affirmed the church's longstanding opposition to capital punishment Sunday when he called on Catholic leaders to prevent executions in a speech in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City.

“The commandment ‘do not kill’ holds absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty,” the pontiff said to a crowd filling the plaza.

“I appeal to the conscience of those who govern so that international consensus is reached for the abolishment of the death penalty. And I propose to all those among them who are Catholic to make a courageous and exemplary gesture: may no execution sentence be carried out in this Holy Year of Mercy,” Francis added, referencing the Church’s Jubilee year focused on compassion that runs through late November.

Since assuming the position of Bishop of Rome in 2013, Pope Francis has been known for expressing views associated with progressivism, a perception that last week's statements has only enhanced.

“The pope’s a soft-power player. His impact around the world comes from moral suasion and influence,” Francis Rooney, the former US ambassador to the Vatican, told the AP after Francis made his remarks on immigration. “I think the pope has got such a strong moral voice that when he weighs in…. I think it makes more people think about it.”

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