Pope Francis has ordered a major expansion of the Vatican’s controversial drone program, calling it necessary to protect the church.
“The Vatican has many enemies around the world, and we must take the necessary steps to defend the church and ourselves,” Pope Francis said in an official statement. “Unmanned drones are the most effective way to strike at hostile targets — be they in the Middle East or elsewhere — while keeping our clergy out of harm’s way.
“The program is efficient and fool-proof, so we don’t expect any innocent people will be harmed.”
Vatican City, the world’s smallest country, is protected by the Swiss Guard, which started its drone program in 2002. Since taking office in March, Pope Francis has accelerated the fledgling program and its stockpile of unmanned drones from 2,000 to more than 3,500, according to independent estimates.
The Vatican has tested several air strikes in the Mediterranean off the coasts of North Africa and Turkey. Last year, a Vatican drone reportedly veered off course and struck a wedding in Yemen.
The Pope’s announcement surprised many of his progressive supporters since the Pope had promised to reevaluate the controversial program, which critics say goes against the Pope’s previous statements on promoting peace and social justice
Hope from the Pope
Pope Francis, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected in March to replace the retiring conservative Pope Benedict XVI.
Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis earned praise from reformists and liberal-leaning Catholics for his advocacy on behalf of poor people and his comments on altering the church’s priorities on social issues. He was recently named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
However, supporters have soured on the new Pope after he failed to keep several promises. Earlier this month, supporters criticized Pope Francis for quickly backing off his proposal to allow priests to marry, owing to opposition from conservative cardinals.
Cardinal Juan Empalmarse of Spain, the leader of the conservative faction, described the Pope as “a radical” who was “trying to apologize for the Vatican and make us look weak before our enemies.”
Pope Francis also angered supporters last year when he broke a promise to shut down the Papal Prison, a 16th-century dungeon that houses heretics without trial. Despite having a majority of support, the Pope quickly gave in to conservatives’ demands to keep the dungeon open.
“I supported the Pope because he articulated my views and promised that things would change for the better,” said Father Connor MacManus of Boston. “But he doesn’t even put up a fight for us. He’s all talk.”
However, liberal website DailyKos praised Pope Francis for “making a good-faith attempt” to end the drone program.
“Pope Francis wants to end the drone program but he can’t because of the conservatives, so he has to be pragmatic,” wrote founder Markos Moulitsas. “Pope Francis is still better than Pope Benedict XVI, who would have quadrupled the drone program instead of just doubling it.
“Besides, the Pope is still cool with gay people. Progressive change happens in baby steps.”