Pope maps out personal, progressive policy

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By Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has made some of the most important policy speeches of his pontificate in recent days, catching up for lost time following months of attention to bureaucratic reform and the turbulent meeting of bishops on family issues that just ended.
Often speaking in his native Spanish, Francis has focused on issues close to his heart — the plight of the poor and unemployed, the environment and even evolution, seemingly emboldened to speak his mind on topics that must make even some of his closest collaborators squirm.
He hasn’t changed church doctrine. But he has pushed the envelope on some issues, raised eyebrows with his blunt speaking style on others, and made clear where his progressive social priorities lie.
Silent death penalty
In his most explosive speech to a group of penal lawyers, Francis went well beyond the Vatican’s previous opposition to capital punishment by denouncing life prison terms as a “hidden death penalty.” Francis’ outreach to prisoners is well-known: He famously washed the feet of juvenile delinquents — Muslims and women among them — at a Rome detention center during his first Holy Thursday as pope. In his speech last week, Francis denounced prison systems as “out of control” for depriving people of their dignity, citing recourse to the death penalty, detaining people without charge or conviction and holding inmates in isolation, which he called a form of “physical and psychological torture.” Putting him squarely at odds with the United States, where he is going next year, Francis also denounced extraordinary renditions, which the CIA used after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to take terror suspects to third countries for interrogation.
Francis also grabbed headlines when he acknowledged that his concern for the poor, the unemployed and the environment would lead some to label him a communist. “They don’t understand that love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel,” he said. The remarks were delivered to a meeting of representatives of popular movements at the Vatican. In the audience were farmers, miners, fishermen and Argentine “cartoneros,” who sift through garbage looking for recyclable goods.
Also on hand to hear one of the longest, most heartfelt speeches of Francis’ pontificate was Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president known for his socialist rhetoric. In an off-the-cuff speech in Spanish, Francis denounced the injustices of the poor that the world wants to forget, the “scandal” of hunger and the lost generation of young people who are unemployed.