Elizabeth 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:
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.