On Pope Francis

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I feel the need to write about the Pope tonight. I’ve been in a couple of debates lately about him and I want to expand on how I see him.

First, let me say I have big differences with Pope Francis. I don’t like that he is still against marriage, civil unions, and adoption for my LGBT friends. I don’t like the free speech quip he gave in the wake of Charlie Hebdo, though with that, I think he was meaning we should be careful of our speech, but that’s neither here nor there; he could’ve meant we shouldn’t have it. I don’t like that he is still against any contraception save for the rhythm method. I don’t like that he didn’t do an en masse opening of files to hold all priests accountable that were in the child molestation scandal. I don’t like that he is not quite warm to considering women for priesthood. And I don’t like that he is not fully on board with the Nuns on the Bus. There are other things too, I just can’t think of them off the top of my head.

I’m a liberal, a big leftie left leftist, to be honest, so really I didn’t expect to like the Pope much, if at all. In my lifetime, we’ve never had a Pope that was even close to saying much of anything that in my opinion could help the people of the world. I was raised Catholic, and the Popes have always been hardline dogmatists, and what with my heretical beliefs, what they said never held much water with me. And like me, there are a ton of us liberals (at least post John XXIII) who’ve never really liked a Pope, and who aren’t likely to like this one, save for a Pope who effects wholesale change of most or all of the faults of Church dogma.

To many of my fellow lefties’ chagrin, I look at this particular Pope a little differently. It’s definitely not that I forgive him for those things that I don’t like about him; forgiveness of that would require forgiveness of also the Church, and unless things change in the dogma, that isn’t going to happen. And yes, I know we are supposed to strive to forgive, but I am not close to that point yet; I am only – and very – human. This brings me to the point about how I feel about this Pope.

Since his ascension to Pope, Francis has done things a little left of ordinary. From smaller scale things such as not living in the lavish standard quarters and including women in the traditional foot washing on Holy Thursday, to medium sized things such as building showers for the homeless at the Vatican and bringing in barbers so they can clean up, demoting some of the more toxic voices and examples in the Church hierarchy, urging the prosecution of some priests who were named in the worldwide sex abuse scandal, and urging the US to normalize relations with Cuba. But it’s the big things that have me liking this Pope.

The Pope, while being a religious figure and not technically a political leader (though politics are very much involved), has one of the most giant bully pulpits that exist on the planet, if not the biggest. His ‘constituents’ reside in almost every country and he is looked up to by the some of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, and as such is in a position to shape the discussion. Normally, Popes have just brought the standard (and occasionally worse) variations on the traditional dogma. Popes, in my lifetime at least, have not been boat rockers; they’ve simply been traditionalists – offering nothing really new to the Catholic faithful. Pope Francis, with a sharp breath of fresh of air, is a boat rocker.

The world currently is currently in some dire trouble. Between the growing income inequality and the skyrocketing poverty that is the result of the current way capitalism is practiced in the world, and the coming climate disaster which is just going to exacerbate that, the planet is in dire need of a ‘come to Jesus’ moment. Given that most political leaders – the guys with the other bully pulpits – won’t say anything unless it’s pretty much poll tested, we are in desperate need of someone to start pointing the big stuff out. We need political courage, and though the Pope is technically not a political position, politics are always involved, and if those political leaders won’t take the lead, well the Pope has taken up the mantle. Given the amount of people that are being adversely affected and that helping the poor and downtrodden were a hallmark of Jesus Christ, this is right up this Pope’s alley it seems. And he’s not been afraid to say it. He’s not just giving some token and quieter lip service to this stuff – he’s pounding away at it. He’s not just mentioning the environment like previous Popes did – he’s writing an encyclical on it! He’s not just talking about capitalism as currently practiced being a bad thing – he’s pounding verbally away at it repeatedly. Yes, he is still talking about the stuff I don’t like as well, but he’s not been concentrating on it nearly as vociferously or as much. At a time when it is very much needed, he is taking up the mantle on the big things that can’t be afforded political kid-gloving anymore, and I am very happy about that. And given that he is a worldwide religious leader, he has a better chance of being listened to than most other leaders.

Now, do I wish that he would take up the mantle on the things that I disagree with: you bet your ass. No one should be made to feel second class and not be able to be treated as fully equal humans. No one should be told they need to seek forgiveness for using contraception. No one should be told that following Jesus’ footsteps in an official way (priesthood) is something they cannot do. No priests should be above the law. And so on and so on. I wish he would take up those mantles as well. He’s got the pulpit, the temperament, and some seeming open-mindedness in general, so I don’t say that without some hope. No expectations though: I was raised Catholic, and though I’m a heretic, I still consider myself Catholic, but it will take real dogmatic change to bring me back into the fold.

Basically, the way I’m looking at it is not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I want more – a lot more – but I’m not willing to give up on the Pope yet. His trajectory is headed in the right direction and if anyone can change the Church, it’s going to be him. If he doesn’t at least a bit, then it’s pretty much hopeless, at least in my lifetime.

I also look at it from the standpoint: what if he did come in and completely and immediately upended the dogma? First, I’m not a papal scholar, so I don’t know if he even could, but if he could, what if he had done that? I would’ve been ecstatic, but it would probably be very short lived. I think if he had come in and done wholesale change right off the bat, he probably would’ve been killed and his successor would’ve undone anything positive he had accomplished, and probably made some safeguards to make sure it did not happen again. As it is, even the stuff he is doing I think puts him in a certain amount of peril. God knows the stuff he is saying is not making the powers that be in the world very happy, especially the Catholic ones and the ones in predominantly Catholic countries. He’s publicly tearing down their way of life and essentially calling it a sin – that the essence of what gave them their power is a sin. And he’s able to do it to an extent because he cannot be undone in any election they can effect. He is a threat to them; we’ll see how far he is able to go.

As for me personally, I’m hoping he is around for a while. And I hope that if he is, his seeming open-mindedness leads him to make, or at least lobby strongly for, some dogmatic changes that I think it is past time to make. I hope that time and meeting with various people lead him to his own ‘come to Jesus’ moments. So while I do have a mix of cynicism when it comes to the pontiff, I am letting my greater hopes for the world lead my heart when it comes to Pope Francis.


  1. When you consider how revered John Paul II was, and he wasn’t all that um…can I just say lovable? Yet people wept where he passed, man. Then what, Pope Creepy? Couldn’t even be bothered to master the Miss America hand wave? So miserable looking my blood ran cold when he cracked that liver lipped grin. I thought for sure he was in as a result of black mail.

    This Pope is such a vast improvement over that, man. Yeah, it’s hard not to like that. No, he isn’t 100% where we’d like him to be…yet. But he’s sure as hell 100% improvement over past Popes.

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