This week is absolutely rife with enthusiasm for the visit of Pope Francis, and since I’m a blogging ex-Catholic, here’s my two cents.
I live in the northern east coast, and life here has been altered somewhat as a result of the Pope’s visit. Roads have been closed, bridges blocked, and buses have been hired to take visitors to Philadelphia. This is not a terrible thing. A famous public figure’s visit is definitely a big deal, and Pope Francis has a lot of power as the head of the Catholic Church. I respect him for who and what he is, and I’m really happy to hear that he’s been primarily talking about climate change and poverty rather than abortion and gay marriage. I’m liberal. I can get behind Catholic teaching on climate change and poverty.
With that being said, his visit has brought a new wave of articles like this one on how the pope is changing the church and making it more liberal. While there’s no denying that compared to his predecessors he’s significantly less conservative, Pope Francis is not liberal, and has never been liberal by any stretch of the imagination. This is partially because one of the selling points of Catholicism is that it’s resistant to change.
I can’t tell you how many times during my upbringing I was told that Catholicism was the right faith because it’s the version of Christianity that was supposedly founded by Jesus. The speech went, “It’s correct because it came first.” Never mind the fact that the church hierarchy and a lot of its traditions that are now rules developed later, Catholics see the lack of change in their faith as a sign of how right they are. Catholicism is known for its traditions, right down to details that the younger generations realize don’t matter, like what gender the person you marry is, or whether or not someone has been divorced. Even if Pope Francis does want to change some of those traditions, he’s going to have to do more than call for a synod to discuss them. He’s going to have to make decisions that could put his leadership at risk, because it threatens the “we never change” culture of the religion.
You know those big “changes” where a pope said the church was OK with belief in evolution (though it isn’t a mandatory part of the faith, just an option) and now Pope Francis says climate change is real and a problem? Both of those are issues in which the church could essentially claim that it wasn’t changing its opinion. Belief in evolution doesn’t change the belief that God created the world; many Catholics simply see it as an explanation of how God supposedly did it. Unlike many other forms of Christianity, they don’t take the entire Old Testament literally. As for climate change, belief in that is simply seen as an extension of the church’s teachings on “stewardship,” or care of the Earth.
Those changes both worked out fine when it comes to the religion, but changing the church’s teaching on much-discussed social issues such as abortion, contraception, divorce, female priests, and gay marriage would involve the church issuing some sort of mea culpa akin to the Mormon religion’s announcement in 1978 that black people could now become priests and would no longer be excluded from many temple activities. See how the Mormons had to make it seem like a revelation from God? I have trouble imagining anything short of such a claim would change Catholicism on these issues, though I hope to be proven wrong. It would be an obvious example of the religion changing with the culture of the world, and that would mean breaking the idea of “in the world, not of it,” which is of course a big no-no.
The way I see him, Pope Francis is a well-meaning person with a kind heart. Unlike previous popes, his priorities are in a slightly better place. I think if I met him on the street, I would like him, but that doesn’t change how I feel about Catholicism. He’s still the head of an organization that oppresses women–like me–by fighting against reproductive rights, an organization that can’t handle the idea of gay marriage even if it occurs in a secular setting, and an organization whose main purpose is to convince everyone that a myth is true and that the key to immortality is to get really involved in the organization. The Catholic Church, like the Church of Scientology, is still a scam, no matter how much charity they do.