Can We Take A Second To Talk About Our Kick-Ass New Pope?

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Can We Take A Second To Talk About Our Kick-Ass New Pope?

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | September 19, 2013 | Comments ()

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Am I allowed to still call him “new?” He’s been in office exactly 190 days. In terms of Pope terms (usually for life), that’s pretty fresh. If I’m being honest, I haven’t paid extraordinarily close attention to the two popes who preceeded Francis in my lifetime. I was raised atheist/agnostic and so from my perspective Pope John Paul the II (1975-2005) existed as a sort of vague, benign figure in the back of my mind. John Paul was fairly well-known for being an apologist pope. He authored several famous mea culpas for the Catholic church’s involvement in previous atrocities including the Holocaust, the slave trade and treatment of women. In 2001, he also apologized for the Catholic church abuse scandals that came to light. So he was awfully sweet-seeming. Awfully sorry. And maybe not as proactive as he might be. He reassigned certain guilty parties instead of booting them from the church altogether. From my secular position, I would have preferred a mass defrocking.

Pope Benedict, on the other hand, was the more sinister-looking Pope and was painted with a less favorable brush by pop culture. His reaction to the sexual abuse scandals was far more out-spoken and passionate than Pope John Paul’s and that, by rights, should have made him a hero. But he was, nonetheless, named specifically as being complicit in the cover-ups and whether he resigned due to persecution, his self-described “advanced age” or his later story of a mystical experience, he was the first to do so since the 15th century.

Enter Pope Francis. The most modern-thinking Pope yet. The Pope whose politics most closely align with mine. And though I’m still an atheist/agnostic, it’s hugely important to me that this leader of the Catholic world, this massively influential voice, seems to be speaking the words of progress. Or, rather, keeping silent on certain subjects. In a recent interview, Francis spoke to the Catholic church’s fixation on issues of abortion and gay rights:

It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. We have to find a new balance otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.

First of all, “freshness and fragrance of the Gospel” is such a delightful evocative phrase. Secondly, through his selective silences, Francis has become one of our most outspoken voices on the inevitability of modernity. We can leave the issue of abortion on the table, though my opinions on that matter are quite strong. But when the leader of the Catholic church refuses to condemn homosexuality outright? Ah, a change gonna come.

And I don’t know, honestly, how Catholics in general are going to respond. Some will be angry and feel they’re not being accurately represented. Some will breathe a sigh of relief that the old institution is beginning to catch up with the more progressive, spiritual thinkers. And that’s why this is important to an atheist/agnostic like me. I don’t like getting my back up about religion. I like being able to whole-heartedly support any person’s chosen faith and spiritual path. What does it have to do with me what you choose to believe in? Why should I care what manner divine thought gets you through this world? I only care when those tenets are pushed on me or my loved ones. When religion is used as an excuse to oppress and deny. What Francis and his progressive attitudes mean to me is that we’re a little bit closer to a world where we can all peaceably co-exist. And, if there were a God, and that God had a plan, wouldn’t that be it?


(via NYT)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • LowSlash

    He's still flip-flopping pretty hard, denouncing abortion as part of today's "throw-away culture", and encouraging Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them.

  • Guest

    He's still flip flopping pretty hard, denouncing abortion as part of today's "throw-away culture", and encouraging Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them.

  • Comedian

    If there's no God, why even waste your precious time writing about some ignorant old man? You could have used that time to have group sex or steal something for fun. Also, you should know that the Vatican owns a telescope called "L.U.C.I.F.E.R.". Just thought I'd try to inform you.

  • Salieri2

    I keep seeing quotes pulled out of this interview, but it's really impossible to get what Francis is talking about unless you read the whole thing. I urge everyone to do so, with a drink of some kind, because it is intense.

    Here's a nice solid chunk:

    The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

    “I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”
  • VohaulsRevenge

    A world in which Vatican II occurred over 50 years ago is not one in which further (perhaps major) changes to Catholic doctrine are impossible. The moral--ahem--oversights of the Counter-Reformation were a response the unprecedented challenge of the Reformation; the challenges of modern life will continue to force the Church's hand unless it wants to truly wither and die.

    In short: Francis is imperfect, but I'll take what I can get.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    He won me over (although I intensely dislike organized religion) when he chose Francis as he pope name. My favorite saint.

  • Quanion

    That was beautifully written, Joanna.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    to be fair, he still considers a homosexual act a sin, but not the orientation. love the sinner hate the sin, kinda thing.

    so i dont know that he's really prgoressive or splitting hairs, but hey, as a former catholic/now atheist, i appreciate the effort for inclusion, at least.

  • Slash

    Well, as popes go, he's one of the better ones. He's still the leader of a terribly corrupt organization. But then again, so's Obama, and I still dig him (mostly). So ... there's that.

  • neonseattle

    I'm a liberal Catholic and I'm giddy on Pope Francis. His recent comments towards gays and atheists show that he is a true follower of Christ. Christ loved ALL his people. Those that spew hatred towards groups of people in the name of God are not true Christians.

    I have some very conservative Catholic "friends" and they have been SILENT on this. I've had to scroll through so many of their Yes on Prop 8/sanctity of marriage tweets/status updates in the past.

  • Bodhi

    Exactly. This Pope seems to stepping away from the teachings of Paul & back to those of Jesus

  • $27019454

    THREE CHEERS. Paul was kind of a scary guy.

  • DominaNefret

    As someone raised UU/atheist, I appreciate that he publicly stated atheists can still be good people. I'm all about reversing as much of the atheist = amoral stigma as possible.

  • That would be nice, wouldn't it. I'd pack that up and send it back to 7 year old me, because that dude got a whole lot of shit like that growing up in a half Catholic half Lutheran small WI town.

  • I do think that Pope Francis has done some good things, but I remain unconvinced that 'progressive' is A) a benchmark he should strive for or B) always a good thing.

  • Jezzer

    I think he should bring back the Inquisition.

  • Nobody would expect that, it's true.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser


  • bastich

    As long as they reinstitute the Comfy Chair, I'm fine with it.

  • foolsage

    That would depend on the Inquisition. I mean, pretty much everyone expected the French Inquisition...

  • Wrestling Fan

    JP2.0 set up everything Francis is able to do now. He was a real revolutionary in the church. He and Francis are responsible for trying to make the Catholic Church relevant again.

    I am, at best, an agnostic, but it does make me feel good to see that Pope Francis is making such strides toward actual equality and acceptance among all believers.

  • Michael Kirley

    PJP2 did virtually nothing for doctrine, so I'm not sure what you're getting at. Everything Pope Francis is doing owes more to Vatican 2 than it does to PJP 2.

  • rio

    When Pope Benedict was elected (9 years ago? Oh god Im old) my roommates and I threw a Nazy Pope Party. We even had t-shirts made. I met someone I knew back then and he still remembered that party. Win? or epic win? Anyway the new Pope seams peachy but he's still a Pope, also if he really is as great as he seams he wont last long, (cough, cough, John Paul I, cough, cough). However, for a Pope, he's pretty damn cool.

  • A Nazi Pope Party? That's super clever and original. Way to stick it to The Man there, Holden.

  • $27019454

    Can you even imagine a party being thrown with a similarly denigrating theme for another faith without strident protestations of malfeasance and hate speech, etc.?

  • Yossarian

    Cultural context matters, too. Satire, even mean-spirited satire, aimed at institutions and groups that occupy positions of comfort and privilege is not the same thing as making fun of persecuted minority groups. A Nazi pope party is not the same thing as a Muslim terrorist party. It's still in poor taste, but it's not the same thing. That's one of the prices of privilege. You don't get to complain about being picked on. You just kind of have to suck it up.

  • rio

    nope, no brooding allowed at that party.

  • steven wiser

    This article and thread are great! Nice to be able to discuss this and see other discussing it with grace.

  • nosio

    Thank you. You're might get a metric tonne of, er, fiesty responses to this piece, but you've perfectly summed up my feelings on the current pope.

    As an atheist/agnostic today, I haven't authentically been a part of the Church for several years. There are many, MANY parts of its doctrine I vehemently disagree with, but I have a really soft, squishy spot in my heart for the Jesuit order, as they seem to be one of orders that actually practices what the Church is supposed to preach - compassion, social justice, love, and equality (yeah, I really do believe the Church as a whole will get there on that last one - the 2000 year old homophobic views will change, maybe at a glacial pace, but they'll get there).

  • SottoVoce

    I'm a Protestant and I've always liked the Jesuits, too.

  • marigi

    Living in Rome, the election of this pope had a huge impact on the city, where thousands of people have flooded called by the great charisma of Francis. I am very very weary of the Church, that I would love to see transferred to Mexico or some other place that is super-catholic so they get their turn having to deal with it. And although this pope seems more likable, I also remember what a fucking missionary John Paul II was, which is what I hate most about priests. So I'm very cautious. That said, he's given some very touching speeches on Syria, a country I hold most dear (and that I hope to be able to revisit in my lifetime), so I'm grateful for that. I guess he's accent is funny, but not as funny as Benedict's German twang.

  • Guest

    NO. The Catholic Church's stance hasn't changed on any of the major issues like Homosexuality, Abortion, Contraception, or the role of Women in the Church, etc, etc, etc.

    While I do appreciate his voicing views that actually match those of a small group of people in the world it doesn't change the fact that the Church is still an archaic institution and very little is likely to change.

  • Yossarian

    This is a really important point to keep in mind.

    Look, I'd rather have a less awful pope than a more awful pope leading any institution, especially one with as much power and influence as the Catholic Church does (although, admittedly it is less power than it has historically had, and waning) .

    But let's not forget that the fundamental teachings of the church haven't changed and are highly unlikely to change. They still teach that homosexuality is unnatural, disordered, and immoral. They still compel members to not support things that support or encourage homosexuality, so even civil unions and facilitating adoptions by gay couples are against Church teaching and Catholics are supposed to oppose these things if given the chance (say, at the ballot box). Officially, this is the compassionate response because "allowing them to sin would be doing them harm."

    I like that he tweaks the establishment, I like that he emphasizes personal sacrifice and humility and speak out against judging others, but he still represents an institution that is deeply backward thinking in a lot of areas. That teaches that masturbation is a sin, that birth control is a sin, that premarital sex is a sin, that homosexuality is a sin, among many other fucked up things. And nothing this pope has said changes that nor is it likely to change, at least not in his lifetime and probably not in ours.

    People not associated with the church, progressive and secular people, read a lot more into these comments than is really there. They really aren't that significant.

  • Michael Kirley

    The CC doesn't teach that homosexuality is a sin. Their position is terrible, don't get me wrong, and horribly outdated, but let's give them credit where it's due: they're better than the raving American evangelicals who think that homosexuality is actually a decision, if only slightly.

    The CC doesn't really lobby against masturbation, as far as I know. As a sin, it's considered pretty minor and is basically never mentioned these days (i.e. it's gradually phasing out).

    Birth control I'll grant you, but premarital sex I actually won't. The CC's position on marriage is actually really, really good (ASIDE from the homosexuality stuff; I mean the actual _marriage_ part of the marriage, not the random extraneous issues which don't really affect the idea of the contract), particularly insofar as they prepare couples. That they think one should confine sex to that marriage isn't really a problem for society, It's not like they go around stoning people who have premarital sex. They just say that it doesn't fit with their understanding of marriage (and the core of their understanding of marriage, which has nothing to do with gender, btw, is pretty damn good if you ask me) and that they don't agree with it.

    I don't really think one night stands are particularly compatible with my moral code. Why is it that I can hold such a position quite honestly without criticism, but when the CC does it (_and doesn't actively lobby against it because it's impossible_) it's somehow in the same category as their position on homosexuality?

    I should probably add that I absolutely do not agree with the CC on any of the positions you mentioned (i.e. I support SSM, think birth control/masturbation are fine, and don't particularly care about pre-marital sex) so there's not really any bias on my end; please don't take this as some kind of defense of the CC.

  • Yossarian

    They teach that homosexual acts are sinful. So technically they do allow that merely being homosexual is not a sin provided you are abstinent. For life. This is the rationalization.

    On some level I think that's even worse. They acknowledge that some people are born gay and thus are required by the god who made them to never seek fulfillment in physical loving relationship. Ever. It takes a special kind of fucked up logic to arrive at that conclusion in your moral teaching.

    Likewise, masturbation is a sin. It, too, is a perversion of the sex act which is a gift from god. Pleasurable but for procreation only (Basically it's the idea that orgasms are about creating life, and that's gods job, and so it is wrong to push those buttons if it is a false alarm). This is more twisted logic that goes against basic biological and psychological health. There is no way that a God made our bodies and brains to work they way they work with the intention that we would never play with ourselves, but there you go. Your church may not make it a point of emphasis but it is definitely still on the books. Catholic teaching is a lot of things but it is not ambiguous.

    And I assume you mean you personally don't have a problem with forbidding sex outside of marriage because that, too, is pretty clearly sinful in the eyes of the church. It's not as antithetical to human nature as the others since there is at least some opportunity to seek fulfillment of natural biological drives (just, enter into a life long contract first) but it's still problematic, especially the way it reinforces backwards thinking, oppressive gender double standards, unrealistic expectations, and the harmful effects of all that guilt and shame and fear that just makes the already difficult prospect of forming healthy relationships that much harder.

    Did you go to a more progressive church? That's good. Most churches are more liberal than what the actual Catholic Church teaches because society progresses and responds to new information faster than the church does. But I'm not exaggerating. These are the official teachings of the Catholic Church. And it is a problem that impacts us all because of the influence the church has on society and the world. And it will continue to be until we have unrestricted universal access to contraceptives and disease prevention and full equality for all sexual orientations.

    There's a lot of good things the Catholic Church does, I don't want to paint them as completely evil. I usually end up defending them in the Pajiba comments. But on these issues they are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. And we shouldn't forget it.

  • $27019454

    Just for what it's worth, I was never taught (12 years of Catholic school) that masturbation was a sin. I was never taught that homosexuality was a sin. In fact, they never mentioned masturbation (why would they?) and homosexuality was similarly left alone.

  • Wrestling Fan

    He has been in office for about half a year. Give it time.

  • Guest

    Sorry but I call bullsh*t.Francis's views are great for the press and getting fallen Catholics and or possible new converts to enter the Church but the core tenets will not change.

  • Michael Kirley

    They will, over time. To call the Church's position on homosexuality/women/contraception the "core tenets" of the Church is utterly ridiculous. They're moral positions, and, while they never stfu about them these days, these particular positions are actually pretty irrelevant in the scheme of overall doctrine/creed.

  • foolsage

    Agreed. It's a bit like the difference between Torah and Talmud in Judaism. On the one hand, you have the holy writings from the prophets. On the other hand, you have centuries (or millennia, in this case) of discussions about what the prophets really meant to say, and what we can derive from their writings, and what this all means to society.

    In just the same sense, Christianity, and most especially Catholicism, has a massive tradition of rules and guidelines that are loosely based on the Bible, but actually don't appear anywhere in the Bible, as such, or if they do appear, are unclear and stated in obsolete terminology that doesn't mean what modern audiences assume it means.

    The Church's views on homosexuality and masturbation are Talmudic, in this sense.

    Which is to say, they can change.

  • $27019454

    As a Catholic (I admit to attending Episcopal services when I was terribly disappointed in my church at times), Francis makes me happy. But I do need to assert that it is not the Pope's job to be political or to consider his pop culture profile. But purely as an ambassador for Christ's Word here on earth, this guy walks the walk, which is great for his street cred among all nations and all faiths. GO FRANCIS!

  • Mrs. Julien

    [fastening seatbelt]

  • $27019454

    No kidding. *sigh*

  • Mrs. Julien

    I'm bowing out of this one. It requires responses far more eloquent than the increasingly frantic expostulations this kind of topic reduces me too.

  • lowercase_ryan

    This is all well and good, truly. I think he can have a tremendous impact on progressive views around the world. Just not in America.

    In America the Pope's new voice is easily drowned out by a sea of Pat Robertson replicants spewing hate and ignorance. As long as hate can be leveraged into political power nothing is going to change in America.

  • chanohack

    I'm not sure if this is true. I was raised in a very conservative protestant church, and my sphere of friends is still largely Christian. I've seen several articles going around lately written by pastors or Christian bloggers with titles like, "Why I would marry a gay couple" or "How Christians can support marriage equality." It's exciting. And it definitely makes people notice. Many people shared the stories a few months back about Pope Francis' comments about homosexuality. I think a lot of opposers think it's a religiously black-and-white issue, but when someone of the same faith disagrees, that opens up other possibilities-- it's no longer religion vs. godless heathens, it's a difference in doctrine.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I really hope you're right. But it's not just gays that we're talking about. The poor in this country are staring down the barrel of a gun and nobody seems to give a shit. Just don't raise my fucking taxes. Empathy for the poor is non-existent on the right.

    Many other thoughts but they aren't coming out right so I'm saying fuck it and hitting post.

    (the anti-C Rob)

  • anikitty

    His focus on poverty and not flaunting the wealth (for example, his car is a 1984 Renault if the internet is to be believed) of the Catholic church is also refreshing.

  • MissAmynae

    No Prada loafers for Francis.
    So far he has been refreshingly realistic and modern. Its nice to see the Church get shaken out of its daydreams.

    (disclaimer- I'm an Agnostic member of the united Methodist church, but raised by Southern Baptists)

  • Bert_McGurt

    Well put, Joanna. I believe I've also heard talk of him possibly allowing priests to marry as well. I mean, I'd prefer them to first allow women to enter the priesthood, but I suppose progress in one area bodes well for progress in the other.

  • $27019454

    If women could be Catholic priests and marry, this would have been my first career choice. Not sure how this would have meshed with some of my vices, but I would have appreciated the opportunity to study theology and make it my life's work.

  • Shannon

    Couldn't you do that without being a priest or Catholic?

  • Michael Kirley

    You can, but you (obviously) have way less influence and aren't privy to the automatic air of authority that being a priest seems to grant.

    There are female theologians. There are, in fact, amazing female theologians. But the Catholic Church can largely ignore them because they have nothing to do with its governance and can never really affect its mandates/councils in a direct way.

  • Shannon

    Oh I see. Good info. I didn't realize you were also interested in the actual duties of a priest vs. just studying theology, becoming an expert/scholar, that sort of thing. And I agree with you, of course, women should have this opportunity available. But for me, I'd rather observe the fascinating web that is the Catholic Church and its deep history from a distance rather than become involved. I was raised by a recovering Catholic who attended Catholic schools for the majority of her grade school years. So, ya know, even CONSIDERING converting was never an option. And I never had a problem with that. Although, I did at one point ponder the life of a Nun simply for the stable lifestyle and quiet serenity. I mean, 3 square meals, roof over my head, plenty of quiet time, no dudes... not a bad idea. For me, that is.

  • $27019454

    Nor can female theologians lead and council a parish. A priest can.

  • Ian Fay

    That pic with the dove is destined to become a "nice guy Pope" meme.

  • Robert

    John Paul II also rewrote a lot of doctrine to basically be "Hey, don't be a dick." Francis is largely able to get away with what he's been getting away with because John Paul II basically said "maybe women, minorities, victims of horrific massacres, and everything alive on this earth should be treated with a little respect."

    I remember when my CCD teachings actually changed to suggest that animals should be treated with respect and care because they may not have traditional souls but they were created by God just like the rest of us. I was still told using a Magic 8-Ball once in a party store meant I was damned unless I begged an old man to wave his hands and forgive me in Jesus' name, amen, but the animal stuff was radical thinking back then. Until that point, it was "Dominion, fuckers. Beat them critters" as official doctrine.

    So, yes, after Benedict's crazy reign (remember when he kicked it off with that epic "the Jews might be responsible for the Holocaust because they weren't Catholic" speech at Auschwitz? Good times, right?), Francis is crushing it.

  • Tinkerville

    In CCD I was once sent directly across the street to confession for cheerfully telling the instructor that I sometimes hoarded chocolate chip cookies because my dad would eat them all. She said I'd burn in hell for breaking one of the commandments. I was seven for pete's sake. And they wonder why they lose so many followers when they enter into adulthood.

    I, too, am really relieved to see Pope Francis actually making an effort to be progressive.

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