Who Am I to Judge?
When he became the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis made a lot of firsts. He is the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the Americas, the first Pope from the entire Southern Hemisphere, and even the first non-European Pope since Gregory III in 741.
Aside from breaking these molds, Pope Francis has been known and widely regarded for his informal and approachable nature as well as for his devotion to the world’s poor and marginalized. Though he maintains the Church’s stance on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality, among other matters, Pope Francis has gone against the conservative grain of many of his contemporaries and predecessors, thus garnering him a reputation as a ‘progressive’ Pope.
While these stories and reports may make him a popular Pontiff among Catholics, other religions, and non-believers alike, it should not be forgotten that Francis is still the leader of the Catholic Church, a historically conservative institution.
His recent comments on a trip to Georgia and the Caucasus remind us of why Francis is where he is today, what he represents, and the social battles he is and is not willing to fight for during his Papacy. For many Catholics (and others), it’s a reminder not to get our hopes up.
The “Progressive” Pope
Even before he became the Pope in 2013, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was not your traditional leader within the Catholic Church.
First and foremost, Francis is dedicated to the world’s poor. He made headlines in March, 2016, when he washed the feet of Muslim, Hindu, and other refugees. Years ago, he washed the feet of several prisoners, including women and Muslims, letting them know that he was at their service. Aside from refusing to live in the lavish papal apartments and dressing much more modestly than his predecessors, Francis has been forward-thinking on many social issues as well.
For example, he has stated that contraceptives may be permissible in preventing the spread of STDs, and that, while he is against gay marriage, all children of God deserve to be loved anyway. He has also said that focusing on such petty matters has weakened the Church when we should be focusing on loving each other. He even baptized the child of an unmarried couple in the Sistine Chapel.
These acts and many others have garnered the Pope great popularity—which the Church admittedly needs—but they’ve also made many forget one small detail: He’s still the head of the Catholic Church, and still upholds their many conservative and exclusive views.
A History of Intolerance
When it comes to loving the world’s poor, Pope Francis is especially focused on the concept of family. As the Church has done for thousands of years, Francis works to protect the traditional family unit as we know it, as well as keep traditional family and gender roles in place. He has, however, informed Catholics that they should not procreate beyond their means.
Francis also remains strident on the role of women within the Church. For years, he has rejected the notion of women becoming cardinals. In 2013, he addressed the notion of women becoming priests by saying, “John Paul II made the Church’s stance definitive. The door is closed.”
Francis remains staunch on the issue of homosexuality. Though he has reminded his followers that all humans deserve to be loved, he maintains that homosexuality is a sin and that gay marriage ruins the sanctity of marriage and family. Before same-sex marriage was legalized in Argentina in 2010, Francis wrote a letter to cloistered nuns saying,
“Let’s not be naive: This is not a simple political fight; it is a destructive proposal to God’s plan. This is not a mere legislative proposal (that’s just its form), but a move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God… Let’s look to St. Joseph, Mary, and the Child to ask fervently that they defend the Argentine family in this moment… May they support, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.”
But that wasn’t the only “war” Francis is worried about.
The ‘Global War’
Last week, Pope Francis took a trip to the Eurasian country and former Soviet state of Georgia. During one appearance, a woman in the crowd brought up the subject of gender theory, which more or less studies the binary concepts of the male and female genders.
The Pontiff stood firmly against such a liberal notion. In an off-the-cuff speech, he responded to one audience member’s question on the subject by saying, “You mentioned a great enemy of marriage: gender theory. Today, there is a global war out to destroy marriage, not with weapons but with ideas. It’s certain ideological ways of thinking that are destroying it… we have to defend ourselves from ideological colonization.”
The question originally came up in the context of how some Christians feel marginalized by globalization and progressive social tendencies, two trends often supported by powerful countries. Pope Francis spoke out against these developed nations, condemning them for bargaining economic and humanitarian aid in exchange for left-leaning moral influence in developing nations.
So what does that mean for the Pope’s “liberal” reputation?