By ZAC LOSEY
As I’m sure everyone is now aware, the Church elected Peter’s 266th successor this past week, as Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio ascended to the papacy and became the first Pope Francis. While members of the Church are particularly excited and hopeful about this change in leadership, the interest extends beyond those who ascribe to Catholicism. There has been speculation about what kind of changes (or lack thereof) may be in store for the Church and its policies. As the first South American to be named pope, it seems fitting that he should lead the church in significant changes.
I say it seems fitting because many official church policies are clearly out of touch with both reality and those who call themselves Catholics. According to statistics cited by John Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter Catholics are leaving the Church in droves: one in three Americans raised Catholic leaves the church by adulthood, and for one person that is converted, four leave the Church. The reasons for this are up for discussion, but I argue that a major factor is that the leaders of the church refuse to reconsider outdated, harmful and unreasonable policies, particularly their stances on homosexuality, abortion rights, women’s role in the church and contraception.
Obviously those adjectives are my personal opinion of the policies and I expect that many will disagree. We live in America; you’re allowed to do that. I’ll admit I’m no expert in Catholicism, and it’s very possible that a misunderstanding of it warps my view. However, whatever your personal beliefs may be about those topics, a poll conducted by the New York Times indicates that significant numbers of American Catholics are in favor of more liberal leadership. Exactly how liberal they want it to be is up for speculation, but attitudes of the nation as a whole are shifting towards a more liberal view of the aforementioned topics. It follows that Catholics are following the same trend, and thus the Church’s refusal to reconsider their policies is probably a factor in the loss of membership.
Unfortunately I am unable to engage in a full or in-depth discussion because of the space limitations of writing in a small liberal arts media outlet. As such, I will focus on contraception as a policy in need of significant revision. As it stands now, official Church policy can be seen in John Paul II’s Humanae Vitae (1968), in which the former pope stated that artificial forms of contraception (such as condoms) are intrinsically evil. This position has been recently reinforced by the Pontifical Council for Family’s 1997 statement that “[t]he Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful.” In Africa, where the Catholic Church is extremely influential, humanitarian efforts to combat HIV/AIDS through sex education that emphasizes condom usage has largely been thwarted by these policies of the church. Fortunately there is some dissent, particularly from Western Catholics who have argued such opposition to condom usage is tantamount to murder. Because of this, I was initially hopeful that perhaps Francis I would be an instrument of change for these out-of-touch policies, but it appears that he has no intentions of making any significant changes regarding contraception (or any other issues I mentioned, for that matter).
While I certainly am not happy with the new pope, he does have asilver lining. I’m glad that he is from South America, where the Catholic church is currently flourishing in comparison to many other parts of the world. Also, his history shows that he is passionate about social justice concerning the impoverished, an issue I believe is far too neglected by most “Christians.” Economic inequality has been a focus of his as a cardinal, and will hopefully be a continuing focus during his time as pope.
However great his focus on social and economic inequality may be, I cannot ignore the fact that he is very likely to continue the unfortunate policies of his predecessors in which abortion is heralded as murder, women are denied equality, homosexuals are demonized and parading of contraception as intrinsically evil continues pointless suffering.
Citation used: National Catholic Reporter