It’s been over a year since Bishop Jorge Bergoglio was raised to the position of Bishop of Rome and adopted the name Pope Francis. It’s been a good year for him and for the church. He’s celebrated as a forward thinking Pope who is doing a lot to change the regressive culture of the Catholic Church. He’s a religious rock star, and seems to be singlehandedly changing the image of the Church.
I, however, am not convinced.
But wait! Of course the atheist guy isn’t gonna like him, that’s just obvious, right? I mean, he’s the friggin’ Pope. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of common ground for us to work with. I assure you, when I criticize Francis, I don’t do it because I’m unable to see any good in a religious leader. On the contrary, I really wanted to believe in this Pope. When I listened to him talk, I thought perhaps he could actually change the course of the Church, and make it into something that does more good than harm in the world… obvious personal disagreements in belief aside.
Admittedly, Francis talks a good game. He seems unafraid to change the tone of the conversation and seems to deal fairly with people of all faiths. Hell, he’s even said a nice thing or two about us atheists and heathens.
But when you really look a little closer, it seems that all he does is talk. There is no actual, tangible change in the Catholic Doctrine or the way the church acts.
Take a look, for example, at his attitude towards gays. Last July, he famously remarked, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” I would go as far as to say that’s downright revolutionary language for the leader of a church that has been at the forefront of fighting against gay equality at every turn. Even Pope John Paul II, who was generally regarded as a kindhearted and respectful Pope, endorsed a letter called On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons which clarified the Church’s position that homosexuality is, “an intrinsic moral evil,” and an “objective disorder.” (For the record, psychological experts – who have actual expertise on the subject of disorders – clearly state that homosexuality is not one, but why should we believe people who actually study this stuff over what the Church says?)
In fact, Pope Francis himself led opposition to marriage equality in his home nation of Argentina before he became Pope. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he mobilized Catholics to fight against the legalization of gay marriage, and even personally wrote to legislators to urge them not to vote in favor of equality. He said,
“Let’s not be naive: This is not a simple political fight; it is a destructive proposal to God’s plan. This is not a mere legislative proposal (that’s just its form), but a move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God … Let’s look to St. Joseph, Mary, and the Child to ask fervently that they defend the Argentine family in this moment… May they support, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.”
To be clear, unless he has a different definition for the term “father of lies” than most Christians in the world, he believed that marriage equality was a move made by Satan to weaken families.
But that was four years ago, and I’ll be the first to admit that some of my views have changed in the last four years, so it’s perfectly reasonable to believe the Pope’s could have as well. Now he says, “who am I to judge?” He even said in another interview that the church seemed “obsessed” with issues like gay marriage, and that it should instead focus on helping people; a sentiment that even this ornery atheist can get behind.
So yes, he’s said a lot of nice things, but what exactly has he done? Not much, it turns out. While he says all sorts of nice things, he’s never made an actual change in doctrine. On the other hand, he allegedly ordered a Bishop in Malta to continue to speak out against a law allowing civil unions.
Then there’s the case of Father Gary Reynolds, a priest in Melbourne, Australia who was an advocate for both gay marriage and the ordination of women. Reynolds, who has never done more then speak in support of either issue was defrocked and excommunicated by the Church, and did so with Francis’ knowledge, if not at his order.
It seems when it comes to the gays, when Francis asks, “Who am I to judge?” he answers with, “The mothafuckin’ Pope, that’s who.” (citation needed)
Admittedly, expecting the Catholic Church to change it’s views about gay rights might be asking a lot. Even if Francis says the right things about gays, perhaps it’s too much to ask for complete turnaround on their stance. But what about another issue that’s plagued the church for years. An issue with no moral ambiguity. I’m speaking, of course, about the Church’s problem with child abuse.
It seems the last few years has been filled with story after story of the Church covering up cases of abuse by clergy. They’ve moved priests who abused children to other parishes, allowing them to continue to abuse again, all while shielding them from secular authorities. Francis’ predecessor was even accused of enforcing a doctrine that ordered the protection of abusive priests over the welfare of their victims, though the Vatican denies it.
To make things worse, even when the Church is ordered by the court to pay restitution to victims, Church leaders used a variety of methods to hide funds so as to avoid paying victims.
This seems like an easy one. If the Pope is as determined to improve the Church’s image, he should make it unquestionably clear that any priest who abuses anyone, sexually or otherwise, will be immediately turned over to local authorities. Also, order all diocese to fulfill all their financial obligations to the victims of abuse.
So is that what Francis did? Not exactly, though he did more than just talk. He ordered the formation of a commission which included Vatican lawyers, psychological experts, and even a former victim to advise the Church on how to best protect children and stop abuse. That’s definitely a step in the right direction, if a minor one. The commission has no actual authority, and only can advise the Church.
But then again, perhaps the Pope doesn’t understand the magnitude of the problem, or how it’s affecting the way people view the Church. Strangely, Francis seems to be completely out of touch with the history of the Church on this issue. He claimed,
“The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No one has done more. And yet the church is the only one that has been attacked.”
That’s patently absurd. It is well established that the Church not only covered up abuses, but willfully shielded abusive priests from secular authorities. And while it’s true that Pope Benedict defrocked over 400 priests over the scandal, what he didn’t do was turn them over to police.
Things don’t seem to be changing under Francis, either. He may have formed a committee to advise him, that committee says priests are under no obligation to report abuse to secular authorities. So even under the control of this new, kinder, more accepting Pope, the Vatican considers their image more important that justice for the abused.
This is the crux of it. The Church claims to be the ultimate standard of moral authority, yet can’t even figure out that turning pedophiles over to the police is the right thing to do. The moment the Church decided protecting priests who abuse children instead of children who are abused, it not only forfeited the right to be seen as any standard of morality, but it also became accomplices to the crimes of it’s clergy.
Why would the Pope even need a committee to advise him in the first place? Abusing anyone, children or otherwise, is not only patently immoral, but also illegal. If someone under his authority commits a crime, the right thing to do would be turn them in. It doesn’t take a doctrine of infallibility to figure that one out.
Pope Francis gets a lot of credit. He’s the darling of the media, was named Person of the Year not only in Time, but also in the gay rights magazine, The Advocate. He topped Fortune Magazine’s list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, and both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert love him. And to some degree I get why; he talks a good game. I’ve said before, I want to like him. I want to think he’s capable of dragging the Catholic Church into the modern world.
Unfortunately, his words – no matter how admirable – are outweighed by his actions. Pope Francis may speak like a reformer, but he acts just like any other Pope. In a way, that’s even worse. When it came to Francis’ predecessor, Pope Palpatine XVI, there were no surprises. He was unapologetically regressive. Francis, however, seems so different. If only he’d start acting that way.
Well, at least he said nice things about atheists. I hope he really meant it that time.