Pope Drops By My ‘Hood


One of the best parts of living in Washington, DC, is people come from all over to visit you. Today, three blocks away from my apartment, the Pope dropped by to say Mass for 48,000 or so Catholics happy to greet him. Being the intrepid reporter I am, I went out this morning to interview some of the protesters outside the festivities there to protest the Pope's views on women, birth control, reproductive health, the rights of all God's Christian children to be in communion (even the gay ones) and of course, the pedophile priest scandal which the Pope himself is talking about on this trip.

Thousands of people eagerly made their way to Nationals' Stadium on a warm sunlit morning, as vendors selling "Savior Seat" cushions, yellow and white papal flags, buttons, tee-shirts and pennants with the likeness of the Pope hawked their trinkets. More police were working these four square blocks on this one morning than most neighborhoods in Southeast DC see in one full year combined. Most of the cops looked like they were at a picnic, relaxed, laughing, sharing stories. The protests today were not causing them the same trouble as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund meetings or G-8.
It's worth noting that where the Pope is saying Mass, literally as I write this, many people used to dance until dawn in nightclubs that featured drag performers that would die for some of the outfits on display at the stadium today. The stadium just opened a few weeks ago, and before the city sold its soul to real estate developers and Major League Baseball, this neighborhood wasn't a place you'd find a Pope, or anywhere near this many police. The warehouses, night clubs, public housing, pimps and drug dealers that once called this neighborhood home have been replaced by a higher class of multi-millionaire hustlers. Nobody protested much when the city wanted to improve the neighborhood, but some complained about the corporate welfare used to build the stadium and lure the millionaires; tax dollars and police protection that was never invested into the housing, schools, helath care or people who lived here before.
I was still two blocks away from the stadium as I walked and I knew that all the best protesters would be right by the stadium, so I turned the corner to head that way, and then, stopped. To get closer than two blocks, not even inside, you needed a ticket. Seeing no protestors at my first vantage point, I walked another block, then another, then another around most of the allowable perimeter, and no where did I find anything but cheerful police thankful for a day of overtime pay, good weather and no protests.
No where did I find people with signs about the priest pedophile scandal. No women asking for the right to choose or gay people the right to be seen as children of God, to love and create families as they were created. No women campaigning to be priests. Just a few thousand Americans going about their day happy to greet their spiritual leader and spend a few hours together in contemplation of their spiritual lives, something deeply personal to each of us no matter our beliefs. The closest thing to protest was, you guessed it, people pushing "Defend Life" bumperstickers with an over the top aggressive zeal that seemed odd, even with the Pope in town, in the midst of such a relaxed and joyful morning. It was interesting how few of the faithful took the stickers, instead walking by, saying nothing, or no thank you.
Then it struck me, in the midst of this glorious moment, how sad it is that the very same respect surrounding this event, evidenced by the somewhat surprising lack of protest, is not extended by the more radical elements within the Catholic Church to women, gays, and victims of priestly abuse.
Go to a women's clinic, for any reason including a pap smear or birth control, you get protested. Go to many a local pharmacy for contraception, and the all powerful pharmacist becomes a protest of one. Go to certain hospitals after being raped, looking for compassion in the form of emergency contraception, and your request will meet with protest. Try to take communion or serve as an openly gay person, as did Fr. Mychal Judge in the midst of disaster on Septemeber 11, 2001, before giving his life, and you'll be protested, or worse, completely rejected. If you're a woman, don't even try to be a priest, an entire patriarchy of protest is arrayed against you.
Nope, today in Washington there were no visible protests by progressives anywhere near the Mass at Nationals' Stadium as people entered, though there have been a scant few along the Pope-mobile's route througout the city. It's been tough though, the Pope's route on "public" streets in and around Catholic University required a ticket for several blocks just to watch him drive by. Most efforts seem to assure he'll see only cheering crowds, reinforcing his notion that everyone agrees with him. Today, pluralism and democracy (of sorts) flourished together within sight of U.S. Capitol Dome. Isn't it a shame all Americans don't enjoy the same level of respect, regardless of what they believe, how they worship, who they are, where they get health care services, or how they live their love?

No ticket? This is as close as you can get on public streets to the Papal Mass.

Get your programs, you can't tell the Pope's without a program.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Scott Swenson please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    Don’t take it too hard, Mr. Swenson. I suspect people just didn’t want to waste their time. I personally cannot imagine more of a fool’s errand than protesting the pope. Telling the pope and his followers that people have rights seems to me very like trying to convince a shark to become a vegetarian.

    Go to E. J. Dionne’s pope’s-visit discussion group on the Washington Post web site and check out a comment by roedel74 for an interesting idea. (No, I am not roedel74.)

  • invalid-0

    Scott,

    Maybe not as many people care about the left-wing ideologies and lifestyles as you wish. If they did, they’d have been there, especially in SW DC. It’s obvious the Holy Father takes the sex-abuse scandal seriously, but what more do you expect him to do other than to keep future ones out?

    I agree, the Church needs a better mechanism for throwing out bad apples.

  • invalid-0

    he could talk with some of the victims? As of today, he has never met with or talked with any of the survivors of sex-abuse in the Church – that is immoral as far as I’m concerned and in no way helps to keep future criminals out of the Church. Also, there are many, many practicing Catholics who oppose the Pope’s mandates on family planning and contraception (or lack thereof), his homophobia and his anti-condom stance which is absolutely unethical and irresponsible. I don’t think the lack of protestors is a sign that many stand in opposition to his positions – or that many do not support the “left-wing…lifestyle” (what does that mean??). He’s a symbol of faith for a certain segment of the Catholic population in the U.S. but as some sort of “political figure” he doesn’t hold the same weight. For the most part, respectfully, I give the Pope not a second thought except when he furthers irresponsible and anti-religious ideology through his proclamations and actions.

    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

  • scott-swenson

    Another thing the Pope could do would be to prevent the U.S. Cardinals from continuing to paper over the problem and hide the abusers, which according to Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, they continue to do. He could also recognize the intrinsic value of women leaders in the church, their bodily autonomy and that God creates each and everyone of us just a we are, whole and beautiful, but one step at a time. Everyone knows you have to deal with the internal problems before the external. As for people caring about "left-wing" issues, I'll just suggest you look at the polls of lay Catholics to realize just how out of touch the hierarchy of the church really is.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • http://SaintMychalJudge.blogspot.com invalid-0

    74% of US Catholics say that they admire this pope, but surveys also show they still overwhelmingly disagree with Rome on mandatory priestly celibacy, birth control, same-gender marriage/ unions, and the handling of sex abuse. Most Catholics ignore the pope when he offends our consciences.
    .
    When the Pope visits Ground Zero, he will be greeted by a vigil honoring the late FDNY chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, the first official casualty of the 9/11 attacks.
    .
    Mychal was considered a living saint by many even prior to his heroic death. His extraordinary works of compassion have been compared to Mother Teresa (see http://SaintMychalJudge.blogspot.com )
    .
    But ironically, Fr. Mychal Judge would be barred from the priesthood today because he was openly gay, though celibate. He often asked, “Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love ?!”
    .
    We have no illusions that this pope is going to change. Rather, we are bearing witness to two truths — that God created and loves gay people, and that the pope does not speak for the whole Church, the Ecclesia, on these matters.
    .
    Indeed, two-thirds of U.S. Catholics-in-the-pews reject the pope’s views and support either civil unions or full marriage rights, according to numerous surveys.
    .
    As Fr. Mychal also said, “Don’t let the (institutional) church get in the way of your relationship with God.”

  • invalid-0

    I don’t think you understand who the Pope is or what he means to Catholics. He is a symbol of the teaching authority of Christ Himself, handed down 2,000 years since Christ walked the earth. Certain truths, about God and the human person, have remained UNCHANGED and the Pope seeks to defend those truths. So even if many Catholics and other Americans feel that those truths are “outdated,” the Pope isn’t suddenly going to betray teachings he has sworn to defend. Read an early history of the Christian church, and you will find those who disagreed with the Apostles on who Christ was. They didn’t say, “Gosh, you are right. Jesus wasn’t really God. I guess we can all go home.” Some things just don’t change.

    Benedict deeply loves those in his care, and he did meet with some of the victims of the sex abuse scandal yesterday. He wants to keep the bad priests out, and that is something I think we can all agree with. As for the rest, I hope that people live for the good (an Aristotelian principle), not for the ultimately fleeting political conveniences of our time.

  • invalid-0

    I really am trying to understand where you folks are coming from with the animosity towards the pope. You keep mentioning his views on gays, [artificial] contraception, etc., but it seems none of you have read a drop of what Ratzinger/B16 has written? He’s written volumes on those issues and he does not simply pass them off as liberal nonsense but rather engages and dare I say dismantles those falicies. You would never say that he does not consider gays children of God if you had read anything. How could he? That would be a heresy. By saying that an act is immoral… does that make the person intrinsically evil and some how not a child of God? Of course not! What a silly viewpoint. I challenge everyone to actually read what the Church REALLY teaches and WHY. From your comments, your ignorance is shining through. And I mean that in love…seriously. I am a convert to the faith and would have agreed with you, but I was wrong. And so are you.

    (I know that in our relative world we’re not alowed to say someone is wrong. But we can’t both simultaniously hold the truth if they’re contradictory, so I must declare you wrong or me a fool…I’m sure you regard me as a fool)

    You will probably not read anything and keep on pushing your relativistic and illogical viewpoints into the blogosphere, but I challenge you to read the other side.

  • scott-swenson

    JMC,

    Thank you for your comment and I’m glad you find solace in what Benedict teaches. The point many of us make is not that you aren’t entitled to believe as you do, it’s simply that we’d like the same respect in return. That is something that the church fails to provide with it’s imposition of one view of morality in a world that clearly has many. That is not moral relativism, it is a recognition of pluralism. There is a difference between what is right and wrong and the fact that there are many different ways to learn and experience right and wrong.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    It isn’t an either or proposition. You can be both wrong and a fool, which the words you are using here seem to indicate.

    I don’t agree in part with the article. Look, the Catholic church is a private club in my opinion and so it has the right to not admit women to the priesthood or believe a human being (the Pope) is infallible when it comes to talking about the church teachings [which include things like how two consenting adults behave in the privacy of a bedroom and the bodily ascension of Mary into 'heaven']. Interestingly, this has only been in place since Vatican I. But I also don’t support the tax exempt status of ANY church or the idea that secular government cannot and should not intervene by criminal prosecution in the instance of an actual crime taking place.
    I give you the child rape scandal we all know about.
    One of the arguments the Church used was that they were not obligated to cooperate with government investigations because the police had no authority due to the separation of church and state, or, here’s a nice one, it wouldn’t be fair to the victims of said molestation. It isn’t fair to the children who have been raped to turn over the names of the people who raped them because then authorities would know who those said kids are which, come on, apparently adds insult to injury? That’s sarcasm btw. Pope JPII presided over the church during this matter and didn’t do anything to make the Cardinals who made these decisions think they were wrong. And I don’t have the time to go into Ratzinger’s role in any of this.

    I was raised a Catholic and went to eight and a half years of Catholic school. I had two brother’s in seminary and one who very nearly took the vows as a Jesuit. That brother is in Opus Dei. I have read plenty from and about the Catholic church. It isn’t that some of us haven’t read the other side, it’s that we don’t agree with it.

  • http://www.americamatters.org invalid-0

    Why do we insist on hammering away at RELIGION? You are not going to sway the Pope from his beliefs or he from yours…Abortion is freakin’ legal, get over it. What are you folks still bitching about? Until the day comes when it is not? THEN bitch about it. Why hammer people’s religion and their leaders?

    It is an endless circle of exhausting arguments. Go out and help prevent unwanted pregnancy and lay off people’s religion for crying out loud. Let’s stop the blame game and get something done together. We are ALL at fault on this one.

    Thx
    LT

  • scott-swenson

    Lt. Listener,

    Many of us are working toward prevention of unintended pregnancies by making sure teens get evidences-based sexuality education and contraception remains legal, something some people involved in extreme fringe movements of the Catholic Church want to prevent. Far from being critical of people’s religion, the critique is of the public policy influence any individual religion has over all the rest of us in a pluralistic democracy. Most people respect religion and are part of one type or another and even those who aren’t are not actively speaking against religion, but trying to preserve freedom from religious oppression the US was founded upon. People have every right to believe what they choose to believe, but no right to impose that belief on someone else against their will.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor