Arkansas, Chile & Pope Francis

Oddly enough, two sentences from a Republican politician about discrimination help explain why Pope Francis' latest choice for bishop is generating such distress and dispute.

Many in the US are wondering why debates over Religious Freedom and Restoration laws, which have quietly passed with little upset in more than 20 states, have suddenly become so heated.   

The mystery was explained succinctly by Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas two days ago: “This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial. But these are not ordinary times.”

Hutchinson was referring to the dramatic and speedy shift in public opinion against discrimination against the LGBT community. (The clearest evidence of this sea change: In 1988, just 11 percent of US citizens backed legalizing same-sex marriage. Now, it’s up to 56 percent, an almost ten percent jump in the last two years.)

Now look abroad and consider the unprecedented protests – literal and figurative – against Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, who was just picked by the pope to head a diocese in Chile.

I could be dead wrong, but I think the situations are analogous. I suspect journalist John Allen may be right about Francis being at “a tipping” point in the continuing crisis of clergy sexual violence and deceit.

Some Catholics – in Chile and elsewhere - seem to finally be fed up by church officials who keep concealing abuse while pledging “openness,” keep promising reform but delivering cover ups, keep saying “zero tolerance” while tolerating tons of hurtful and immoral behavior by bishops.

This “emotional whiplash” inflicted on Catholics by their church’s hierarchy takes a toll. Often, that toll is reflected in diminishing church attendance and participation. Sometimes, like in Chile recently, it’s reflected in protests.

And I believe that toll will increase as the gap between how Francis talks about abuse and what Francis does about abuse increases.

Some conervative US politicians are starting to understand that their support erodes when they practice discrimination. But few Catholic officials seem to understand that their suppor erodes when they practice hypocracy.  

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