How Francis can change the catholic church
You’ve probably seen the simplified Leviticus 20:13 meme online since November’s elections which reads, “It all makes sense now, gay marriage and marijuana being legalized on the same day. Leviticus 20:13 —if a man should lie with another man, he should be stoned.” Though the misquotation is entertaining, it relies on growing religious cynicism drawing Christians away from the Catholic Church. Throughout the 21st century, as followers of the Pope’s Twitter account have grown in numbers, actual members of the flock have been drifting from the word of God in an increasingly progressive, non-traditionalist, and secular global culture.
But when the frontman for the world’s largest Christian church resigned for the first time in 600 years, the church didn’t crumble. According to Google Trends, interest in the Catholic Church has declined steadily since 2006 — but interest in the Pope has risen dramatically since Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement.
Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina to Italian (Florentine) parents, presents himself as a humble servant of God, refusing pleasantries and extravagance. He cooks for himself, rides the bus, lives in a regular apartment, and has announced his dedication to social justice and human rights, implying that he intends to focus the Church’s efforts toward this end.
With the promise of taking efforts of the Church in new(ish) directions, the new Pope has guaranteed further interest in and attraction to the Church. The objective good of humanitarian efforts draws support from religious and secular entities, and has proven to be a unifying goal among otherwise conflicting organizations. Rather than fight the growth of atheism and conversion from the stubborn, sometimes contradictory assertions of his predecessors, Pope Francis, with his strict dedication to humanitarian initiative and interfaith cooperation, represents a hopeful future for the Church that isn’t limited to Christians.
Resisting Argentina’s military regime in the 70’s, Francis was actively involved with interfaith cooperation and civil disobedience toward social justice, even using church property to protect activists from the violent state. Some conservative Catholics find him to be a radical progressive when he explains his intent to keep up with changes in the global culture. He has even suggested the Church reconsider its position on contraception, and regards abortion with regret, but considers it less related to the purpose of the Church.
Francis has already begun to point out more of the Church’s unpopularity than may have been apparent to the world. Rather than fight the growth of atheism and conversion from the stubborn, sometimes contradictory assertions of the Church, Pope Francis has admitted the fault and responsibility of the Catholic Priesthood, pertaining to the celibacy scandals. He has made it clear that mistakes were made in the way many parishes and dioceses handled the accusations and repercussions, and has stated that this will change under his leadership.
But this self-incrimination should garner support for Francis’s leadership, as he is willing to approach issues with a critical eye for the greater good. Rather than further tarnish the reputation of the Church, Francis shows humility, responsibility, and dedication to followers — traits appreciated by all moral systems.
Francis took his papal name from Saint Francis of Assisi, who believed in poverty, generosity, Christly love, and appreciation of nature. St Francis was known for resisting conformity in the name of Jesus and what is right by God.
As a Jesuit, the new Pope holds these and other values of humbleness and duty to others. Though the Catholic Church has always been dedicated to these values, pop culture and political comment have highlighted its less benevolent ventures. Criticisms of the church often come from allies of human rights campaigns and charities, which share many of these righteous purposes.
His persona is greatly influenced by his birthplace, former residence and workplace of Argentina. Latin Catholic priorities have always been weighted in these areas, despite the growing and more well known Roman preferences for political presence. Furthermore, his ties to the very religious nation, are not only to the Catholic institutions there, but to all proud citizens. Regardless of affiliation, many frustrated with the Italian dominance in Catholic influence have conformed to the trend of individual identification with God rather than follow the Pope’s teachings, both personal and infallible. Many parishes now even encourage personal moral development to apply God’s teachings to real life.
Many factions of the Christian Church have fully renounced or at least drifted from the influence of the Pope. These denominations and organizations, often in traditionally non-Christian, less Western, and less financially stable parts of the world, are not as quick to conform, allowing the reality of human life to influence sermons, services, and teachings. Local pride, in this sense, is part of what is saving Christianity from sociopolitical change. And the foreign presence in Rome widens the perceived circle of influence, making the Church appear more objectively connected with God.
But the Vatican is not about to re-write history. Francis does reflect the strict views of his predecessor on other hot topics. Yet his focus on human rights may give the Church time to find an appropriate way of addressing morality issues of the 21st century, like homosexuality, abortion, unitive intercourse, and contraception. The Catholic Church influences the entire world, religious and secular, and Pope Francis’ leadership promises to take that responsibility objectively, dutifully and with tolerance and acceptance.
Charlotte Roberts junior politics major who is an athiest hoping for said tolerance and acceptance. Email her at crobert3[at]ithaca[dot]edu.