Activist Monday: Here Comes the Pope
Posted September 21, 2015on:
Good Monday, all! As a Noo Yawkah, I am experiencing some trepidation about what will happen this week when the Pope, the President and the United Nations all converge upon the City that Never Sleeps. Now, I’m not a Catholic, nor do I play one on the Interwebz; but many of my closest friends are believers, and so I have been following Pope Francis’ career with some interest.
Those of you who have been reading my writings for a while know that I am not a fan of the Catholic church. I have pointed out in the past that Catholicism, much to its detriment, has not experienced a modern, liberalizing Reform movement. Its focus on celibacy has, rather predictably, attracted priests who have major sexual dysfunctions, and the Church is still recovering from the horrible revelations of the widespread child abuse practiced by so many clerics in the fold. By contrast, Reform Judaism and many Protestant forms of Christianity have embraced married, female and openly gay rabbis/priests, and by and large, these awful crimes are not committed in Reform temples and churches. I’m not even mentioning the retrograde views of birth control that are embraced as part of the Catholic church’s doctrine, which, per a Guttmacher institute report in 2011, are not even practiced by the majority of those who call themselves Catholic. As for American Catholic women who have had abortions, that is a much lower number (27%), but it’s certainly not as low as the Church would want it (0%).
Fast-forward to this week’s visit. There’s been a lot of excitement about Pope Francis and his statements on the environment, helping the poor, and seeming embrace of tolerance of LGBT. So today I ask the question: Is Francis a harbinger of liberal reform?
From what I’ve read, the Pope is certainly attempting to lead the Church down a path that is more focused on the (liberal) teachings of Jesus, and less focused on sexual repression. As noted liberal pastor Jim Wallis writes in the Huffington Post:
During the course of his visit, Pope Francis will address Congress and the United Nations, preside over worship services, and take part in parades — none of which is particularly surprising for a visiting pontiff. But the pope isn’t limiting himself to this sort of high-profile event. He is also spending an unprecedented amount of his trip interacting with the people Jesus calls the “least of these” in Matthew 25 — including refugees and immigrants, homeless and disabled men and women, low-income schoolchildren, and prisoners. Some of these people are the very same people who are demonized in our nation’s recent political discussions, and are regularly ignored by most of our politicians.
It’s these events on the pope’s schedule that should attract the notice of all people of faith and conscience — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — because they exemplify who Pope Francis is as a person and as a leader. As one of his job titles, the “Vicar of Christ,” indicates, he strives to promote the teachings of Jesus by acting like Jesus acts in the Gospels. That means focusing as much of his time and energy as he can on the people with whom Jesus spent the most time.
And speaking of conscience….there are some pretty jaw-dropping public statements out there about the Conscience of Conservative Catholics. Apparently, examining their own behavior and beliefs isn’t really where they’re at, man.
Francis’ moral instruction about daily life — on the Christian duty to stop consuming so much, start spending more time with the poor and give up air conditioning for the sake of the environment — has left some feeling scolded.
“We have a pope who makes us, to put it bluntly, uncomfortable,” Kurt Martens, a canon law professor at the Catholic University of America, said in a recent talk at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He asks questions about, ‘What did you do for the poor?”
Greg Erlandson, president of the Catholic publishing company Our Sunday Visitor, who covered Pope John Paul II from Rome, said Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, is asking people to “examine our consciences” — and “examination of consciences really makes you uncomfortable.”
“It’s stressing everybody a little,” Erlandson said. “We’re really hearing a voice from the Southern Hemisphere. We’re hearing from someone who has literally seen the world from a different perspective.”
I think these are all very good signs. Francis is “liberal” on climate change, caring for the poor, and at the very least, not discriminating against LGBT because of their sexual orientation. But…what about the ordination of women? And what about women’s rights to control their own bodies?
Mmmmm….not so much.
Despite his talk of expanded roles for women in the Church, Francis is still firmly against ordaining women as priests or, for that matter, as clergy of any kind. He has even rejected the idea of reviving an older tradition of lay cardinals that would include women. (A lay cardinal is a nonclerical member of the College of Cardinals.) The proposal has drawn influential support from the likes of Lucetta Scaraffia, a historian and columnist for the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, but Francis has unambiguously shot it down. Francis’s clearest statement on the ordination issue came during an airborne press conference in July 2013, when he was returning from Rio de Janeiro. “The Church has spoken and says no. . . . That door is closed,” he said.
The pontiff’s rejection of female clergy is so unwavering that critics have accused him of having a blind spot on women’s issues. Jon O’Brien of the liberal dissent group Catholics for Choice, an organization that defies orthodoxy by supporting abortion rights, said in 2013 that the pope’s message seems to be “Women can wait while he takes care of more important issues.” In October 2013 a progressive priests’ group in Ireland leveled a similar charge when Francis signed off on the excommunication of Australian Fr. Greg Reynolds, in part for his advocacy of women’s ordination.
From reading the rest of the article, I’ve come to the conclusion that Pope Francis’ view of women is as servitors and proselytizers, not as wielders of power and influence. In defense of his position, he falls back on intellectual arguments such as advocating against clericalism and machismo, and doesn’t address the indisputably harmful effects of the Church’s medieval policies towards women. I find this disappointing, dishonest and supremely unimpressive.
After standing up to “progressives” to prefer Hillary over fake feminist Obama and “all talk, very little action” Sanders, I’m not willing to give any leader who is “otherwise liberal” a pass on gender equality. Welcome to Noo Yawk, Pope Francis, and I hope the Big Apple is where you experience your Road to Damascus moment. But don’t expect me to accept you a reformer until that happens.
This is an open thread.
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