Opinion | Pope Francis looking at issues within the Catholic Church with a progressive eye
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 4, 2013 11:10
Since being elected to the papacy in March, Pope Francis has caused quite the stir among conservative and progressive Catholics with his candid interviews.
The former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis has shown himself to be less formal and rigid than his predecessors. For instance, he’s the first pope in over 100 years to decide to live in the Vatican guest house rather than the papal apartments.
To many commentators, such as Frank Bruni of the New York Times, Francis represents a modesty and humility that has been sorely lacking in the Catholic Church for some time.
He says, “Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper.”
Bruni goes on to clarify an important point that many – looking to latch onto Francis as a newfound revolutionary or reformer of the Catholic Church – have overlooked.
Homosexual acts are still deemed sinful, the all-male, celibate priesthood remains and he has not exactly righted past wrongs, as Bruni explains, but his message of unity is, nevertheless, a welcome one.
In other words, Catholic doctrine and teachings have not been repudiated or re-examined under Pope Francis. He instead has been trying to deemphasize conservative Catholics’ focus on the culture wars regarding abortion, homosexuals and contraception.
La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit magazine, published a lengthy and candid interview with Francis wherein he said, “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.”
Additionally, the Pope would go on to express a much more grandiose and inclusive vision of the Church in saying, “This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I'll do everything I can to change it.”
Certainly, many conservative Catholics have not looked upon this new vision for the Church favorably. For instance, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, said, “There’s nothing the pope said that should give relief to people who say all of a sudden now that conservatives should shut up.”
On the other hand, progressive Catholics welcome his words as a reflection of their own experiences. Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said, “This message resonates with so many Catholics because…Catholics are gay and lesbian; Catholics use birth control and Catholics have abortions.”
However, even if Francis sought to turn his blunt, but inclusive words into action, it most assuredly would not be easy.
Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for National Catholic Reporter, said, “"I think that there are a fair number of bishops here in the U.S. who have quietly gone along with the more trenchant, culture warrior approach … because they thought that going along was what was expected of them.”
For some context, American Catholics would likely agree with a shift in focus from sexual issues to the “freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” as Francis said it. A Gallup poll in July found 60% of Catholics support legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states. Another Gallup poll from May 2012 found 82% of Catholics thought birth control was “morally acceptable.”
Perhaps, then, there is a bit of cognitive dissonance at play between conservative Catholics’ political mindedness and the social reality.
Dr. Russell D. Moore, a Protestant, cautions that Pope Francis ought to seek a balance between kindness and justice coining the phrase “convictional kindness.” That is, he is worried that Francis’ words may be downplaying sin.
For the nonbelievers, Pope Francis has even offered them a sort of olive branch, saying, “And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace.”
Of course, nonbelievers, like me, may scoff at this notion that a God they don’t believe in has “redeemed them.” However, atheists should care about the pope’s words inasmuch as it is a two-fold myth-busting olive branch.
First, it is worthwhile to deconstruct the notion that Catholics are uniquely “special.” Second, even though it should be an obvious point, atheists still care about “doing good.” It is quite possible to establish a moral foundation without the bedrock of God.