Huff Post Article Accuses Pope Francis of Perpetuating Religious Prejudice

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. Jesus Christ

Remember the beautiful moment in his inauguration when Pope Francis stopped the procession, got out and blessed the disabled man? Remember the expression on that man’s face as he looked up at the Holy Father? 

That moment was the whole event, perhaps the papacy and the Church itself, caught in one man’s face as he looked at his pope. At least it was for me. 

Evidently, certain Church-bashers saw something else. 

I saw a headline this morning announcing “Pope Perpetuates Religious Prejudice by Blessing Disabled Man.” 

And no, it wasn’t on The Onion.

It was on Huff Post politics, written by the “Distinguished Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago” Lennard Davis. I won’t link to it, so don’t ask me. But I will say that I read the article and it wasn’t satire. The distinguished professor meant what the headline said. 

The article was chock full of the usual self-righteous ramblings about what the pope should do if he “really” wants to help disabled people. It also contained this nifty little question: “Is there something inherently special about being disabled that requires a blessing?” 

I could counter with all sorts of things, but I may have already given this claptrap more weight than it deserves. 

My grandmother had a saying: If you could buy him for what he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth, you could (insert huge payment to somebody.) 

I suggest that we apply that saying to this article. 

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  • Theodore Seeber

    He’s getting a blessing from the Pope because he’s human. But I think maybe this university professor deserves a blessing from the Pope- because if this kind of idiocy is what passes for thought in our schools of higher learning, then I for one don’t want my kid to go to college anymore.

  • Yae

    I agree. Some folks are never gonna let the bashing rest. They will push their comments as “knowledgeable” and assume that anyone who reads their comments will agree. I decided that I was not going to bother anymore and stick with praying for our new Holy Father as well as our beloved retired one and ignore the naysayers in the Church and especially those outside the Church.

  • Manny

    How ridiculous can they be? Whoever allowed that article to go through at Slate ought to be embarressed. I can expect stupidity from PhD professors, that’s rather routine, but someone has to look out for the reputation of their news site. Theodore is absolutely right above me here. The Pope has blessed lots of human beings. I wish he would directly bless me.

  • Paul

    The smile on the gentleman’s face says it all. So many turn away from the disabled and their obstacles in life. God Bless the Pope for his humanity and common touch.

  • Jessica Hoff

    The professor is ‘distinguished’ by his stupidity.

    • Rebecca Hamilton


  • Tim Kluge

    Ugh. It hurts my brain. In addition to the obvious Church bashing, the “distinguished” professor’s I’m-ok-you’re-ok attitude is nauseating. Each human being has intrinsic value and dignity, but does that mean that all lives and experiences are equal? Absolutely not.
    I wonder how many people with disabilities he has personally surveyed to find out that the “do not expect to be blessed by a religious figure just because they are disabled.” Many people I’ve talked to, at many different levels of disability and/or sickness are happy to welcome any bit of prayer or blessing because THEY KNOW THEY NEED IT. We all need it. The man that was blessed by the pope has, without a doubt, had a difficult life, and his caretakers have probably had a difficult time as well. Did any of them look miffed at the GALL of the Pontiff to bless them?
    The only people shouting “offense” are those who have no right to do so, but insist that others should.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      One thing I’m pretty sure of is that the man in question felt blessed to be blessed. His face when he looked up at Pope Francis was beautiful to behold.

      I believe that there is something dark motivating people like this professor who disparage joy and love when they see it. The really disabled man is the professor.

      • Dale

        Rebecca, I am not sure if the professor has some kind of dark motivation. Clearly he has little understanding of the Catholic Church. But his biography suggests he may have had some degree of good intent.

        According to his website, the professor is an advocate for disabled persons. In particular, he is concerned that disabled people are often seen as abnormal, or lesser than “regular” people. He has even written a book on the subject which was well received.

        I am not certain, but suspect that his concern regarding this issue was triggered when he saw the pope single out a disabled man, and gave that man special attention. The professor seems to have interpreted the pope’s kindness as an act of pity or condescension.

        Sometimes the heat of an advocate’s fire causes damage, rather than cast light. A charitable explanation of the pope’s blessing is that Pope Francis appreciated the effort the man in a wheelchair made in order to attend a very crowded and long ceremony. Perhaps if the professor had expressed his concern regarding the pope’s motives, instead of jumping to conclusions, the discussion we are having would have been more productive.

        I think the professor has some good motive, but he let his passion run away from his reason. In doing so, the article lost much of its power to create change. Advocates for a cause need to be careful not to become self-indulgent.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Well said Dale. Thank you.

        • Fabio P.Barbieri

          I have to say that self-respect and equality are enormously important to the disabled movement. The disabled man himself will no doubt feel blessed to be singled out – after all, he had gone there to see the Pope – but I know for a fact, having had a lot to do with the disabled movement, that a lot of disabled people will feel like the author. And I’m afraid that the knee-jerk negative feeling expressed by many people here would not help matters. My brother is a leader in the disabled movement, and we have been involved in it for twenty years, which means that I have a certain right to put in my two bits. I would say that both sides have expressed themselves very badly – and yes, Rebecca, that includes you – and risk making what could have been a teaching moment into a loud row.

          • Rebecca Hamilton

            Fabio, you hit a nerve with this comment. In fact, I’m having to go back and re-write my original reply because I was so angry.

            I have disabled family members, and while I don’t do it alone, I have responsibility for much of their care. I won’t say more than that because they deserve their privacy. But frankly, I think the attitude displayed by this professor was patronizing and presumptuous as regards the disabled.

            I am going to assume that what you are talking about here is the professor’s comments about accessibility in public places, rather than his high-handed assumptions about what disabled people want. If that is the case, I agree that more accessible public places would help disabled people gain independence, which would be wonderful.

            If, on the other hand, you are saying that the professor’s asinine comments that the Pope should not have blessed this man because by doing so he was perpetuating prejudice, then I disagree rather strongly.

            In the first place, this was not something the Holy Father forced on this man. The man was there, probably hoping something like this would happen, and based on his reaction, he was joyous at being blessed by his Pope.

            In the second place, who is this professor — or you, for that matter — to make the decision of whether or not this man should want a blessing from the pope? It’s not only insulting, it’s prejudicial to make the assumption that because someone is disabled other people can make things like this their business. The Pope also blesses people who aren’t disabled. Are we to assume that only able-bodied people can decide if they want to be blessed by the Pope?

            In the third place, are you saying that the Holy Father should have deliberately avoided blessing this man because, since he was disabled, to bless him would offend a professor from Illinois and the disability movement? It is not the place of either of these to limit what religious experiences disabled people should seek or be given.

            I think the professor wrote an article that sounded like religious bigotry masquerading as concern for the disabled.

            I also think that he took what appeared to have been a beautiful moment for another person and tried to trash it for his own purposes.

            If there’s a teachable moment here, it’s that disabled people deserve to decide themselves what they want without being shoe-horned into someone else’s stereotype about what is right for them.

            • Fabio P.Barbieri

              I find your response incredible. Have you even tried to understand what I said? You have disabled relations? so have I – beginning with my own brother. I have been involved in disability issues since 1987. Who am I to speak of what the disabled as a group may think or want? I am the brother of Pietro Vittorio Barbieri. ( Google him, and you will find that it’s a name that means something. The policy of disability, reforms carried out and denied, European comparisons, values and false values, are the daily conversation at my brother’s table. I have myself translated reports on disability policy reform as a whole over whole territories of Italy. My knowledge is nothing compared to my brother’s, but it is quite enough to realize that you have unthinkingly taken sides merely because someone was perceived to be dissing the Pope; and you are compounding the offence by treating a very mild reproof (you know very well that I can produce invective strong enough to curl a bald man’s hair, if I am minded to do so) as a declaration of war. You may have disabled persons in your family – almost everyone does – but where listening is concerned, you have disabled yourself voluntarily.

              Now please read this with care, and try to answer what follows on its merits rather than as an assault on your honour, or whatever it is you think has taken place here. What the disability movement is about, in general, is to have disabled persons treated neither more, nor less, nor differently than anyone else. It is to treat them as responsible citizens (and not, as the loathsome laws Italy inherited from Fascism, as “protected persons” under tutelage). It is to get to the point that where you see a person in a wheelchair, or with a guide dog, in an office, you would treat that exactly as you would treat a person with red hair or any other slightly unusual deviation. Now when the Pope singled out that person out of tens of thousands, he left a suspicion that he was not thinking of him in that light – that he was thinking of him as disabled-hence-impoverished, hence somehow MORE in need of moral approval and support. And to that, if that were the case, I would have to answer, Holy Father, think again. Think of those Saints who were disabled, from St.Hermann of Swabia to St.Juniper Serra. (You know them both. St.Hermann wrote the Salve Regina; St.Juniper founded every important town in California.) Are they special in their sanctity? No sir, they are not, no more than any other Saint is special. There are, indeed, categories of Saints that the Church recognizes, such as Martyrs and Doctors of the Church; but nobody puts next to St.Hermann’s name in the calendar the expression Disabled, because the disability as such makes no difference to his relationship with God. And neither should it to us.

              • Rebecca Hamilton

                Fabio, none of what you are saying speaks to the simple fact that this man was there because he wanted to be there and that no one else has the right to decide that but him. Being disabled does not mean that the disability movement gets to decide things for you. Neither does the disability movement have the right or the power to tell the Pope who he may (or may not) chose to bless.

                It sounds as if the Church has no more problem canonizing a disabled saint than any other human being. It also sounds as if disabled people have been in the forefront of important Church work long, long before there was a disabled movement.

              • Theodore Seeber

                Except he wasn’t singled out, except by the press. He was likely one of tens, or perhaps hundreds, that received Pope Francis’s blessing that same day.

          • Manny

            Give me a bereak Fabio. Compassion for the disabled is about as Christian as it can get. I’m glad the Pope singled him out. His disability moved our hearts. Who says that it lacks respect and dignity? Just the opposite.

  • Tom

    Here is a man who needs our pity. He can’t recognize love when it’s right there in front of his eyes. I’ll keep this in mind during Holy Week. This is the distinguished professors 2013 PC way of yelling “crucify Him.”

  • SteveP

    Dale: Well written; regardless of the interpretation of the Pope’s intent, the man and those around him seem to indicate joy in the act.

  • pagansister

    How in the world does anyone perpetuate prejudice by being kind and loving to a person with disabilities?? In this case, the Pope was blessing a man who also happened to be disabled—showing kindness and love towards him. And as you said, Rebecca—-the look on the man’s face says it all—-his smile was enough to light a dark room.

  • Older by the day

    Wow, I am speechless, especially after seeing Fabio’s response. I’m glad I’m not part of the “disability movement,” too. I’m lifetime sole caregiver to a stroke patient with serious permanent disabilities. He will never walk or talk normally again, among other handicaps. He’s in it for the rest of his life. I’m in it until one of us dies. As such, we are both disabled. In Fabio’s terms, we certainly are “impoverished” by the disabilities. Yes indeed, our lives are indeed less than they were before the disabilities. We certainly DO need to be treated differently because of the disabilities. We DO need more help from other people, kind strangers. One of the ways kind strangers can help is by praying with and for us. One of the ways priests can help is by their special prayers and blessings. One of the ways businesses can help is by making their places of business accessible. One of the ways you all reading this can help is by opening the d%%% door for the feeble-looking man instead of looking away, is that really too much to ask? Is it singling us out from normal people, yes indeed, and rightly so. We have already been singled out for a lifetime of torture by the devil, or Fate, or whatever you call the cold cruel universe that God chooses to permit. The solace of special love in the form of service from believers is a small small balm indeed, and there is not enough of it. Regardless of the response of other people, we keep trying to make our lives the best they can be under the circumstances, but we have no illusion that our lives are just as fulfilling as anyone else’s. We are doing the best we can under inhumane conditions. A little outreach from more comfortable people is always appreciated.

    May God bless Holy Father Francis and may Francis continue blessing all those he feels such an impulse toward. And shame on the so-called “disability movement” for being ashamed of that.

  • FW Ken

    Apparently, the professor has never heard of L’Arche