This week, Chicago Catholics learned about two things: the man of the year, and the sham of the year. Of course, the latter case is my own personal opinion and it relates to an entirely different event than the Man of the Year. Some would even argue the reverse – thinking the first event was a sham and the second was newsworthy and deserving of acclaim. So why do I feel the way I do? Let's examine the reasoning behind those two events.
In the first case, Time magazine has named Pope Francis as the 2013 “Person of the Year”. This has resulted in both acclaim and criticism directed at the magazine for their selection choice. Many Americans seem to think that the annual “Person of the Year” choice refers to the individual who the most beloved or accomplished person during the year. In fact, the magazine's annual designation profiles a person, group, idea or object who has "for better or for worse... done the most to influence the events of the year." In other words, whether you love him or hate him, Time magazine believes Pope Francis made the most headlines in 2013, and his comments have had the biggest impact on world events. By those standards, is he “Man of the Year”? I would certainly agree that is.
While the choice has come under fire by some non-Catholics who think the Pope is overrated, the irony in this case is that the most outspoken criticism seems to be coming from conservative Catholics. Some have argued that Time magazine's editors have named Francis for the wrong reasons, or worse, that Pope Francis has turned out to be a lousy Pope and his comments and opinions are not good, important, or worthy of massive media coverage.
When it comes to the first example, a good case can be made that much of the secular media – including Time magazine's editors – want to portray the Pope as “a crusading humanist on the verge of making the Catholic Church socially acceptable at Manhattan dinner parties”, or at least they see him in that light. Indeed, Time Magazine gushes over the Pope for “being a voice for the poor” and for “a conciliatory tone toward homosexuals”. That being said, conservatives who claim the Pope is popular in the media because he is “weak” on social issues and because of his “socialist, left-wing economic views “ need to examine the Pope's actual comments for themselves, because the Pope's actual statements don't exactly fit the mold that the media would like to them to be.
Much of the criticism from conservatives comes from Pope Francis' encyclical letter, “Evangelii Gaudium”. Some have attacked the Pope for “opposing capitalism” and “promoting Marxism”. The problem is that the most of those critics haven't even read “Evangelii Gaudium” before concluding that it is “socialist” and veers the Catholic Church towards more “leftist economic policies”. In reality, Pope Francis has not done or said one thing that differs from the positions of John Paul II or Benedict XVI, or the consistent economic teachings of the Catholic Church that date back to at least 1890. If the Pope “hates capitalism” because he pointed out some negative aspects of it, then wouldn't the same logic conclude that he “hates socialism” when he pointed out some negative effects of it? The reality is that the Pope pointed out that no economic system on earth is perfect. When it comes to capitalism, he denounced not the system itself, but Godless crony capitalism, something most conservatives would agree with. Pope Francis wrote: “The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience." He also condemned the idea of “absolute autonomy of markets,” but there is literally no country in which markets operate with "absolute autonomy", so in no way did Pope Francis' words reject the use of capitalism in existing countries. In fact, he called for more “economic freedoms”. In short, just because some in the secular media want the Pope to be “soft” on social issues and “left-wing” on economic ones, (and some in the conservative Catholic world have read headlines saying so and believe its true), that doesn't mean he actually is. Criticize Pope Francis if you wish, but criticize what he actually said, and not what the secular media claim he said.
On the other hand, another announcement this week received an equal amount of favorable coverage from the local media, but it seems to be the sham of the year. In the case, it has to do with Chicago's mayor, Rahm Emanuel. The mayor announced this week that he is attending an evening mass in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Pius V Church in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, where he will take part in a “24 hour fast” with other celebrants to bring attention to the cause of “immigration reform”. The mayor's actions certainly deserve allocates, right?
Nope. The mayor's statement might sound good on paper, until we examine things more closely. To begin with, Mayor Emanuel is not a Catholic. In fact, he's not even Christian. Certainly we could give the mayor the benefit of the doubt and assume he's going to a Catholic event for Our Lady of Guadalupe as a gesture of affection for Catholicism because he wants to be Mayor for all the people and makes Chicago Catholics feel welcome. Unfortunately for Mayor Emanuel though, his track record has shown the exact opposite. Mayor Emanuel has shown a great deal of hostility towards the public expression of Christian traditions in Chicago, and even said the Christian owners of Chick-Fil-A were “not welcome” in Chicago because their religious beliefs on marriage differed from his. On a wide range of issues, Mayor Emanuel's actions are totally at odds with the Catholic faith. For example, he has long had a 100% pro-abortion record, favored pro-Iraq War candidates for office when he was Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and applauded the health care mandate in Obamacare that forces Catholics to fund things that go against our conscience. Mayor Emanuel still strongly supports Obamacare. In fact, he recently announced that he plans to start reducing health insurance coverage next year for more than 30,000 retired city workers, and begin shifting them to Obamacare.
Perhaps then, we could say Mayor Emanuel is taking part in a Catholic fast because “immigration reform” is the one issue where he truly agrees 100% with Catholic theology, and is very passionate about the issue. However, this is another example where Mayor Emanuel's actions have simply shown that is not the case. He now says Congress has a “moral duty” to act on the issue immediately. Yet when Rahm Emanuel was Congressman from the north side of Chicago and didn't represent a large “Hispanic community”, he showed little to no interest in pushing for immigration issues. Then, as White House chief-of-staff, he actually took the opposite approach on immigration that he is calling for now: Emanuel advised Obama to steer away from tackling immigration, claiming it would have been politically difficult to get a bill through Congress (even though Obama's party controlled both houses of Congress at the time). Instead, he told the President to focus on health care and pushed for what became Obamacare – the so-called “Affordable Care Act”.
There's little doubt why political consultant and talk show host Dan Proft recently referred to Mayor Emanuel's decision to “observe the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe by fasting for immigration reform” as the Mayor's “Jane Byrne moment” (which refers to the former one-term mayor of Chicago). It seems to be an embarrassing political stunt to shore up his support with the city's “Hispanic voters” in time for his re-election campaign next year. Does the mayor even fast during the Holy Days of his own religion? If so, he certainly hasn't said so. Rahm Emanuel fasting for the feast of Our Lady makes as much sense as a Catholic politician announcing that he is fasting for 24 hours during Ramadan this year to bring attention to the cause of Tibetian persecution. If the mayor really wants to go on a “moral crusade”, maybe he could start by using his own holy days to atone for the many murders and crime problems of his city that have occurred on his watch.
Thus, I have to firmly conclude that the Pope's statements and actions rightfully give him the honor of being named Man of the Year, while the Mayor's statements and actions rightfully deserve to be called Sham of the Year. In both cases, the same criteria should be applied when considering the person's intent: actions speak louder than words.