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Over the past few weeks, the international media has followed Pope Francis as he journeys to the United States and other places. At times, it seemed as if his activities were all there was to talk about. Mariane, a member of France’s Ásatrú community, voiced her frustrations when she said “My man likes watching the news on television. Today he went into our room to do so… [Then] I saw him coming out of the room. He said ‘Pfff, it’s about the Pope again. Sometimes using the remote control just isn’t enough.’ ” She added, “I wish the Pope a long life. A very long life. TV news broadcasts about a lot of people watching a chimney and waiting for it to emit smoke of the right colour is just sooooo booooring…”
Pope in Philadelphia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]
Mariane’s opinion is just one of the many that have been circulating through our collective communities during this time. In reaction to his public letter on climate change, the Pope was recently called “pagan” by conservatives. On Sept 18, the Philadelphia Daily News
reported that, at a news conference, Gene Koprowski, marketing director of the Heartland Institute said, “What is environmentalism but nature worship?” Koprowski specifically used the term “pagan” in another statement.
Interestingly, there are some Pagans who have also called him “pagan-like,” not for his religious views, but for his positions on climate change, capitalism and world poverty. Since the release of the Papal Encyclical, a number of articles have been punished applauding the Pope for his seemingly progressive rhetoric. Jason Mankey writes “I love Pope Francis.” John Halstead, the director behind the Pagan Statement on the Environment, explained in a Huffington Post, article “what Pagans and the Pope have in common.” John Beckett writes, “The Pope Gets it.” And, the most recent edition of The Witches Almanac includes his horoscope.
At the same time, the Church has also been accused of simply running a high-takes publicity campaign to bring its flock to the fold, or convert others. Halstead recently published another Huffington Post article titled, “Why the Pope Is Not Pagan.” And, as is reported by a number of Catholic news sources, the Pope has used the term “pagan” himself to describe non-believers and those Christians who don’t really practice. He called these people “enemies of the cross.” And, what is all this about Kim Davis?
These debates and discussions on Papal authenticity and authority, the Church’s true goal, and its global socio-political role abound. In the wake of this media frenzy, The Wild Hunt decided to reach out to Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists living around the world to collect a viewpoints on this intriguing and headline-generating Catholic leader. How much do you pay attention to his whereabouts and his rhetoric? Should we pay attention at all? Are his actions legitimately progressive or just part of some modern Church publicity stunt?
Priests giving communion on the streets of Philadephia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]
Not everybody answered our call or wanted to weigh-in. But the responses that we did receive are as varied as the lands and cultures our interviewees came from. Here is what they said … (When appropriate responses are provided in both English and the original language of origin.
Finland: Tuula Muukka, practitioner of Suomenusko and a representative of the Finnish Pagan Network
“The Pope is rarely mentioned in the discussions of Finnish pagans, because our country is Evangelical Lutheran, and we focus on being heard alongside the state church in issues like religious education. Because of this, we don’t usually hear what the Pope does – it is not considered important enough to be covered by our news channels. When we do hear something, people are sometimes surprised and comment ‘Is there still someone who thinks like that?’ This is true especially on issues concerning sex and sexuality, because these matters are discussed very openly in Finland. For example, last year we passed a law allowing same-sex marriages.
“Since the Pope has a lot of power elsewhere in the world, we should pay more attention to what he says and does. However, this remains the task of the active few who follow news on him via the internet, and even then it seems that few people are really interested in hearing about him.”
[Translation: Paavi mainitaan harvoin suomalaisten pakanoiden keskusteluissa, koska maamme on evankelis-luterilainen ja keskitymme siihen, että tulemme kuulluiksi valtionkirkon rinnalla sellaisissa kysymyksissä kuin uskonnonopetus. Tästä syystä emme tavallisesti kuule, mitä paavi tekee – sitä ei pidetä tarpeeksi tärkeänä, jotta uutiskanavat kertoisivat aiheesta. Kun sitten kuulemme jotakin, ihmiset ovat joskus hämmästyneitä ja kommentoivat: “Onko vielä olemassa joku, joka ajattelee noin?” Näin tapahtuu etenkin sukupuoli- ja seksuaalisuuskysymyksissä, koska näistä keskustellaan Suomessa hyvin avoimesti. Esimerkiksi viime vuonna hyväksyttiin laki, joka sallii mennä naimisiin samaa sukupuolta olevan kanssa.
Koska paavilla on muualla maailmassa paljon valtaa, meidän pitäisi kiinnittää enemmän huomiota siihen, mitä hän sanoo ja tekee. Tämä jää kuitenkin niiden harvojen aktiivien tehtäväksi, jotka seuraavat hänestä kertovia uutisia internetin kautta, ja silti näyttää siltä, että harvat ihmiset ovat todella kiinnostuneita kuulemaan hänestä.]
Russia: Gwiddon Harvester, Moscow resident and the national coordinator for PFI-Russia
“I am convinced that Pagans definitely should pay attention to what the Pope says. Regardless of what he may actually think himself, he is a mouthpiece for an organization that represents over 1 billion people in the world. Although we may not agree on religious doctrine, if the Pope touches on issues that are important to us, like the environment, we should listen to what he has to say and if we agree, support him on those particular issues. While at the same time retaining the right to criticize those statements and policies, which we, as Pagans, do not support.”
[Я убежден в том, что язычникам следует прислушиваться к словам Папы Римского. Вне зависимости от его личных убеждений, Папа Римский служит рупором организации, представляющей более миллиарда жителей нашей планеты. Несмотря на то, что мы никогда не согласимся с его религиозными доктринами, если Папа Римский затрагивает важные нам темы – например, защиту окружающей среду, нам следует поддержать его по этим конкретным позициям. В то же время у нас остается право критиковать те заявления Папы Римского, с которыми мы не можем согласиться.]
France: Babette Petiot, a Polytheist living in the Auvergne countryside
“As a Pagan I don’t pay much attention to the Catholic Pope. It’s not my religion, and I really don’t share his teachings about women’s reproductive rights, about marriage for everyone and equal rights to adopt children, about LGTB+ people…And those are just a few topics. But I believe keeping an eye on what leaders of other religious movements are saying is a wise thing to do because sometimes we can agree.”
[En tant que païenne je ne m’intéresse pas vraiment au pape catholique, ce n’est pas ma religion et je ne partage vraiment pas ses enseignements sur les droits reproductifs des femmes, sur le mariage pour tous et les mêmes droits pour adopter des enfants, sur les gens LGTB+…Et là, je ne cite que quelques exemples. Mais je crois que garder un oeil sur ce que les leaders des autres mouvements religieux ont à dire peut être une chose avisée à faire car parfois on est d’accord.]
Germany: Konrad Reinhold, a Historiker, Wiccan, living in Chemnitz/Deutschland
Of course, we can support Pope Francis in his demands to fight against poverty, against capitalism or for the protection of nature. We must not forget that he is an ideal for millions of people in this world. If we can share his goals – why not support him? On the other hand whe don’t need his opinion in especially Pagan questions. I don’t need the confirmation of the Catholic Church to live my religion. It’s enough for me to live peacefully and without tension within my Christian neighbour. Therefore I don’t need the Pope.
[Natürlich können wir Papst Franziskus unterstützen, wenn er für die gleichen Ziele eintritt wie wir – den Kampf gegen Armut und Kapitalismus oder gegen die fortwährende Zerstörung unserer Umwelt. Wir dürfen nicht vergessen, dass er ein Vorbild für Millionen von Menshcen auf diesem Planeten ist. Wenn wir seine Ziele teilen können – warum sollten wir ihn nict unterstützen? Andererseits bedürfen wir seiner meinung nicht, wenn es um spezifisch heidnische Angelegenheiten geht. Ich brauche nicht irgendeine Bestätigung von Seiten der katholischen Kirche, wenn es um meinen Glauben. Mir reicht es friedlich und unverkrmpft mit meinem christlichen Nachbarn zusammenzuleben. Dafür benötige ich den Papst nicht.]
South Africa: Damon Leff, former director of South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), editor of Penton Independent Alternative Media
“I personally believe, given the very long and painful history of criminal acts committed by the Catholic Church and its repeated denials of guilt and refusal to honestly atone for many of these sins, that this Church has no moral standing to pontificate on any subject at all, to anyone … This Pope would impress me more if he were actually changing Church doctrine and position, rather than just offering us his own liberal personal opinions on subjects his Church has and does disagree with in action.”
Australia: Michelle Claire White, Pagan Awareness Network (PAN) Media Officer
“Modern Pagans express the whole spectrum of social and political opinions and therefore any interest in the latest Pope or that of any of his predecessors will be a highly personal matter … With the current state of our ecological crisis and a need for humans to radically shift our perspectives and relationships with the natural world … it seems to me that it is important to pay attention to the attitudes being presented by mainstream religious traditions such as Catholicism to watch for shifts in opinion that may cause widespread changes on a range of levels.
“Earlier this year members from the [PAN] including myself responded to the Pope’s release of the encyclical on the environment by participating in an international collaboration, producing a Pagan statement on the environment. We felt as a community there is need to present a response from the point of view of Earth based religious traditions to compliment mainstream monotheism … It was an opportunity for our community to stand together, to find common ground and open the way for interfaith dialogue that is an essential component of the response to the ecological crisis.”
Thailand: Atiwan Kongsorn, Bangkok resident and co-owner of Ace of Cups Witch Cafe
“Pagan should pay attention to him. Not as an old enemy, but as a leader of another spiritual path. They have their own wisdom and so do we. Isn’t it better to share them?”
[เพแกนควรที่จะให้ความใส่ใจในองค์พระสันตะปาปา ไม่ใช่ในฐานะโจทก์เก่า แต่ในฐานะผู้นำทางจิตวิญญาณหนทางหนึ่งที่ต่างจากเรา พวกเขามีปรีชาญาณของเขา และเราก็มีปรีชาญาณในแบบของเรา ถ้าหากเราสามารถแบ่งปันให้แก่กันได้ จะไม่ดีกว่าหรือ]
Israel: Illy Ra, a Kemetic Pagan living in Beer Sheva and coordinator of PAEAN
“While I appreciate the Pope’s call for action on climate change, I can’t help but to wonder if beside the speeches the Vatican takes any actions within it? For example, changing the process Papal conclave that involves massive air pollution, as black smoke continues to come out from a chimney in the Sistine Chapel until the cardinals reach a decision about the new selected pope that is then signaled with white smoke. Therefore, besides being dazzled by the speeches, it’s merely a tale of hypocrisy regarding to the risk of the climate change.”
[בזמן שיש להעריך את יוזמתו של האפיפיור לפעול בנוגע לסכנות הנובעות משינויי האקלים, נותרת התהייה באם הוותיקן נוקט בפעילויות כלשהן למזער אותן מלבד נאומיו של האפיפיור? למשל, החלטה לשנות את מהלך טקס בחירת האפיפיור שמתרחש בו זיהום אוויר חמור, טקס זה כולל עשן שחור שיוצא מארובה בקפלה הסיס טינית עד שהקרדינלים מגיעים להסכמה לגבי בחירתו של האפיפיור החדש שמסומלת על ידי עשן לבן. על כן, חשוב להפעיל חשיבה ביקורתית ולא להסתנוור מהנאומים היפים, מכיוון שסיפור זה מהווה חלק מהצביעות החברתית המתרחשת סביב הנושא של נזקי שינויי האקלים.]
Costa Rica: Esteban Sevilla Quiros, goði for Kindred Irminsul
Locals offering prayer petitions in Philadelphia during Pope’s visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]
“So far, he has been the nicest of all the Popes I’ve seen, many of his comments promote tolerance and maybe as Pagans we can agree with him on several points that don’t reflect the traditional and dogmatic Catholicism. I must also admit that I don’t agree with him on everything, since many of the ideas of Christianity are things that we as Pagans and Heathens oppose. But so far, I could say he is someone I could shake hands with, respectfully.”
[Por el momento, él ha sido el mejor de los Papas que he visto, muchos de sus comentarios promueven la tolerancia y como paganos podemos estar de acuerdo con él en varios puntos que no reflejan el catolicismo dogmático y tradicional. También debo admitir que no estoy de acuerdo con él en todo, ya que muchas de las ideas del cristianismo son cosas que nos oponemos como paganos y etenistas . Pero hasta el momento, creo que es alguien a quien le podría dar la mano, respetuosamente.]
Canada: Sable Aradia, a Wiccan Priestess, author and blogger at sablearadia.com
“There are more than a billion Catholics in the world, so there is no denying that the Pope’s opinion matters. Here in Canada 46% of our population are baptized Catholics, so perhaps it makes more of a difference here than in other places. Pope Francis is proving to be a champion of liberal values that I consider to be integral to *my* Paganism, which is likely to encourage a climate of open-mindedness; and that can never be a disadvantage to us, since we are essentially a counter-cultural movement. And since the anti-Capitalist movement is significant among some Pagans and Polytheists right now, and the Pope appears to be somewhat of an anti-Capitalist, we may find that, ironically, some of our political views align.”
United States:Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, Galina Krasskova, Erick Dupree, and Dana Eilers
Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, The Norse Mythology Blog
“Catholic clergy and organizations continue to deeply involve themselves in American politics, while members of minority faiths such as Heathenry are denied any access to the same corridors of power that have been so willingly thrown open to Pope Francis. It’s odd that the leader of one denomination of one religion spends so much time giving lectures on right behavior to the billions of us from other traditions, instead of focusing on issues within his own faith community. At the end of the confrontational and conservative papacy of Benedict, the Vatican brought in Greg Burke of Fox News for a concerted public relations campaign to portray the Church as a progressive and welcoming organization. The projected image and the lived reality are out of sync. The relentless barrage of quotable quotes by Francis have effectively distracted attention from sexual abuse of children by priests and cover-ups by leadership as well as from the Church’s stance against ordination of women, its opposition to marriage equality and its fight against reproductive rights. While I appreciate the pope’s statements on environmental concerns and societal treatment of the poor, a few inspirational speeches do not outweigh the ongoing deeds of those who control the organization he represents.”
Galina Krasskova, blogger and author
“I like Pope Francis. I think he’s a breath of fresh air for the Catholic Church, at least when viewed in light of his predecessors. That doesn’t mean that I agree with him on everything. I think he could use definite improvement on issues of women and LGBT rights within the church (in this way he’s a traditionalist or perhaps caught in the trap of traditional church structures and orthodoxy) but I admire his commitment to engaging with the poor. He’s walking his talk there and I think that is inspiring. Moreover, Paganisms and Polytheisms are still religions of converts and many of those converts come from Catholicism. Seeing a seemingly ethical person holding this position, one who shares concern about the environment, about social justice, may be one more step in healing old and sometimes grievous wounds. More importantly, our religions don’t exist in a vacuum. I think it’s very important, especially now with the state the world is in, to be religiously literate, and to keep abreast of changes and happenings in the religious world, even if it’s not our religion. That being said, I do wish he had not canonized Junipero Serra. It betrayed a serious disregard for indigenous peoples and the history of their oppression by the catholic church.”
Erick DuPree, blogger, author and Philadelphia Resident
Personally the Pope doesn’t impress me, but did I expected something? The Papal Visit was a ‘nonevent” for the residents of Philadelphia. The city sadly drove out most residents, and except for the Papal area, it was a ghost town, which personally as an introvert, I loved. Unfortunately, what we had was the feeling of a police state with check points, armed police and military, as well as a giant internment camp style fence, instead of “love, service, justice and peace.” The modified public transit, school closures, and shutdown highways, impacted working families who suffering most. It seemed that the Papal message about charity fell on deaf ears as the homeless were left without shelter access due to security systems, and the cities need to “clean up the image.” Apparently, the commerce also suffered, as the tourists did not reportedly spend any money in restaurants or shops. What could have been at least touristy, if not somewhat amazing (because after all, Pagan or not how often will you get to see a Pope in your lifetime?) I found it all rather ‘meh.’ ”
Philadelphia during Pope visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]
, lawyer and author of Pagans and the Law
“First, should Pagans be concerned with the Pope religiously and/or spiritually? No. The Catholic Church and its doctrine are no friends of ours and never have been. Recent niceties are just that: nice …
“Second, should Pagans be concerned with the Pope politically? This depends on one’s politics and whether one believes that the Pope can move the political needle anywhere. This might be possible in countries that are predominantly Catholic and which lean toward keeping their civil law in line with Church canon, but that is certainly not the United States…
“Third, should Pagans be concerned with this Pope from a historical viewpoint? Well, he did come and address the United States Congress. This was a first and therefore, it was pretty big news … Shortly thereafter, Speaker Boehner announced his plans to surrender the Speakership and retire from Congress completely. Coincidence? So, this Pope does seem to be having an concrete impact on modern history. Therefore, yes, we should pay attention, if only for this.
“Fourth and finally, should Pagans be concerned with this Pope from a cultural viewpoint? He commands more media attention than Hurricane Katrina and although I have no need to know whom he kisses while en route to mass, this is apparently a matter of great concern to our media. He is everywhere on television, in print, and on the internet. It would be wise to follow news of the Pope, if only marginally, because he is saying some things that sound really wonderful, even if he is not changing Church doctrine.”
Eilers comment above is only a very short summary of her words. Read it in full here. Eilers goes on to note the discrepancies between the Pope’s words, actions and Church doctrine. “He is thanking nuns, but women still are not admitted into the Priesthood and are not in line to become part of the Church power structure … This Pope does not feel that he, personally, can judge homosexuals, but homosexual marriage is still not sanctified by the Church …”
These inconsistencies are problematic for many of the people we interviewed, along with the notion that the Pope is now newly supporting concepts that have been long known or taught outside the Church for decades and even centuries. Eilers said, “According to this Pope, dogs might actually have souls and thus, enjoy the after life with us poor, miserable humans. This seems to be big news to the Pope, but we Pagans have pretty much known this since Man domesticated the wolf. And we will not even discuss cats.”
Pope Francis will undoubtedly continue to generate interest, and headlines, in many communities throughout the world. His position as the representative of a huge portion of the world’s population cannot be understated. However, as directly expressed by Leff, the key sticking point for our collective interviewees is mainly centered on action or lack thereof.
Within Pope Francis’ speeches, we may find, as non-Catholics, some of his ideas agreeable. However will these words be followed-up by action? Will the Church, as a whole, support its reportedly progressive leader and enact real world change or institutional change? Will Pope Francis use his global voice and position of power to support progress, environmental or otherwise, for the betterment of all humanity regardless of belief; rather than exclusively for those that serve and follow that one single institution and one single man?
[Editor’s Note: all opinions expressed in the article above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of associated organizations]
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