As Pope Francis begins his trip along the Northeast Corridor this Tuesday, which will include the largest domestic security operation in US history, there are many questions Americans will want to pose to this purportedly progressive religious leader. After stating that a "revolution" is needed to combat climate change — pissing off an entire faction of conservative politicians who otherwise wear religion on their sleeves — it will be interesting to hear Francis’s take on this election cycle’s hottest topic: the family.
That is, of course, how Francis' Church is going to react to our national legalization of same-sex marriage and the ongoing battle against women’s reproductive rights. An in-depth article in The New Yorker by Alexander Stille investigates these and many more topics that have come to the surface in the Vatican of late, and to say an easy answer is forthcoming is false.
The timing is especially perfect considering this papal visit ends in Philadelphia, where Francis will visit the World Meeting of Families, essentially the opening act for this year’s Synod on the Family in October. It is at these events that the Argentine is expected to address the above topics.
Not that’s he’s been silent on these issues. To the consternation of more conservative bishops and cardinals, Francis found a doctrinal loophole when stating that Catholics who had had abortions could absolve their sin by sincerely confessing during a special Jubilee year—kind of like getting a "Get Out of Jail Free" card when playing Monopoly. He's looking for a way to be more inclusive rather invoking that sense of exclusivity so common to new Manhattan nightclubs. The idea of "who you know" to gain entrance — whether heaven or paying $300 for a bottle of whatever hot tequila is trending — is something Francis has been trying to abandon, not promote.
Likewise, in regards to the gay marriage issue, during last year’s synod, German cardinal Reinhard Marx put forward the following:
Take the case of two homosexuals who have been living together for 35 years and taking care of each other, even in the last phases of their lives. How can I say that this has no value?
Others were quick to declare no, no value at all. In fact, blasphemy. The final Vatican report removed his line about value, as well as one that softened the blow against remarrying Catholics.
For his part, Francis has already made his sentiment (somewhat) clear in 2013 when stating he was not the one to judge homosexuality — kind of odd considering he is the planet’s leading translator of God’s feelings, but we can appreciate his honesty. There’s a lot to appreciate about this pope, in fact: his constant tirades against capitalism (even if, as Stille and Gerald Posner have both reported, the Church sits on a ridiculously large and controversial amount of holdings in the Vatican bank); his modest abode in Vatican City; his consistent messaging about helping the poor, as well as him physically doing so.
Yet, as Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, a family organization leader in the Church, stated in response to this emergent liberalism:
The Church is a communion, not a democracy.
And that includes the politics that must be played and endured by any leader. While the public meets a friendly, affable man willing to take selfies with his fans, Stille reports that he’s not a pushover inside Vatican walls. During an interview Francis described himself as both "naïve" and "furbo," which translates as “shrewd, clever, even tricky.” And, despite (or because of) the intense focus on the Vatican Bank and its business dealings, he’s taken a closer look at the in and out columns on the papal register.
In regards to sexuality, however, we should treat any papal demand as seriously as we do that of our own government: dangerous while intrusive. While the House voted to defund Planned Parenthood for a year — dangerous, although it will never be law (as long as Barack Obama remains in the Commander's seat, at least) — it's recently come out that the Church refused to strip the vestments from priests involved in sexual abuse scandals. Instead, they sent them to South America to continue their work.
What we should take from this: Clean up your house before you tell people how to run theirs. Even better, just focus on your own house. All these intrusions by people who never have and never will know you are irrelevant to who you choose to love and how you choose to love them. We can hope that Francis uses his leverage to continue to push his Church forward, but really, it’s all just for show if he can’t keep his flock together first.
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