Pope Francis continues to get so much love from the world for this simple reason: he is not ultra-conservative Pope Benedict.
Elected in 2013, Pope Francis has since shown us a very convincing image of a bold, refreshing deviant who has adamantly defied the church’s typically iron-fisted conservatism. His stance on LGBT, women’s rights, atheism, and evolution were so mind-blowingly revolutionary that many people saw him as the single greatest change the controversy-ridden Catholic church has seen in centuries.
People were so wrong.
Pope Francis, the first pope to hail outside Europe, was an instant fan favorite for being so evidently anti-poverty. They describe him as a pope for the poor, and he probably deserves the recognition. He’s often seen walking the less fancy streets of Rome, comforting those without shelter and food. He has lambasted corporations for being less sympathetic with the people’s plight, and he’s shown incredible concern for those less fortunate than others. With all these saintly deeds, it would have been unwise to doubt his dedication to the poor and the oppressed.
However, his recent visit to the Philippines has led many people to think that his pro-poor statements lack in actual substance and credibility. This is partly due to his recently open support for anti-poor policies such as the opposition to birth control.
The Philippine Catholic church, already staunchly opposed to birth control, got a pat on the head from Pope Francis during his trip to the country. Before a crowd of Filipino Catholics, the Pope reinforced a locally unwavering church attitude and issued a condemnation on modern birth control methods. NPR describes it as his “strongest defense yet” of the Catholic church’s opposition to birth control. Disappointingly, this comes shortly after historic promises that the Catholic church will once and for all ease up on its hardened objection to birth control and contraception.
Here’s the thing: If Pope Francis really is for the poor, he should be the first to see the overwhelming scientific connection between modern birth control and reduction in poverty. Unintended pregnancies occur the most in places where poverty is rife. Lack of knowledge and access to birth control methods are also a major problem in poverty-ridden areas. There is a crystal-clear connection between poverty and family planning that the Pope somehow refuses — or at least fails — to see.
Furthermore, places with adequate family planning policies are estimated to see significant reductions in poverty occurrence. One group projects that with every one dollar spent on family planning, four dollars is saved on necessities such as education, medicine, water, and sanitation. It’s a “mo’ babies, mo’ problems” kind of situation — if you rear more children than you can actually afford, you’re going to have a bad time. It’s no rocket science.
Pope Francis’ post-Charlie Hebdo statements are another issue. On his way to the Philippines, in front of reporters aboard the papal plane, the Pope issued seemingly anti-free speech comments that the Guardian described as being “near as dammit to suggesting that Charlie Hebdo had it coming.”
Pope Francis said, “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
But the thing is, you can, and you should. No idea — no matter how divine it is to some peoples or groups — should be left unchallenged. Within reason, one should be able to provoke; one should be able to insult; one should be able to make fun of faith. And no, regardless of how Pope Francis cutely demonstrated it, it shouldn’t be “normal” to respond violently against people who speak against other people’s faith. Besides, Jesus Christ would not have approved of such a violent reply. Would he punch the Virgin Mary haters of his day? I highly doubt it.
Despite these criticisms, I still maintain my opinion that Pope Francis remains to be one of the greatest leaders of this century. He is still the change the Catholic church direly needs. Many of his statements might still be a reflection of the same, old-fashioned pontifical attitudes, but if not for Pope Francis, the church wouldn’t have been this closer to a more open-minded, more accepting Catholic society.
[Image from Catholic Church England and Wales/Flickr]