Pope Francis Is Doing His Job — Very Well

Pope FrancisElizabeth Stoker Bruenig wrote a good article on Friday, Feminists Should Not Give Up on Pope Francis. It is about the repeated liberal complaints that Pope Francis is not turning the Catholic Church into a feminist wonderland fast enough. This includes Sadhbh Walshe, who just four months after Francis became pope, wrote, Thanks for Nothing, Pope Francis. It had the subtitle, “Francis casts himself as a reformer, but his views on women’s roles in the church are as conservative as ever.” It is downright funny, but also sad. It reminds me a little of how we ended up with eight years of George W Bush because many liberals thought that he was no different from Al Gore.

Of course, this kind of thinking is silly. And I’ve been especially disappointed with the New Atheists. Last year, I wrote, Bill Maher Trashes Pope for No Good Reason. With him, and frankly with just about everyone complaining about the pope from the left, the ignorance is staggering. Somehow, the pope is supposed to come into power and change everything the way these people would like. There is no recognition that there are over a billion Catholics who are used to the religion being the way it is. Few of these same critics would be in favor of any political change that was so radical, but they expect it from the Catholic Church?!

Bruenig noted that there are many things that Pope Francis has done that are in alignment with the goals of feminism. For example, his most recent encyclical, Laudato Si, called for women to have more control over how many children they have and when they have them. In that, he was talking about the economics of childbirth and how it is dictated by our economic system. She also mentioned the fact that Pope Benedict XVI was investigating the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for the crime of “radical feminism.” Francis shut down that investigation “in a hail of praise for the nuns and their good work.”

But the main thing is that liberals don’t understand that there are great restraints on what the pope can do:

Francis’s positions on climate change and inequality — for which commentators have praised him — are also rooted in Catholic doctrines. Such commentators often do not recognize that his authority in both these cases does not come from some personal license, but his ability to speak to the Catholic tradition.

I think that is the critical thing. And this is where conservatives err as well. Everyone wants to think of the pope as though he were Stalin. But that’s just not true. Conservatives are unhappy, because he is pushing the aspects of Catholicism that are liberal. But those aspects have always been there. It is unrealistic to expect Pope Francis to change the Catholic Church to accept the use of condoms. My problem with Pope John Paul II was not that he was against condoms; it was that he went all over the world telling Catholics that they shouldn’t use condoms — as though that were the biggest thing that Catholics did for God.

From a political standpoint, expecting more from the pope than he can reasonably deliver is extremely bad. The question is not whether Pope Francis is perfect in the eyes of liberals. The question is whether he is better than the options. He looks set to be the most important pope at least going back to Paul VI. Pope Francis is making the Catholic Church better. So when Sadhbh Walshe says “Thanks for nothing,” she’s just being silly. Most people are being silly about the pope. And Francis is just doing his job — about as well as anyone could reasonably expect.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

6 thoughts on “Pope Francis Is Doing His Job — Very Well

  1. Interesting to think how these institutions change. In one sense expecting a Pope to fix everything flawed in Catholicism is like expecting your local Congresswoman or Representative to pass laws you want enacted. It doesn’t work that way.

    In another sense Catholicism is like the Supreme Court, discovering new truths about the Constitution or Catholic doctrine. It’s pretended that these things stem automatically from established precedents, and those citing precedents are honoring ancient things. Bollocks, for either conservatives or liberals — Popes and Court justices are completely making it up as they go, and responding to public opinion.

    As with the best US Supreme Court rulings, there’s a strong element of pragmatism in what Francis is doing. The three groups gaining ground in South/North America are unaffiliated Protestant (evangelicals), Hispanic Catholic, and non-church-attenders. For Catholicism to stay relevant, it has to address how Hispanic Catholics in the American continents are becoming more independent after decades of US/IMF/World Bank torment, and appeal to liberal US churchmembers. None of this is happening out of nowhere; the better Catholics have been pushing for it a long time.

    Francis is a very good Pope so far, like Johnson and Roosevelt were mostly very good US presidents. (Yeah, I have to ignore war policy to say that. And ignore that both were staunch racists.) But the New Deal and War on Poverty did enormous good, flaws aside. Just like Francis is doing a lot of good. And in all those cases, it’s probably fair to attribute the good both to the politician and more to the average people whose agitating/activism made the political good of powerful figures appear less radical than inevitable.

    • Yeah, it is the whole “perfect being the enemy of the good.” I almost wrote about this for the anniversary post today, “1992: a Vatican commission, led by Joseph Ratzinger, establishes that limiting certain rights of homosexual people and non-married couples is not equivalent to discrimination on grounds of race or gender.” There’s your last two popes.

      • And there’s nothing wrong with trying for perfect! That’s how the proverbial needle gets moved, as you know from our conservative friends. (What’s the needle being moved in that cliched metaphor anyway? A Geiger counter? A seismograpgh? I dunno.)

        Those of us who like history try and see these things in context, so we’re not saying “these incremental moves are all that should be done.” We’re saying these moves are a good sign, and we hope for more. It’s different than being resistant to change.

        • I’m just not sure what disgruntled liberals want. Most of the people complaining are atheists. I wonder if anything would satisfy them.

  2. Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air. I think he is doing all he can do given the restraints of his position and history. In a recent speech he said “Catholics do not have to breed like rabbits”. That took a lot of guts and truly ticked off my Catholic friends.

    • I hadn’t seen that, but in his encyclical, he talked about family planning. That was probably the most shocking thing I’ve ever heard from the church.

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