Papal Enthusiasm

popefrancis

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.

Pope Francis to Officially State Climate Change is Real and Bad

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At last, Pope Francis, the “Good Guy Pope” has done something I’ve been wishing he’d do since he started his papacy:  he’s written an encyclical on something that matters. You can read the full story in an article here, but to sum it up, in a few days Pope Francis will be releasing an encyclical on climate change and poverty. For those of you who don’t know, an encyclical is

“a letter, usually treating some aspect of Catholic doctrine, sent by the Pope and addressed either to the Catholic bishops of a particular area or, more normally, to the bishops of the world; however, the form of the address can vary widely, and often designates a wider audience.”

Wikipedia

Encyclicals are official. They’re serious. The statements contained in them are considered to be in line with Catholic doctrine. In this particular encyclical, Pope Francis will be officially acknowledging that climate change is a real thing; furthermore, he’ll be encouraging the 1.2 billion people in this world who are Catholic to do something about it. He will also be bringing up the issue of poverty. Yeah. That’s right. He’ll be talking about not one, but TWO serious issues.

It seems these two issues are completely unrelated at first glance, but I think the pope may be on to something. As one archbishop explains in the article I linked to earlier,

“It [the encyclical] will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health”

If I read between the lines correctly, that sounds an awful lot like the pope is pointing a finger at consumerism and saying, “Hey! Look, we know you like your ipads, but could you not consume at the expense of everyone else’s well-being!” It’s about time, too. We know that unchecked capitalism leads to inequality, but as the pope will be pointing out, the consumerism that comes with it also eats away at the environment. Since the Earth is the only place we currently have that’s habitable, we kind of need to make it last. For the first time in a long time, I actually agree with a Catholic on something.

Of-course, there are naysayers. In the recent past, the response made by Catholics whenever Pope Francis did something “liberal” was to act like he wasn’t speaking for God. And technically, as I’ve pointed out previously, they’re theologically right to say it wasn’t an official statement and “didn’t count” when the pope said “Who am I to judge?” in his oft-quoted interview referring to gay people. But the “Good Guy Pope” is finally leaving no room for those excuses for his behavior. He means business. He’s giving it to the world in writing.

This is also the pope who turned down the opportunity to live in the papal apartments in the Vatican. When he says he cares about inequality and poverty, I genuinely believe him. I don’t think he’d include climate change in the same encyclical if he didn’t take that seriously too. People who deny climate change (I’m looking at you, US Republicans) are going to be upset about this. In fact, they’re already voicing their dissent–but they’re going to have to suck it up. This is their religion now.

This, my readers, is that rarely-visible good side of religion. While Pope Francis has been somewhat wishy-washy on other issues (gay marriage and divorce for example), he’s taken a strong stance that poverty is a major problem, and emphasized the importance of addressing it over other issues Catholics seem to focus their attention on these days (like abortion and gay marriage).

This could not come at a better time, or to a more needy group of people. Unfortunately,  politics are often infused into the religious practice of deeply religious Catholics. Political opinions are even preached from the pulpit. For years, I’ve seen my parents vote based on Catholic teachings. To this day, they typically make their voting choices mostly based on whether or not a candidate supports abortion. They are vehemently pro-life and anti marriage equality, both of which are issues the church has been very vocal about. Yet they have always been wishy-washy on climate change, a serious issue about which the church has previously said little. It’s as if, without the OK of a priest, they couldn’t make a decision one way or another. They always recycled, and recently even got solar panels installed on the roof, but they simultaneously voiced skepticism about global warming on and off for years. Since the Pope’s encyclical has been announced, my parents and I finally agree about something. They’ve magically decided that climate change is a thing. While I do wish my parents had come to this conclusion on their own, I can’t applaud the pope enough for this. There are too many people like my parents who needed the church to tell them what to think, and who are now going to finally take this issue seriously. Way to go, Francis!

As always, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy