Pope Francis, in his first Christmas address since becoming head of the Catholic Church, specifically called on atheists to join with believers of all stripes to work toward a global “homemade peace.”
The New York Times, reporting on the address, notes that in mentioning atheists, Francis was “departing from his prepared text,” saying:
I invite even non-believers to desire peace. (Join us) with your desire, a desire that widens the heart. Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace.
This is not the first time Pope Francis (or as I have referred to him at my CFI blog The Morning Heresy, “Pope Fluffy”) has spoken with warmth about atheists, most notably when he implied that nonbelievers are not necessarily destined for eternal damnation, emphasizing instead a need for everyone to “do good.”
There is of course an enormous amount of skepticism about Francis’s sincerity and intentions with his inclusive rhetoric, be in about atheists, gays, the poor, or what have you, and there should be. (I examined this question in a previous post at this site.) No matter how sweet the talk from the pope, the Catholic Church itself remains a backward, harmful, oppressive, sexist, homophobic institution that continues to obstruct and obfuscate on one of history’s greatest scandals: its culpability in the systematic sexual abuse of children.
But I do have to wonder if his desire to bring atheists into his Christmas speech, off-script, implies a degree of true feeling. One can only speculate.