When Did the Pope’s Words Become ‘Second-Class Speech?’

Someone needs to explain something to me. Pope Francis, on the way back from a trip to Mexico, He is asked about a U.S. presidential candidate’s idea of building a wall on the Mexican border. The pope answers. People start flipping out. So, when did the pope relinquish his free speech rights (yes, not surprisingly he has such rights at the Vatican)? And, when did voicing his thoughts become second-class speech, not worthy of protection?

The Shad was in a “political setting” the other day and quietly listened to people rattle off various reasons why the pope should butt out of politics—he should keep it to himself; he should stick to religious matters only; and so forth.

I was at a loss for words which admittedly doesn’t happen often. Francis can say whatever the hell he wants (sorry about the language, Father). He is the spiritual and religious leader of 1.2 billion people. Most of them are interested in what the pope says on moral issues. He happens to think it is unchristian to build a wall to keep people out of the country. He says so. He has a right to. So STFU.

The most ridiculous criticism I heard was it was hypocritical of the pope to criticize the building of a wall when the Vatican is surrounded by walls. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Scarborough felt compelled to tweet out a picture of the Vatican walls with the caption, “Pope Francis, tear down this wall.”

That’s comparing apples to elephants. The New York Times reports, “Some of the walls in Vatican City were built in the ninth century by Pope Leo IV in an attempt to protect it from attacks by pirates and other marauders, historians said. But other stretches of wall were built during the 15th and 16th centuries, Dr. Mannion said, less as a defensive measure and more as “a political and cultural statement” about the cultural and political power of the pope.”

In the bigger picture, Pope Francis raised the ire of those in our society who seem to think any sort of religious speech or speech from a religious figure is somehow not worthy of respect or protection. Where is that written? And please don’t tell me about the Separation of Church and State because the Pope’s words don’t constitute an effort to establish a state religion. He can talk about Trump, marriage, contraception, the Red Sox, Argentina’s chances in Olympic soccer play or anything else.

Also in the Times report was Gerard Mannion, professor of Catholic Studies at Georgetown University who says, “The rhetoric from Trump’s team is misinformation, and it is not true…It isn’t all surrounded by walls, and it’s not like you need a separate visa or a passport to enter,” he said. “You wouldn’t know, almost, when you even entered Vatican City. There is a white line painted on the ground in St. Peter’s Square, but that kind of thing is not obvious everywhere.”

There are, to be sure, formidable walls in Vatican City, and much of the site, including the gardens and the modest guesthouse that is home to Francis, is set behind them. But the walls do not entirely enclose the city-state, and in the modern era they are not meant to, historians said.

“Anybody can walk into St. Peter’s Square — that’s the whole point of it,” said Dr. Mannion. “It was designed to be welcoming and to draw people in like two open arms, to draw them into the heart of the church.”