Pope Francis: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Photo by vstudios / 123RF

Pope Francis is a public relations genius. From eschewing the gilded ornamentation utilized by his predecessor, to living outside the papal apartments, to talking about the plight of the poor, the new pope seems to know exactly what to say and do in order to bring Catholics back into the flock.

The pope has made some encouraging statements on topics such as atheism (stating that atheists can do good and should abide by their own conscience) and homosexuality (asking, “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?”) while seeking to fix the infamously corrupt Vatican bank. And he should be commended for at least speaking about these issues in a progressive way, even if he maintains much of the conservative theological and administrative positions of his predecessor.

But the pope has also made a series of missteps in the past few weeks that left many scratching their heads. First, in the wake of the horrific Charlie Hebdo attacks, Pope Francis stated that there were limits to free speech, especially when it comes to religion. Claiming that an insult against his mother would be rewarded with a punch, he seemed to imply that violence was the correct response to offensive or insulting speech. Obviously, this is concerning for atheists and members of other “controversial” communities, for if our speech or beliefs are deemed sufficiently offensive we can expect a violent reprisal. Unfortunately, Pope Francis is just one of many different religious leaders who believe in limits on speech regarding religious criticism and mockery, but his carefully crafted image had at least suggested that he might make a more progressive statement in response to the attacks.

More recently, Pope Francis stated that while the church does not believe in condom usage, even though the widespread usage of condoms could save numerous lives in poor countries and prevent unwanted pregnancies, that doesn’t mean that Catholics need to “breed like rabbits.” The implication of this position is that Catholics, who should not use condoms, can only have sex several times in their lives as a way of producing one or two children, and should remain celibate after that point. While some Catholic clerics might be able to pull off such a feat, the majority of lay Catholics would find themselves struggling to maintain such a sacrifice, and would thus have to choose between defying the church by using a condom, defying the church by having too many children, or defying the church by getting a vasectomy or tubal ligation.

The Catholic Church and its popular leader need to recognize that in order to be relevant in modern society, it must espouse modern positions, even if the basis for those positions come from ancient texts. By promoting archaic positions on sex and free speech, the Church is not only harming its adherents, but the future of the institution it is supposed to be protecting.

Tags: ,