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Ear to the Ground

Let’s Face It, Pope Francis Still Ain’t That Great

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Posted on Sep 21, 2013
Catholic Church (England and Wales) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There’s no denying the latest pope is one of the better leaders the Catholic Church has seen. He’s been trying to turn the Vatican’s attention away from its “obsession” with abortion and homosexuality, and opened up the conversation about priestly celibacy. He’s attempted to prove his humility by living modestly and has announced that poverty is his main concern. And yet, despite all of these seemingly important steps, Salon’s Katie McDonough explains he’s “still pretty awful.”

Even the “best pope ever,” as some progressives have taken to calling him, is still a theological conservative who doesn’t support reproductive rights, laws that extend equal benefits and rights to gays and lesbians, or women’s equal standing in church leadership. (There’s more, but you get the point.)

In April, Francis reaffirmed his predecessor’s censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that represents 80 percent of Catholic nuns in the United States. These nuns were penalized by the Vatican, and continue to be penalized, for focusing on poverty instead of stoking moral panic about the existence of gay people or sexually active teenagers — exactly the kind of community-centered work that Francis just declared sorely missing from the church.

In the report admonishing the sisters, and stripping them of the independent authority to develop their own charter and conduct their own business, the Vatican said they were undermining “issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality” and promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Francis’ censure places these women under the full authority of the Vatican and its “program of reform,” which includes the appointment of three male bishops to manage the rewriting of the nuns’ conference statutes, review its community-based programs and otherwise ensure the group “properly” follows Catholic teaching.

In the same interview in which the pope urged Catholics to move away from the “obsession” with reproductive healthcare and gay rights to create a more inclusive, welcoming church, he also said, “The teaching of the church, for that matter [of abortion, contraception and gay marriage], is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

And yet, not talking about these subjects is really more an act of turning the other way to ignore the deep-seated issues at stake than it is a practice of the Catholic maxim to “turn the other cheek.” To McDonough, Francis’ statements about equality are hollow, unsupported by actual attempts to make the Catholic Church any less bigoted or misogynist. She also makes a point to remind readers that, as a cardinal in Argentina, Francis was fiercely opposed to gay rights, and that all this should be taken into consideration as progressives shower him with accolades, and Jon Stewart declares he’s “totes chill.”

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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