Ever since Argentinian cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis in March of 2013, he has been shaking up the Catholic Church. His focus on the evils of poverty and environmental degradation and the need to treat everyone with Christ’s compassion has earned him millions of devoted followers not only among Catholics, but among other Christians and followers of other religions as well.
Even many atheists have expressed admiration for his socially conscious teachings. Now, he is stirring things up again by insisting that churches who refuse to take in refugees should lose their tax-exempt status immediately.
Pope Francis said that what distinguishes churches from businesses is the commitment to Christ-like behavior; if this is absent, then there is no reason that they should be treated any differently than a regular business. He made this announcement during an interview with a Portuguese DJ, but it is consistent with other things he has been saying in response to the refugee crisis unfolding in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.
He has been especially adamant about the churches in Europe, which is more easily accessible to the refugees than the United States. Indeed, he has commanded all European churches to take in these refugees and is even hosting a family at the Vatican itself.
Pope Francis’s inspiring example has energized hosts of people for the last two and a half years, so there is every reason to believe that his words will make an impact at the grassroots level.
It remains to be seen whether anything might happen to actually change the tax exempt status of churches that do not engage in social ministry, but if nothing else, because of his example, there will be a lot more people willing to fight for the rights of these refugees than there might otherwise be.