Two years into his pontificate, Pope Francis remains one of the most popular pontiffs of modern times. Frank and ever-smiling, his Hispanic expressiveness has endeared him to many, even outside the Church, and led to a statistically noticeable resurgence in the number of practicing Catholics and a renewed interest in the Catholic faith.
But many people misunderstand Francis. A recent article would have the world think the Pope isn’t as popular among the people who ‘really matter’ to his papacy, the Roman Curia. The article plays up Francis’ openness and phrase-long summaries of sublime theology as reasons for anxiety and unease within the Vatican, making Francis a ‘worried pope.’
Aside from the fact that a glance at Francis’ face at any time refutes the notion that he is ‘worried,’ the article takes too shallow a view of the workings in the Vatican. But this is to be understood. Pope Francis’s popularity does come at a cost. But that cost isn’t owed to some power-brokers inside the Vatican, but to people led by an agenda, who are hanging onto his every word with the sole intent of clinching something they could misinterpret and then bandy around as proof the Pope is here to change the Catholic Church’s stand on things like LGBT, condoms and divorce.
To suggest that sentences like ‘If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?’ (which, by the way, summarises a section of the Catechism of the Catholic church, 2357 – 2359, on Chastity and Homosexuality, which gay activists demonising the Catholic Church probably don’t know about or have refused to acknowledge) ‘pulled the rug from under centuries of Church teaching that homosexual acts are sinful’ is at best naïve and, at worst evidence of a deplorable inability to contextualise and understand the spoken word.
Anybody without the baggage of prejudice will know that the Pope never meant that homosexual acts are no longer sinful, contrary to ‘centuries of Catholic teaching.’ In fact, he has never meant to that, and it is an absolute certainty that he never will. In 2010, Pope Francis was still the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In the same year, Argentina legalised same-sex marriage. He wrote a letter then to Dr Justo Carabajales, director of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference (CEA)’s Department of the Laity, to express his support for a March for Family and Life which was to be held on July 13, 2010, outside the Argentine Congress.
In the letter, Pope Francis (then Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio) states his reasons for opposing the move by the Argentine government. Consistent with his ‘who am I to judge’ statement, he says at the outset that the letter is not ‘against anyone, for we do not want to judge those who think and feel differently.’ So it is not new, this thing with not judging. Then Francis goes ahead to dismantle the LGBT argument with simple, but well-thought out sentences, quite in keeping with the way he speaks.
He insists that to distinguish between ‘marriage (made up of man and woman)’ and the union of two people of the same sex is to ‘differentiate in order to discern; to value appropriately, not to discriminate.’ He notes that a world which is ardent about plurality and cultural diversity is inconsistent with one which minimises ‘fundamental human differences.’ Without these differences, plurality and cultural diversity remain a pipe dream.
He further makes an appeal for children, who are, in the last analysis, the greatest, and unwitting, victims of same-sex marriage. Children, he says, should be the most privileged in the situation of marriage. However, advancing a ‘supposed claim on behalf of the rights of adults,’ which is what the LGBT debacle is all about, sets aside the ‘far greater right’ of children to rely on ‘models of father and mother, mum and dad’.
So much for ‘pulling the rug from under centuries of Church teaching that homosexual acts are sinful.’ The Pope doesn’t want to judge, and has never wanted to judge. That is not one of the powers of his office. Otherwise, even he would not qualify to be Catholic, since all men are sinners. And this isn’t a departure from ‘centuries of Church teaching’ but rather a reiteration of one of its core elements. To reduce this into some reason for power-play in the Vatican is to admit that one doesn’t understand a single word the Pope has ever said.
And, so that it is made even clearer, I sign off with the Pope’s conclusion in his letter: ‘…I ask that both in your language and in your heart you show no signs of aggression or violence against any of our brothers. Let us Christians act as servants of truth, not its masters. I ask the Lord that He accompany your event with his gentleness, a gentleness that he asks of us all.’