Dear Rightwing Catholic Islamophobes: Pope Francis just washed the feet of a Poor Muslim

Pope Francis on Maundy Thursday declined to address enormous crowds. Instead he went to a prison to emulate Jesus’s act of humility before his crucifixion in washing the feet of his 12 disciples. The pope washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates, two of them women and two of them Muslim (one of the women was Muslim). It is reported that some of the prisoners broke down in tears.

CNN reports ,

Pope Francis’s willingness to wash the feet of a Muslim woman shows his concern for the very lowest stratum of society. Europe has millions of Muslims, and some are well off and well integrated into society. But many Muslims who immigrated into France and Italy for work got caught when the jobs dried up, and live in poor areas of the cities, being excluded from mainstream society or much hope of betterment. Women have lower status than men in such communities, so a poor Muslim woman in jail is just about the bottom of the social scale.

Pope Francis is from Argentina, which has a large, successful Arab-heritage community that includes Muslims, and he is said to have deeply disagreed with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, over the latter’s Regensburg speech in which he said things that Muslims found insulting.

The thing that strikes me about all this is that there is a small strand of American Catholic conservatism that frankly despises both the poor and Muslims, and is one of the pillars of prejudice against Muslims (some call it Islamophobia) in the United States. Most Catholics in opinion polls have a more positive view of Islam and Muslims than is common among evangelical Protestants, but the rightwingers among them have a thing about Muslims (and about poor people).

An example is former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Peter King of New York also comes to mind. Robert Spencer has made a career of defaming Islam and Muslims. Then there is professional bully Sean Hannity of Faux News. Paul Ryan uses the insulting language of “Islamic fascism” (fascism is a Western invention; most fascists in history have been of Christian heritage; and it has nothing to do with the Muslim faith). Ryan, far from serving the poor, wants to cut social services to them by savaging the government budget, and openly boasts of following prophet of selfishness Ayn Rand.

These purveyors of hate speech against Muslims claim to be Catholics, and some of them are annoyingly Ultramontane, insisting on papal infallibility and trying to impose their values on all Americans.

Yet the person they hold to be the vicar of Christ has just given humankind a different charge, of humility and of service to the least in society, many of whom are Muslims.

So when will we see Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity and the others go to a prison to comfort inmates, and serve the Muslims among them? When will we see them kiss a Muslim’s feet? Or are they cafeteria Catholics, parading only the values that accord with their Ayn Rand heresy?

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28 Responses

  1. Thank you. This ‘new’ pope is in fact quite conservative, but the real kind.

    The individuals you mention are complete fakes. But don’t hold your breath waiting for them to learn anything (especially humility)… not gonna happen.

  2. “So when will we see Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity and the others go to a prison to comfort inmates, and serve the Muslims among them? When will we see them kiss a Muslim’s feet?”

    A lot sooner than you will see a Muslim leader washing and kissing the feet of Muslim women.

    • Dennis’s ideas seem based on a whole lot of nothing. There is no Muslim leader analogous to the Pope, so of course you’d see most things before this non-existent person washes the feet of a Muslim woman. Stop trying to subvert Francis’s humility in an attempt to prop up the status quo. Follow his lead and exhibit some humility for a change.

  3. Gosh! Is there no end to Silvio Berlusconi’s influence?

    That Ruby the Heartstealer gets everywhere!

  4. Juan – the “traditionalists” in my church have anointed themselves as pope and feel free to criticize and ignore Rome whenever it conflicts with the religion they’ve established between their ears. As a liberal Catholic who’s been told to shut and up suffer in silence for 35 years … well, I actually have no capacity to be shocked anymore. I guess it’s exactly the reaction I expected. Francis is hardly a liberal, but he is clearly a breath of fresh air. I am beginning to faintly hope that John XXIII was not an aberration.

  5. Such un-Christian Catholics seem to dominate the church in America, evidenced by how not just Pope Benedict but a large number of American Bishops attacked Sister Simone Campbell and her “Nuns on the Bus” tour of America that sought to highlight the problems of poverty and hunger. The Catholic hierarchy tried to paint what the Sisters were doing as a throwback to “liberation theology,” which in many people’s minds conjures up mental images of Che Guevara and shiftless hippies – a deliberate attempt, I’d say, to denigrate efforts designed to show the church as the hypocritical institution it has become.

    Paul Ryan and his ilk not only despise the poor, they seem to believe that everyone including the American government (as well as the Catholic Church) should despise them, as well. From what I’ve read of Christian theology – which, admittedly, isn’t a lot – this is a very un-Christain attitude.

    • Charley, some good points on unchristian traits within the Church. However, there is an inkling of unbalance in your theological perspective. While I agree helping the poor is a noble trait, it is not the primary objective of the Christian (and Catholic) church. Evangelism and making disciples of all nations should be a priority of the church.

      Good theology and preserving of eternal truths are vital as well, but I do admit that sometimes in trying to achieve this goal, legalism and lack of love predominate far too often. Love and concern for the less fortunate, including the unborn should go hand in hand with truth.

    • Dear Charley,the place of the Church is not to provide social welfare to the world, it is to bear witness to truth, as such the practices (or exercises) of its faithful is to form the faithful, clergy and lay, into the person of Jesus and the person of Jesus is the love of the true good of neighbour. The feeding the poor and the visit of the sick and the imprisoned in themselves do not translate to the good, the true good is the enlightenment of the mind of those who receive this service by the enlightened mind of the provider of this service. Service is the means of sharing this enlightenment we may otherwise know as love. The service providers are in themselves brought into perfection by service provided and so it is not a one way thing, like the spread of disease, it is a sharing. Religious institutions are meant to bread this truth and thus bear its witness. It is therefore not possible to care for the poor as an end and do so at the detriment of the full truth, that, for instance, contraception hampers enlightenment and that abortion destroys love. This is the exact position that the nuns you so much love have taken and the Church’s duty is to reform them. They are not the only ones engaged in the care of the poor but this particular group appear to have lost its true purpose and therefore lost its link with the Church. They need to be reformed, they need to return to their purpose of becoming true witnesses of God in the person of Jesus the Christ, they need to be truly Catholic for their good and the good of the whole world. Please, don’t confuse yourself with secularism, it doesn’t tally too well with religion.

  6. One thing’s always bothered me a little about the “tradition” with the feet thing. The text reads thus, in my old-man, KJV Bible:

    1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
    2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscar’i-ot, Simon’s son, to betray him;
    3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;
    4 he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
    5 After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
    6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
    7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
    8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
    9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. [Good old Peter, always looking for an edge…]
    10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.

    John 13.

    Where is there anything in there, or any of the other texts I can find, about KISSING those feet, which you can bet were carefully pre-washed before the Pope (or the bishops and cardinals who occasionally stoop so low in their own service) does his thing? And to remind us humans of what we are, at the individual level of detail:

    link to

    And of course link to

    • Maybe the tradition was influeced by Luke 7:38-50, wherin a woman kisses Jesus feet and Jesus responds to her faith.

  7. Thanks Juan!

    The best move by a Pope in my lifetime! My 1st parish priest was a good guy but also very wealthy. (conservative you might say)If we had a Pope like this 60 years ago it might have changed a lot of things!

  8. If Pope Francis’ conservatism means conserving the Church’s wealth, power, and energy so that it can be devoted to helping those most in need, I’m all for it.

    I think the selfish wealthy don’t really despise the poor. After all the poor are a big part of “the help” that makes being rich so nice and comfortable. In my view they despise skimming off bits of wealth to help the needy. Skim off a penny here and a penny there, and before you know, it adds up to the price of a good cigar.

  9. I am an excatholic and wish francis had been my example as a child. He is something NEW, HUMILITY

  10. Francis is exactly what the Vatican and the Church need. The traditions of the traditionalists who oppose this Pope do not date back to Jesus Christ – in my 64 years as a Catholic I have found much of what traditionalists claim to be essentials in Catholic practice to be huge obstacles. It is amazing how similar the attitudes of these traditionalists are to those the Pharisees, scribes and others criticised by Christ. I find nothing written in articles by Catholic writers such as Marcelo González and Michael Brendan Dougherty [] that relates to Christianity, yet alone to Jesus Christ – how can they write about something so central to our faith without once mentioning Jesus Christ? This says everything. Nothing they say relates to the love of Jesus Christ and our fellow brothers and sisters, nor to anything Christ taught.These things have been obscured or lost altogether in the traditions of the traditionalists. Francis will be as much of a shock to some as Christ was in His time – but like Christ he will open the gate, not make the gate an obstacle.

  11. Why do have to use such humble act of Pope Francis to attack Pope Benedict and Robert Spencer?

    Follow Pope Francis being humble.

  12. This reminds me of Mother Teresa visiting San Quentin Prison or Pope John Paul II going into the jail cell of Mehmet Ali Agca to forgive him.

    Obviously setting an example of remembering the forgotten and despised members of our society.

  13. Juan,

    As always, thanks for your excellent blog. However, I question your reading of Francis’s act. I don’t know much about Francis himself, but washing of the feet, like other forms of ritual reversal, could just as easily function to re-enforce certain normativities: Christianity historically elevated the weak and marginalized performatively but this often functioned as an assertion of ecclesial and episcopal power. God emptied himself and took on the flesh and died that we might live, but he (and I emphasize the gendered aspect in this as well) is still God and we are still human beings. Ritual condescension such as the washing of feet can have little bearing on real social relations and policies, and in fact washing the feet of Muslims could be understood as simply demonstrating how much he is willing to humiliate himself (“ewww! Muslim feet!”) and therefore be just as much a form of self-aggrandizement.


  14. Perhaps true humility from the posters on this blog might require not imputing motives nor making unsubstantiated accusations about other people you do not even know.

  15. The biggest problem Francis has is the Curia. My bet is that he won’t last even two years if he keeps up his current behavior.

    The Roman church has not displayed any real humility since John XXIII. By behaving with simplicity and humility, Frances is basically throwing their own behavior right into the faces of the hierarchy.

    I’m glad that someone referenced the real meaning of conservatism. The people who call themselves conservatives today espouse a form of radical ultramontane politics which destroys the very roots (radix, anyone) of our democracy.

  16. Or are they cafeteria Catholics, parading only the values that accord with their Ayn Rand heresy?

    This is a trick question right? – The word “Catholic” as I’m sure you know means “universal”. This all-inclusiveness means that self-righteous, self-satisfied, morally, intellectually, and ethically, flaccid buffoons such as Rudy Giuliani, Peter King, Robert Spencer, Sean Hannity, and Paul Ryan are also included. Then there’s the self-righteous, self-satisfied, morally, intellectually, and ethically, flaccid buffoons who vote for them, buy their books, watch their programmes etc.

    To know what Christianity’s founder thought of such sh*t*hawkery and those who engage in it I refer you to Jesus’ remarks anent whited sepulchres.

    Happy Easter.


  17. Pope Francis’ gesture is a very worthy one. But in the longer view, my reaction to seeing him washing prisoners’ feet is like my reaction to seeing the cathedral at Chartres: it ALMOST makes me willing to overlook 17 centuries of crimes by the institutional Roman Catholic Church.

  18. Staged events for propaganda purposes do not impress me. Why can’t people wash their own feet? Muslims do this quit a lot by themselves. They don’t need a Pope to do it for them. The message infers that feet are inherently dirty, and an important man like the Pope shows humility when he washes dirt from feet. I’ll never understand this as long as I live, seeing as how God made feet.

  19. Under Pope Benedict, the American Catholic Church (if i can generalize) drifted further from Rome. I remember Pope John Paul II issuing guidance that American Catholics were NOT supposed to vote for any so-called Christian fundamentalists or right like Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition. During Pope Benedict’s time, it seems no guidance stemming any rightwood drift was addressed as Pope John Paul II had tried.

    In two weeks’ time, Pope Francis has moved to address a lot of issues, alot of heady issues that fell off the radar obscured by the last eleven years of military-security and terrorism issues. Meanwhile, the bottom part of our societies sinks lower and lower. The video embedded here the other day on the sinking of the middle and lower classes in this society alone is a scary reality, albeit obscured one too. What will be interesting is to see what key issues will emerge front and center on the Vatican’s agenda. It’s only been two weeks’ time but it’s been a refreshing two weeks’ time as far as what has happened so far

  20. I think that when we resort to criticizing too much, traditionalists – liberals and liberals – traditionalists, we can end up by falling into a trap. The result can be chaos and a disturbed mind. Better to wait in patience and see how things develop, coupled with much prayer for the Pope and Our Holy Mother the Church. The latter I am sure is NOT what the Devil wants.

  21. People around the world, more so the young people, have been waiting for a spiritual leader such a Pope Francis. The people of the world will go with him on love v. guns.
    Jorge Mario Bergoglio an was always REAL in Argentina, from the time he was ordain as priest until he became a Cardinal (cooking his meals, riding public transportation, being with the people in the slams of Buenos Aires, etc.)and he remains REAL as a Pope: His physically unprotected body among the thousand of people from all over the world is REAL.
    May Pope Francis succeed in saving the world from self destruction.

  22. Mr. Cole, I can understand your concern with being Islamophobes, however your column lacks balance in that you attach certain people critical of Islam, but you totally ignore writers from within the Muslim religion.

    There are varied and many who warn us that Islam is not the “religion of peace” it claims to be. Take for example, Ayaan Hirsi; Nujood Au; Wafu Sultan; Bruce Bawer, a gay may I add, who sternly warns of extremism in his book “How radical Islam is destroying the West from within.”

    Tarek Fatah, a devote Muslim provides objective insights into the inherent dangers of radicals.

    I could go on, Mr. Cole, but what we need is balance and objective thinking not playing the “right” vs. the “left” card. Clear thinking, even though this is a rare gem in today’s society must always be present in pluralistic society.

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