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January 7, 2014

I'm pleasantly surprised by Pope Francis

The Daily Star

---- — When some websites reported just before Christmas that the pope had made some startling remarks about Catholic doctrine, my first reaction was, “boy, was I ever wrong about Francis being a rotten choice for pope.’’

In what soon became clear as a hoax, the initial satirical blog posting said the pope had declared that “the church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer,’’ that it is a metaphor “like the fable of Adam and Eve.’’

The pope also reportedly said, “All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

While some Catholics may have cringed upon hearing such comments attributed to the pope, others who have felt alienated from Vatican dogma welcomed them like breaths of fresh air.

And to think I was highly critical last winter of the selection of the Argentine archbishop as pope. I wrote that his role as archbishop of Buenos Aires during the so-called “Dirty War’’ was not what you would expect from a pope.

“During the military reign from 1975 to 1983, tens of thousands of alleged opponents to the regime were killed or disappeared, often tortured, drugged and dropped from helicopters,’’ I wrote. “Pope Francis, the former Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, for years has been dogged by questions about his connections to the military leaders.’’

Well, even though it turned out the pope’s remarks quoted above were fiction, I still have to admit I was wrong in doubting how someone with Francis’ haunted past could be a good pope.

For, in reality and not in fantasy, Francis has shown that he clearly comes out of the Latin American tradition of liberation theology in speaking out with humility about the church serving the poor and helping create more just and tolerant societies.

He has been captivating Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and even lawmakers in Washington, with his concerns about poverty and violence.

After asking “what is happening in the heart of humanity’’ in his New Year’s message, the pope said people must face “the violence and injustices present in so many parts of the world, and which cannot leave us indifferent and immobile. There is the need for the commitment of all to build a society that is truly more just and united.’’

The world’s leaders and the opponents of those leaders need to listen.


It is about time New York joined the states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week is expected to take a big step in making that happen.

The governor plans to use his executive powers to permit some hospitals to dispense marijuana for certain sicknesses. He is bypassing the Legislature because it not likely a medicinal marijuana bill would make it through the Republican-controlled Senate.

Cuomo is expected to unveil his plan during his State of the State speech Wednesday. New York would become the 21st state to allow pot to be available for medicinal purposes. The other states generally permit the prescribing of marijuana for chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy, glaucoma and some other conditions.

Cuomo has previously opposed medical marijuana, but after complete legalization was approved in Colorado and Washington state, the national trend is heading toward acceptance of pot not only for medical reasons but also for recreational use.

Marijuana would remain illegal in New York, but possession of small amounts has been reduced to a low-level violation subject to a fine.

The move to allow medical marijuana would be good first step to legalizing recreational use of pot in New York state, which has been proposed by state Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan.

She has rightly argued that legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana would add money to state coffers, reduce the costs of law enforcement agencies in fighting illegal drugs and stop turning recreational users into criminals. 

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.