The First Year Of Pope Francis Was Marked By A Lot Of Talk, A Rolling Stone Cover, And Twitter: A Papal Timeline
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis' jump to the top of the Catholic Church, and it's sure been an eventful year. Francis has proven to be a more dynamic, unpredictable, and reform-minded Pope than we've seen in most of recent history... or, wait, has he?
Well, in spite of his progressive comments on gay rights, abortion, and contraception, Pope Francis hasn't exactly moved around Church policy to reflect those opinions. Plus, since he cast aside his real name (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) and former title (Archbishop of Buenos Aires) in favor of becoming Pope Francis, he's shifted some of his positions on those issues quite considerably. So, let's take a trip down Papal memory lane...
March 2013 — A New Pope Ascends!
It may be difficult to remember, now that Pope Francis is widely perceived kind-hearted and open-minded, but when first elected to the Papacy, his track record was anything but optimistic on social issues. This was never more true than on issues of same-sex marriage and adoption, which were up for a vote in Argentina when then-Archbishop Bergoglio condemned them thusly:
At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.
He also called gay marriage a "a move of the Father of Lies." He means the Devil.
He did, however, reject the finery of a Papal apartment in favor of a more modest home, and urged his followers in Argentina not to fly out for his inauguration, but to instead give that money to the poor. Not a bad start, as they go — and unexpected as compared to his predecessor, the much flashier and more regal Pope Benedict XVI.
July 2013 — Who Is He To Judge?
Just a month after his inauguration, Pope Francis made the following remark to journalists while visiting Copacabana beach in Brazil, an appearance attended by some 3 million people:
If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?
As is plain to see, this is an improvement on where he started, at least rhetorically. His comment caught fire in both mainstream and social media But he's wading in a pool of long and deeply held Catholic tradition, and he isn't truly breaking from it — the Church still maintains that homosexual acts are immoral and sinful, and he hasn't exactly done much to change that.
September 2013 — The Church is "Obsessed" With Abortion
Continuing his streak of challenging, or at the very least rattling the cages of the Church's far-right, anti-gay wing, Pope Francis spoke out not just on gay rights, but the full trinity of the Church's most vehement social positions: Homosexuality, contraception, and abortion.
He said that Catholicism must avoid being locked into such "small-minded rules," lest their moral edifice collapse "like a house of cards."
That notwithstanding, his tact hasn't really been mirrored by any action or policy change within the Church, to this point. As is a common theme throughout his tenure, the rhetoric is extremely refreshing and invigorating, but the true test of time is surely where the Church ends up by his statements.
And considering he several months later condemned abortion as a "horror," it might be wise not to get too ahead of ourselves.
December 2013 — Maybe Atheists Aren't So Bad After All
Speaking on faith and the eternal fate of the non-believer, Pope Francis struck a much lighter tone than did his predecessor, who shamefully equated atheism to Nazism. Rather, Francis toyed around the edges of a dramatic notion — that good works on Earth, even by an atheist, could be smiled upon by Christ himself.
They complain, ‘If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good’. And Jesus corrects them: 'Do not hinder him', he says, 'let him do good.' [The disciples] were a little intolerant, [thinking that] those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.
This stirring call for respect, tolerance and a mutual drive towards goodness was undermined the very next day, when a Vatican spokesman released a statement clarifying that no, if you know about Catholicism and don't join up, you "cannot be saved."
In other words, good works be damned — literally.
January 2014 — Pope Francis The Rock Star
Hey, anytime you make the cover of Rolling Stone at 77, it deserves a shout-out. The Pope also won Time 's Person of the Year for 2013, and won that same distinction from an unlikelier publication: Pro-LGBT magazine The Advocate , who awarded him the title over countless other options who, in full truth, were vastly more progressive and proactive for gay rights than he was (Edie Windsor, the octogenarian widow whose Supreme Court case brought down the Defense of Marriage Act springs to mind).
That's not a bad feat for somebody who was calling out gay marriage as a Devil's scheme not even four years earlier. And it speaks to a meaningful transition in how the Catholic Church's highest official speaks, engages, and reflects on social issues.
The only question is whether this will translate into real, meaningful policy. We can only hope that next year's papal highlights seem even more radical and reformist than this year's did.