Everyone loves Pope Francis - engaging, smiling, a man of the people - humble, loving - and a man of peace. Francis possesses a special charisma and "stage presence" unique to his office. Francis has filled his recent visit to The United States with pleas for peace, for ending poverty, for the caring of the young, the sick, and the old. He, in other words, echoes the hopes of humanity. Who can possibly be opposed to any of these pleas and hopes!
But words are not actions - and some words lack specifics. The very controversial Pope Pius XII, whose papacy spanned the era of Nazi Germany and World War II, also prayed and preached for peace and love. What he did not do, and why "controversial" is applied to his papacy, is that he failed to name names. He never directly condemned Hitler's policies, nor Mussolini's. He never denounced the Nazi perpetrators of the mass murders and human extermination that occurred during his papacy. His words may have made a difference, above all since many of the perpetrators were Catholic.
A general damning of war, human suffering and poverty- that's easy. What's difficult is directing such condemnation at those actually known to be at the root of human suffering. Like Pius, Francis has failed in this regard. As Pius failed with Hitler and Mussolini, so Francis is failing with Assad, with Khamenei, with Al Quaeda, with ISIS - and with all others responsible for the terrorism, murder, and genocide that plagues humanity today. Francis urges us to care for and to empathize with the teems of migrants desperate to find security and stability in Europe, but castigates no one responsible for this extraordinary display of despair. It is a noticeable silence.
The world knows the power of papal speech. Words matter. And the words of a pope, particularly such a beloved and charismatic pope, carry great moral weight. As we listen to his words, we must also listen to his silence.