I'd wager -- and I think the polls back me up -- that Pope Francis' welcoming spirit makes most people in the pews positively giddy. But then we've got those who sit in the far-right or far-left pews. For these Catholics -- and I'd count myself among them -- our feelings on Pope Francis are complicated and at times conflicted.
There have been plenty of reports on far-right Catholics who are finding it difficult to stomach some of the pope's progressive sentiments. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said conservative Catholics "generally have not been really happy" since Pope Francis' election. And judging from the actions of some who fall into this bucket, I'd wager that he's right.
On one hand, when Pope Francis dispels right-wing ideologies on economics, right-wing Catholics have been quick to wave their hands and say, "Nothing to see here. Pope Francis isn't saying anything new." And if they are really desperate, they have even been known to admit that, when it comes to public policy recommendations, the pope isn't infallible.
On the other hand, when Pope Francis says anything that sniffs of prohibiting a woman's right to choose or a woman's place in the priesthood or any of the backward logic this pope has spewed on women's equality, the conservative Catholics are on it, claiming the pontiff as the supreme moral authority.
Lefty Catholics have a similar struggle, albeit in the opposite direction. I've experienced this struggle firsthand. I haven't been shy about the fact that I'm a fan of Pope Francis. It is great to have a world leader waxing poetic about issues I care about, particularly economic justice. It's moving to have a pope who doesn't want to judge me for who I am or who I love. It's thrilling to hear friends, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, talk about my church in excited tones instead of scandal-driven groans.
But still, every time I examine my fondness of Francis, I feel like I'm betraying my 20-year-old self. My 20-year-old self wouldn't be so contented by the incremental change Pope Francis seems to be offering. That self would settle for nothing less than swift, radical change, the likes of which I'm unsure the world has ever seen. That self would never have gotten so hopped up about what some old dude at the top of the Vatican food chain had to say.
So why now?
Over my next few columns, I'm going to try to parse out my justification. Here goes.
The Catholic church is a global church.
When Pope Francis said, "Who am I to judge?", it was easy for U.S. (particularly white, cisgender, nonpoor) Catholics to shrug this off as less-than-groundbreaking. We live in a land where same-sex marriage is legal in 17 states and Washington, D.C., after all.
But maybe Pope Francis wasn't talking to us. Maybe he was talking to policymakers in the dozens of countries where it's legal to imprison or even kill someone who is found guilty of homosexuality. Maybe he was talking to parents who would rather put their kids on the streets than accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. Maybe he was talking to the people who murdered Andrea Quintero, a transgender woman in Rome whom the Jesuits honored with a Catholic funeral.
Now, I'm not arguing that because of our global nature as a faith community, we should be working toward the lowest common denominator. I think LGBT people in every crevice of the world should be afforded the full range of rights, from not being killed all the way to marriage. And I think the institutional church should be an advocate for these rights.
Still, are we being a little self-centered if we shrug off those statements from Pope Francis that have the potential to be real game-changers in the lives of others?
Now, of course, this argument doesn't hold up as well in terms of what Pope Francis has said on women. He has reinforced the church hierarchy's opposition to women in leadership and women's reproductive health. (Although I do appreciate that he tempers the latter with our need to be more supportive of women who have been raped or who are living in extreme poverty.) In doing so, Pope Francis is hurting women worldwide. Equal access to leadership and health care is essential to securing gender equality and bringing about economic justice for women.
Like I said, it's complicated. Pope Francis brings up more questions for me than answers. And maybe that in and of itself is reason enough to like this guy.
In my next column, I'll explain to my 20 year-old-self why I think this old dude's voice matters.
[Kate Childs Graham is an activist in the progressive Catholic movement. A graduate of The Catholic University of America and the U.N.-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica, she is a communications professional in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @kchildsgraham.]
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