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Pope Francis

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Pope Francis' decision to give formal recognition to a Palestinian state is puzzling at best. Some conservative Catholics -- most prominently scholar and papal biographer George Weigel -- have given a wide berth to the pope's views on income inequality, climate change and how best to integrate gay and divorced Catholics into the Church's ministry, even as the left has gleefully embraced the pontiff's rhetoric. Francis' latest foray into controversy is harder to explain.

Unlike Francis' positions on the poor, which Weigel avers are rooted in the pope's pastoral history and mission, the decision on Palestinian statehood is purely political -- and, as such, is open to criticism.

Jonathan Tobin, writing online in Commentary magazine, notes: "For all his good will, the pope is mistaken to think that giving the Palestinians such recognition will advance the peace process." Tobin reminds us that the Palestinians were offered an independent state in 2000, 2001 (in an offer that included almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem) and 2008, and they refused to negotiate in 2013 and 2014 under an Obama administration-led framework that included a two-state solution.

I would go further: By signing a treaty with the Palestinians that includes recognition of the "state of Palestine," Francis has legitimated the Hamas terrorists who govern Gaza and the corrupt Palestinian Authority that rules the West Bank.

Certainly Francis is not alone in rushing to embrace unilateral, non-negotiated Palestinian statehood. Some 135 nations have done so, and parliaments in France, Britain, Spain and Ireland have urged their governments to recognize statehood, as well. The Vatican has welcomed a Palestinian ambassador since the U.N. granted the Palestinians observer status in 2012. Nonetheless, his recent decision carries moral weight that in this case is deeply troubling.


As a political act, Francis' recognition of Palestinian statehood is the most troubling evidence to date that he is indeed a man of the left. Coupled with his overtures to radical priests in the Latin American Liberation Theology movement, it becomes harder to slough off the pope's negative comments about "trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world."

The Vatican recently invited the founder of the Liberation Theology movement, Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, to write a piece for the official Vatican newspaper, excerpting a book by Gutierrez that owes as much to Karl Marx as Jesus Christ. Francis also lifted the suspension of Maryknoll priest and former Marxist Nicaraguan foreign minister Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, who was famous in the 1980s for his denunciations of the United States and his support of armed revolution. In d'Escoto's case, Francis' actions might be interpreted as bringing back into the fold an octogenarian prodigal son. But unlike the original model in the parable, d'Escoto shows no remorse for his past distortions of the Christian gospel to endorse redistribution of wealth at the point of a gun.

Francis' message to serve the poor is welcome. His desire to reform corruption within the Church, within the priestly and episcopal ranks, and in financial institutions is welcome. His ministry of inclusion is important at a time when Christianity is on the retreat in many places -- most recently in the U.S., according to a survey released this week by Pew Research Center.


So why sully his message by giving his imprimatur to the likes of Fatah and Hamas, who refuse to make peace with their neighbor Israel? For the estimated 60,000 Christians living in the Palestinian territories, radical Islam in the region, not Israel, is the main threat. Throughout the Middle East, Christians are fleeing the advance of ISIS and other Islamist jihadists, not the Israeli Defense Forces.

On the second anniversary of the pope's election on March 13, interviewer Kathryn Jean Lopez asked Weigel: "What's the most constructive Catholic response to (Pope Francis)?"

"The papacy is an impossible job," Weigel responded. "So the best thing Catholics can do for the pope is to pray for him."



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