The Catholic Church is evolving, but evolution takes time.
Well, to be frank, no. At least not right now. However, the new Pope’s actions in the past two months do deserve a more critical look because, whether the world is ready or not, the Catholic Church as an inherently paternal structure is beginning to change. The Pope’s recent private letter to gay Catholics is only the latest in a string of decisively planned and public actions that are quickly establishing a new status quo for Catholics the world over. His September criticism, for instance, that the Catholic Church is obsessed with gay marriage and abortion has already put a noticeable distance between Francis and his predecessor Pope Benedict. However, the recent excommunication of Australian priest Greg Reynolds, a known advocate for gay marriage and women’s rights, suggests that Pope Francis’ position may be a bit more complicated than the stance of a simple progressive.
There is no question that Francis’ recent actions are in direct opposition to the institution, business, and boys club that the Catholic Church has become. It is even possible that the excommunication of Greg Reynolds was merely a move to keep the hardliners happy amidst Francis’ other more radical choices. Of course, when put into context of the current momentum of global civil-society, the new Pope’s statements may seem quite moderate. We cannot forget, however, that this is the first time in an incredibly long time that the Papacy has shown such a drastic shift in goals, politics, and (dare I say) beliefs.
Indeed, I would suggest that the global public has grown so used to the intensely conservative institution that the Papacy embodies that it has ceased listening. We have been almost desensitized to the traditionalist paternal structural of the Catholic Church and its regular edicts. Francis has shown the public, however, that the politics of the Church are not fixed, but fluid. If nothing else his choices and actions have presented the distinct possibility that the political tilt of Catholicism as an institution can shift; the potential for forward movement exists. And despite his confusing political moves thus far Francis has at least voiced that something must change.
I know the critics suggest that Francis is only lulling the moderates and liberals into a false sense of security or that he is simply trying to save face with the women’s right and gay-marriage supporters but I would ask them to consider the modern political environment worldwide. The push for gay marriage and women’s rights are no longer fringe issues, they have not been for a long while now. Activists, public intellectuals, and the common citizen have worked hard to make sure of this. We are not stuck in medieval times and Pope Francis realizes this. For a man who has spent so much time in the global south and so much of his life as a Jesuit, who believes that if religion and politics must be mixed they might as well help someone, he cannot deny this.
I would hesitate to call Pope Francis a progressive force in the Vatican, we must wait and see what fruits his politicking bare first, and I would even hesitate to say that he may extinguish the paternal infrastructure of the Catholic institution. I would suggest, perhaps, that for the first time in a long time the eyes of the Vatican are seriously considering what the world needs the Church to be, instead of the other way around.
–Photo: European Parliament/Flickr