Since being elected, Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina) has not shied away from speaking out on difficult or controversial topics.  Whether or not one believes that the Pope should have a role in speaking on matters related to foreign policy, his opinion is influential and widely reported throughout the world.  Thus far, he seems to want to exercise his role as an international diplomat energetically and has become and outspoken advocate on numerous subjects and enabled dialogue between opposing parties.    

Pope Francis most recently caused waves by referring to the WWI Turkish massacre of an estimated one and a half million Armenians as genocide, a term which President Obama and some other world leaders will not use regardless of lobbying by Armenian-Americans and the Armenian government.  The Turkish government reacted to the Pope’s choice of words with anger and President Erdogan said in a speech, "I condemn the pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again."  The Pope did not recant his statement and emphasized his belief in “frankness,” even though the Turkish government recalled their envoy to the Vatican. 

 

Since being elected, Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina) has not shied away from speaking out on difficult or controversial topics.  Whether or not one believes that the Pope should have a role in speaking on matters related to foreign policy, his opinion is influential and widely reported throughout the world.  Thus far, he seems to want to exercise his role as an international diplomat energetically and has become and outspoken advocate on numerous subjects and enabled dialogue between opposing parties.    

Pope Francis most recently caused waves by referring to the WWI Turkish massacre of an estimated one and a half million Armenians as genocide, a term which President Obama and some other world leaders will not use regardless of lobbying by Armenian-Americans and the Armenian government.  The Turkish government reacted to the Pope’s choice of words with anger and President Erdogan said in a speech, "I condemn the pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again."  The Pope did not recant his statement and emphasized his belief in “frankness,” even though the Turkish government recalled their envoy to the Vatican. 

The Pope made this statement at a mass held with the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church Karekin II, and is a part of his overall commitment to advocating for Christians of all sectrs who are facing violence.  He has also called attention to the beheading of Ethiopian and Egyptian Christians in Libya and the Al-Shabab massacre of 150 Christian students at Garissa University College in Kenya. 

The Pope has often called for peace or policy change with other religious leaders.  For example, he and the Archbishop of Canterbury recently called on European governments to do more to save migrants in the Mediterranean; 1,200 died in a recent ten-day period and the International Organization for Migration says that the death toll has been thirty times higher than last year.  It is thought that more migrants are dying because the Italian Mare Nostrum search and rescue program was replaced by an EU program, Operation Triton, which is one-third the size of Mare Nostrum.  He and the Archbishop also said that wealthy EU countries have a moral duty to accept more asylees fleeing conflict. 

In the previous examples the Pope’s statements brought attention to certain injustices but did not lead directly to policy change; however, he is also engaging internationally in an active manner.  Like Benedict and John Paul II before him, the Pope actively pushed for a normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, and the Vatican played host to secret talks between US and Cuban officials. In this example, his intervention may have directly enabled the normalization of US relations with Cuba.  The Pope will follow up on his role in the talks by visiting Cuba in September on his way to the US and while there also aims to boost the role of the Church in Cuba, which is the least-Catholic country in Latin America.

After his trip to Cuba the Pope will visit the United States, with stops in Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York.  In New York the Pope is expected to address the UN on climate change.  He will issue an encyclical on the environment shortly (the first on the subject) and it is expected to contain a moral call to action on climate change which will be followed up by his speech to the UN.  His speech to the UN comes ahead of a major climate change summit scheduled to be held in December.  Climate change skeptics, like the conservative think tank the Heartland Institute, have been lobbying the Vatican aggressively to try to prevent the Pope from speaking on the subject, and say that he should not comment on science.  The Pope appears committed to advocating for the moral rationale behind defending the Earth and is expected to say that climate change is a social justice concern. 

 Pope Francis is not the first Pope to use his positions as head of state of the Vatican and leader of the Catholic Church to advocate on controversial subjects.  Pope John Paul II, for example, had an instrumental role in facilitating channels of communication to the USSR and ending the Cold War.  John Paul II was also the first Pope to refer to the Armenian massacre as a genocide and was the first head of state to refer to the Rwandan genocide as such. That a Pope uses his moral stature and ability to reach out to virtually anyone to advocate and create dialogue is not unusual and should be welcomed, even if the subjects are deemed controversial, because difficult conversations can be necessary to promote change.