4 Ways Pope Francis Is Conservative, Which Is Why His Support For Kim Davis Shouldn't Be Surprising
It may have come as a surprise to read that Pope Francis voiced support for Kim Davis’ refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses. After days of driving around in his Fiat, blessing babies, and telling Congress to work together to solve the world's problems, the pope seemed pretty rad — like your friend’s hippy grandpa tweeting about peace. So did the pontiff pull the wool over our eyes with these seemingly liberal policy proposals?
Yes and no. No matter how you slice it, the pope has voiced support for lots of liberal causes during this trip and throughout his papacy. But most of them have centered around economic justice and helping the poor. At the UN Friday, Pope Francis critiqued our throwaway, consumerist society, saying that it leads to a “misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.” The day before, he called on Congress to "avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity." He followed up by denouncing the death penalty and firearms. Clearly unafraid of clashing with conservatives, the pope is ready to bang down the door to get that message across to believers and political leaders alike on these issues.
But that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to the ordination of women, same-sex marriage, and abortion. He’s careful to be open-ended and tolerant in his answers, such as in 2013, when he told reporters, “Who am I to judge,” when asked about gay individuals. But is that enough, when gay families are treated unequally in the vast majority of countries? When women die from unsafe, illegal abortions? Maybe supporting the rights of gay people and women within the Church would be a distraction from his bigger message. But does that mean it’s OK to play lip service to these issues when actual church policy is discriminatory? There's room for supportive language and supportive action when it comes to equality.
1. The Ordination Of Women
What place do women have in the church? Pope Francis can't seem to decide. “Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” he said at a press conference in 2013. But that same year, he said, “On the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and said no.”
So which women are more important than bishops and priests? The 720 million of them who proclaim to be of the Catholic faith (compared with just 500 million men)? Telling women they matter doesn’t open doors of leadership. Less than 20 percent of the workforce at the Vatican is female. The pope needs to open the priesthood to women, put some in charge of hiring Vatican staff, and create a committee (made up of women) to advise on gender equality.
2. Same-Sex Marriage
In a 2013 interview with America Magazine, when asked about same-sex relationships, Pope Francis said the Church does not want to condemn homosexuals. He explained his approach to the gay community with a question: “Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person. Here, we enter into the mystery of the human being.”
Yet this past January in the Philippines, the pope called same-sex marriage an “ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family.” That’s a powerful rejection of gay relationships and family units. A spokesperson later clarified the pope’s view of the family to be “the union of the man and the woman, and the children that come from this union.” He added, “If there are persons that desire to have community in other ways … this is not for us a family." He denies the very existence of LGBT families. It's a twisted contradiction to say that Catholics need to love the sinner but hate the sinner's family.
When it comes to contraception, Pope Francis surprised many in January when he said Catholics don’t have to “breed like rabbits." He said that population demographers recommend having three children as a responsible number, and criticized a woman who was having an eighth child after delivering seven babies by Cesarean section. "She said, 'I trust in God.' But God gave us the means to be responsible," he said.
But can this argument apply to birth control? No! On that exact same trip, he reiterated his support for the Church’s 1968 rules prohibiting artificial contraception. Last Wednesday, he visited nuns suing the Obama administration over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Through the nonprofit they run, the nuns are suing because they don't want to pay for birth control for their employees, since contraception goes against their beliefs. They were already provided an exemption by the Department of Health and Human Services, but they say that even that's not enough.
Earlier this September, Pope Francis announced that all priests can forgive women who have had an abortion. The pope wrote in a letter, “I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.” Before, only bishops could forgive such a "grave sin" (or let priests under them do so). This order allows priests around the world to absolve parishioners, as Pope Francis is the highest-ranking bishop.
Despite this conciliatory gesture, the rules go unchanged. Women are being forgiven for “the sin of abortion” as church teaching calls it, which means the Catholic Church still views the act as a moral wrong. It also means that bishops and priests in countries where abortion is illegal can continue to pressure local governments against its legalization. In Poland, abortion was legal under Communism. Then, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Catholic Church used its influence to guarantee a safe abortion would be illegal in the newly-founded democracy. That 1993 law is still on the books today, which means that women in Poland and other countries with a large Catholic influence still don't receive access to a safe legal abortion, and must take their chances with unsafe procedures. Who will forgive the Church for its role in the deaths of the 47,000 women who die from unsafe abortions each year?
While inclusive language is not a step backwards, it certainly doesn’t improve the lives of everyday Catholics like a revamp of church doctrine. I’d like to think that the pope's progressiveness is not just good PR, and I hope he can make some changes to prove it.