Pope Francis on Wednesday made an impassioned plea for an end to the salary gap between men and women, calling it "a scandal" that Christians should decisively reject. "Why is it taken for granted that women must earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. The discrepancy is a pure scandal," he told tens of thousands of people at his general audience in St. Peter's Square. Raising his voice for emphasis as he made some of his most forceful remarks on the subject to date, he said Christians should "decisively support the right to equal pay for equal work."
First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected voice in the pay-equity debate, where proponents are always glad to pick up high-profile allies, though few expected Pope Francis to endorse the principle with fervor.
Francis added that Christians should "become more demanding" for that "radical equality."
Note, in the U.S. political debate over pay equity, the argument is less about the outcome and more about the means to produce that outcome. In Congress, for example, Republican lawmakers publicly insist they're strongly support equal pay for equal work -- they just oppose legislative remedies to help guarantee equitable results. To this extent, the pope's declaration is an important contribution to the debate, but its impact is limited -- it's not an endorsement of a specific proposal.
That said, for President Obama and congressional Democrats, the pope's endorsement of the underlying principle is welcome. Indeed, it's the latest issue on which Francis is breaking with American conservatives, following the pope's very public -- and quite progressive -- remarks of late on the climate crisis, Iran nuclear talks, and support for a new U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.
The Hill reported earlier this year that the pope "is increasingly driving a wedge between conservatives and the Catholic Church." His spirited opposition to the income gap between men and women may very well drive that wedge even deeper.
With Francis headed for the United States in the fall, including a speech to a joint session of Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), it's a dynamic worth watching.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* One of the hosts of Fox News' "Fox & Friends" said on the air this week, "[I]f you're a Muslim, I hope it means you can still salute the flag, put your hand on your heart." I'm still not sure what that's supposed to mean, exactly.
* The St. Louis chapter of the Satanic Temple has come up with a creative argument: "The Satanic Temple, a faith community that ascribes to seven central tenets that track closely with humanism, is seeking a religious exemption from Missouri's 72-hour abortion waiting period on the grounds that the law violates their sincerely held beliefs about bodily autonomy."
* The Syrian Archbishop said this week of Christians in the war-torn country, "We are in grave danger; we may disappear soon."
* And with the UK's general election coming right up, it's striking to learn that Labor Leader Ed Miliband, when asked if he believes in God, replied in 2010, ''I don't believe in God personally, but I have great respect for those people who do." This apparently isn't considered important in national British politics. [Date corrected.]