Pope Francis Visit to the US Aims to Highlight Poverty and Discrimination


This month, on September 22nd, Pope Francis will arrive in America for his first ever visit which will begin in Washington, DC. Upon being greeted by President Obama, he will conduct a midday prayer with U.S. bishops at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral before attending the Junipero Serra Canonization Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis’ final day in Washington on September 24th will involve a speech to the Senate and House of Representatives as well as a visit to St Patrick’s Catholic Church and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Upon arriving in New York on September 25th, Pope Francis will visit the United Nations General-Assembly followed by a religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The Pope will also visit Our Lady Queen of Angels School as well as ride in a papal motorcade through Central Park followed by a mass in Madison Square Garden. The final destination of what is sure to be a busy trip is Philadelphia for the World Family Meeting.

He will attend mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, visit the Festival of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Prayer vigil with World Meeting of Families. Earlier in the morning on the last day of Pope Francis’ trip, he will visit Curren-Fromhold Correctional Facility to meet with 100 inmates and their families.

The trip comes at a crucial time for the Catholic Church which has seen decreasing numbers for some time and has been accused of failing to prevent the sexual abuse of children. For every one person entering the Catholic Church, it has been estimated that around six are leaving. The US is home to more Christians than anywhere else in the world. However the number of Americans identifying themselves as Catholic has been decreasing for some time.

It is thought that this is because the values of the Catholic Church are not in line with contemporary society. An example of this has been seen recently as the Supreme Court of the United States made a monumental decision that the constitution should contain a right to same-sex marriage. This comes just a few months after Ireland, where 83.6% of the population is Catholic, had an overwhelming “yes” vote to same-sex marriage showing a huge leap towards equality in an increasingly contemporary society.

Whilst it is amazing that society is changing to become more equal, will religion keep up with this change? Whilst the Catholic Church has previously not supported same-sex marriage, Pope Francis is known for having more forgiving views. His statement towards the LGBT community has been received as being non-judgemental and an equality driven approach.

Additionally, Pope Francis adopts use of social media and is making vital steps towards bridging the growing gap between religion and society. A study showed that people who defined themselves as agnostic or atheist actually viewed Pope Francis in a positive regard showing that his attitudes to discrimination stretch beyond the religion and apply to even those who do not follow it.

Although his visit could be seen as an attempt for Pope Francis to change the dwindling numbers in the Catholic Church, it is thought to be an attempt to encourage people to take a more active approach to minimising poverty and discrimination. Eradicating discrimination could be an appealing message considering the racial and social tensions which are prominent in the US.

As beneficial as it would be for Pope Francis’ visit to increase the numbers joining the Catholic Church, it would be as beneficial if he
encouraged more people to become involved in Catholic charities and advocating for the poor. This comes at a time when the globe is witnessing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, which stresses an importance on eradicating discrimination and helping those in poverty.

Pope Francis announced that he will open the Vatican to refugee families and the Roman Catholic Church has expressed hope that others will do the same showing his commitment to helping the poor and encouraging universal solidarity.

Many believe the US visit will help to engage and promote society in coming together to change the systems that create poverty. This message will help provide hope to those in poverty and those living in slums, in which Pope Francis has visited in Paraguay. Hopefully, his message will pave the way for the Catholic Church to follow. Pope Francis’ focus on poverty is necessary as more than 3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, which prevent people from living a healthy lifestyle that we all have the right to.

Furthermore, approximately 750 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water, a necessity we frequently take for granted. This visit presents an exciting event for the US, but it is also a reminder to help those who are marginalized and oppressed within society.

Whereas this message will hopefully help encourage people to join the Catholic Church, it will also promote a sense of commitment to eradicating discrimination and poverty. His approach to equality and discrimination has changed the way people not only view the Catholic Church and the Pope, but how they respond to social issues.

California Debates the End of Life Option Act

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Yahoo News
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Yahoo News

Since the story of Brittany Maynard drew attention to the lack of death-with-dignity initiatives in California late last year, a lot of controversy has ensued with arguments both for and against the state’s proposed End of Life Option Act (SB 128).

After being diagnosed with brain cancer, Maynard made the decision to relocate to Oregon with her family and practice her right to self-determination by self-administering a lethal medication to end her life before her terminal disease could. Similar to Oregon’s Death-With-Dignity Act, California’s proposed End of Life Option Act would give adults who have been diagnosed with six months or less to live, the choice to be medically assisted in facilitating their deaths, as long as they possess the mental capacity to make that decision.

Assisted suicide,  death with dignity, and now end of life options have sparked an international debate where its biggest opponents include religious and political influencers. Just last year, Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic church, explicitly opposed the notion of death with dignity, declaring that it was a “false sense of compassion” that goes against “God and his creation”.

Politicians and groups who oppose this bill have also framed their disdain by arguing that having an aid-in-dying policy will lead to the coercion and maltreatment of the elderly and disabled. However, having the right to decide on your end of life is more than a religious or political issue; it’s an issue of human rights. California Senator, Lois Wolk, who introduced the bill to Senate has stated, “End-of-life is about the most personal freedom there is and guaranteeing terminally ill Californians will have a right to exercise this option if they believe it is right for them.”

The fact of the matter is that a terminal, debilitating disease can be diagnosed at any moment in one’s life. Brittany Maynard was just 29 years old when she received her life changing diagnosis. She was college educated, happily married, and had a bright future ahead of her in her career as a school teacher. Her story emphasizes the notion that no individual should have to compromise their comfort and beliefs to leave this life on their own terms, with respect and dignity.

According to Compassion & Choices, the leading national organization committed to advocating for end of life options, 74 percent of Americans believe that terminally ill individuals who are in great pain should have the right to end their lives. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal disease, every single moment of their lives is preoccupied with the thought of death, pain, and uncertainty.

This bill would not make it a requirement for all individuals with six months or less to live, it is simply an option that may be the most rational for some. Though death is not a pleasant topic to discuss, it is important to break the taboo surrounding subject. Regardless of the stance that individuals take on California’s End of Life Option Act, it is important to begin the conversation of what end of life entails and the right of individuals to make that decision for themselves.

Many believe SB 128 is providing a choice for Californians as well as a peace of mind for those who want to have control of their lives even in their last moments. According to the California Medical Association, state law allows for individuals to create a “living will”. This means that individuals have the choice to appoint a trusted family member, spouse, friend, etc. to make medical decisions should the event arise that they cannot make it for themselves.

This law basically encourages families to discuss their options for end of life before a serious illness or injury occurs. The premise of California’s End of Life Option Act is the exact same. This bill would essentially give individuals the power and control of their lives. If California’s current law allows you to appoint someone else to make your end of life decisions, why should you not have the power to make the decision yourself?

Social Work School Separates from National Association of Social Work

Catholic University of America’s (CUA) National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) has long been a well-respected social work program, with the Gourman Report placing it in the top 11%. Its web site states: “Our commitment to supporting traditional social work values while responding to today’s educational and practice developments continues to make ours a highly regarded program both within the academic world and the practice community.”

Catholic University of America

Despite this statement, NCSSS’s new dean,Will C. Rainford, LMSW, Ph.D. announced in October that the school was severing ties with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the largest membership organization of social workers in America, basing his decision on what he referred to on Twitter as an “overt public policy position that social workers should advocate for access to abortion.”

A Google search for NASW + abortion brought up two hits; arguably a less than overt position. The announcement was made without either informing/meeting with students and/or alumni to discuss the implications of this step. Confusion regarding concerns such as accreditation has inevitably ensued.

It is unclear what prompted this action since NASW issued their Family Planning and Reproductive Health policy statement in 2006: “Self-determination means that without government interference, people can make their own decisions about sexuality and reproduction. It requires working toward safe, legal, and accessible reproductive health care services, including abortion services, for everyone.”

The press release on NCSSS’s web site boasts that its newest Dean was NASW-Idaho Social Worker of the Year with his CV adding that he also served as a member of the same chapter’s Legislative Advocacy Committee between 2005 and 2007. Given Dean Rainford’s previous affiliation with NASW it is hard to believe that he was not previously familiar with the 2006 policy statement, making his stated motivation for NCSSS’s resignation from the organization questionable.

Dr. Frederick Reamer, a highly respected professor of ethics at NCSSS, wrote in Social Work Values and Ethics that NASW is not a pro-abortion organization; rather it is a pro-choice organization (2006). The NASW Code of Ethics does not directly address abortion; rather it states that social workers have an obligation to foster self-determination. However, Reamer writes that the Code of Ethics does state that social workers should refer clients to other professionals when they are not able to provide assistance or be effective.

It is difficult to understate the significance of this membership organization and the state chapters within the social work profession. The NASW Code of Ethics, sacred to the practice of social work, is integrated into educational curriculums. It helps practitioners learn the difference between right and wrong as well as to help them apply that understanding. NASW adjudicates when social workers violate this code and applies sanctions when necessary. Although state licensing boards do not require membership in NASW, they do require adherence to the NASW Code of Ethics. An education that excludes this code clearly puts future practitioners at a disadvantage.

NASW also accredits CEUs; an annual necessity for licensed social workers. NCSSS itself offers CEU workshops throughout the year and it is unclear what impact no longer being affiliated with NASW will have on these continued education opportunities. Discounted CEU workshops have also traditionally acted as an incentive for field instructors to take on students in field placements and if discontinued may impact the field placements NCSSS is able offer.

To understand the motivation behind seceding, the school of social work must be placed within the context of CUA as a whole. CUA isn’t the average regularly religiously affiliated school, it is a pontifical university established and approved by the Holy See and governed by the Pope. It was established in 1889 with the mission of the instruction of Catholicism and human nature with the goal of furthering strengthening the Church via scientific and humanistic research as informed by the Catholic faith. Since 1889, tremendous advances have been made in science contributing to mankind’s understanding of both reproduction and the prevention of disease including the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The intrinsic humanistic benefits of this progress have been ignored by a Church still dwelling in an era with a primarily agrarian economy and high infant mortality rates.

With this decision, Dean Rainford has shown not only poor judgment but poor timing as well. Pope Francis has reinvigorated many who felt the Catholic Church was no longer relevant, recently writing that the church has grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, putting dogma before love. Although remaining pro-life, Pope Francis has conceded that the church has done little to help women who were in need of it. However, the Vatican also recently distributed a survey designed to assess the difficulty of practicing the church’s preachings in a modern world, asking Catholics about their use of contraceptives, feelings on homosexuality, and divorce. This is remarkably progressive for the church and while it has taken a step forward, NCSSS has simultaneously taken a large one back.

Dean Rainford has also potentially tarnished the high regard in which the program has been held by assigning it more of a religious mission and less of a social service one. Religious schools are not legally required to be accredited. Lack of accreditation has typically been associated with schools that award degrees with little to no coursework to any “student” who can pay the price. Should NCSSS slide down this path, it is sure to devalue the substantial financial investment associated with getting a Master’s degree.

The process of NCSSS’s resignation from NASW can be seen as a metaphor for the arguments over reproductive rights. Those who hold the power (the administration at NCSSS), have made an important decision on behalf of those do not (the student body). Self-determination, so prioritized in this field, has been ignored by the administration at NCSSS. As Dr. Reamer wrote, if a practitioner is unable to assist a client, they should make an appropriate referral and excuse themselves.

Pope Francis Speaks Against Capitalism and Urges Rich to Share Wealth

Pope Francis has certainly made an impression on the people with his compassion for the sick and less fortunate. However, what has been received as a call for capitalism to share wealth with the poor is not garnering any favor with right-wing conservatives and Wall Street. From the day he was announced as the new Pontiff, Pope Francis has been hailed as a “defender of the poor and a champion of social justice”.

In an article written today in the Catholic Online, author Deacon Keith Fournier claims that Rush Limbaugh is wrong and Karen Finney of MSNBC is nuts for their perception on Pope Francis’ comments relating to capitalism. Fournier writes, “The word capitalism does not even appear in the Apostolic Exhortation entitled The Joy of the Gospel. In fact, there is nothing new in what Francis says about economics in this document at all”.

In the 84 page document, known as the Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis defines his platform and outlines top priorities for his papacy. Prior comments by the Pope has only focused on the declining state of the global economy, but the document does provide more insight into the belief system of Pope Francis. However, right-wing conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh are making claims that Pope Francis crossed the line by equating “unfettered capitalism” with “tyranny”.

“Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as ‘a new tyranny’ and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church. … In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the ‘idolatry of money.'” ~  Rush Limbaugh

Pope FrancisPope Francis wrote, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” He also went on to say, “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless”.

Pope Francis praised measures by global leaders to improve social welfare, health care, education, and communication, but he also reminds that the majority of people are still living from day to day in dire circumstances. Pope Francis drew from an analogy of the Ten Commandments stating, “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

Maybe the document does not include the word “capitalism’ in its word count, but this tidbit does not undermine the weight of his words and its reception by the people. In November, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz was elected as the leader of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). According to his biography, Archbishop Kurtz received a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland, and he has spent the bulk of his calling working with the Catholic Social Agency and Family Bureau.

In a statement released by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good on Kurtz’s election states:

We thank God for the election of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz as the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. With his long pastoral experience, he’s a man who is clearly capable of moving the bishops’ conference forward in the vision laid out by Pope Francis. During this time of great excitement and fanfare for the universal Church, the bishops of the United States have a unique opportunity to renew the American Church as a place of welcome for all God’s children and as a tireless protector of God’s gifts in the public sphere, particularly as a defender of the poor and the marginalized. We look forward to journeying together with him in the years to come.

As an organization, we once again renew ourselves in our dedication to the Church. During his inaugural homily, Pope Francis asked all of us to work together to be protectors of God’s gifts. With Archbishop Kurtz, the bishops of the United States and the entire American Church, we plan to do just that.

The election of Archbishop Kurtz, who has diligently served in the area of social services, appears to be more inline with the vision and direction of Pope Francis’ manifesto. What is your thoughts? Do you feel the media has unfairly reported the intent of Pope Francis’ words?

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