Killing Them Softly: Pope Francis Condemns Income Inequality, Sanctions Gender Inequality

Not long after the white puffs of smoke blew through St. Peter’s Square in March to announce his election as head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis set many a progressive heart aflutter, especially with regard to his oft-stated concern for the poor of the world.

The release on Tuesday of Evangelii Gaudium, the pope’s manifesto for the renewal of the church, has set off a pandemic of swooning among liberals, particularly because of the pope’s welcome critique of so-called “free market” ideology and the gaping income inequality it creates. Overlooked is the internal inconsistency of the document, in which exclusion of the poor from full participation in society is rightly portrayed as an evil, while exclusion of women from full participation in the church is defended as necessary.

When it comes to inequality of the sexes, Pope Francis enthusiastically embraces Rome’s status quo, using his great treatise on his dream of a kinder, gentler church to sanction the exclusion of women not just from leadership, but from performing the most holy of its rites: celebration of the Mass.

“The reservation of the priesthood to males … is not a question open to discussion,” Francis writes.

While, in the same document, the pope also reiterates the church’s rejection of abortion as a moral choice and implicitly condones the marginalization of LGBTQ people, it is his blessing of a male-only priesthood that is arguably the most damaging, for it renders the church as a model justification for the view of women as subhuman—a view that lends cover to the rapist, the pimp, the bigot, and the chauvinist whose works the pope decries, even as he advances stereotypes about the “feminine genius” that women have to offer in acts of compassion and intuition.

As Sister Maureen Fiedler observes, Pope Francis “seems to think of women as a different species of human.” And it is from this “othering” of women from rest of humanity, I believe, that the church’s cruel and sometimes murderous denial of women’s reproductive prerogatives stems.

For Catholics, the Mass is a mystical, not just a representational, rite. The priest is believed to be the conduit, a channel of God’s grace, for the transformation of bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. That’s an awesome power to have—rather god-like, in fact.

The church’s denial of priestly ordination to women is based on a trumped-up piece of theology known as the “natural resemblance” rationale. Simply put, since Jesus was a man, then only men can be priests. Fiedler, explaining and rejecting this theory, suggests that “to say that only males may image Jesus sacralizes masculinity.”

Put another way, Gloria Steinem, speaking at the National Press Club last week, quipped: “When God looks like the ruling class, the ruling class becomes God.”

Re-Branding the Church

Despite its tortured logic with regard to the rights and role of women, both as human beings and as members of the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelii Gaudium (“Joy of the Gospel”) is a papal tour de force, both as a piece of literature, and for the institution Pope Francis puts forth as the church of his dreams.

The most radical changes called for by the pope in his exhortation have little to do with the critique of capitalism that has grabbed the headlines, but rather a proposed shift in the power dynamic of the existing hierarchy—he envisions a less centralized power structure—and a purge of corruption (described as “spiritual worldliness”) in the Vatican bureaucracy. But it is the change he seeks in the church’s image, which he has already set about by famously refusing to live in the sumptuous setting occupied by his predecessors, that has dazzled journalists and commentators.

In Evangelii Gaudium, the pope’s language is vernacular and, in its English translation, at least, pleasing in cadence. It is quite a departure from the prose that ordinarily fills official Vatican documents. In it, Francis speaks of himself in the first person, and admits certain faults of the church. In confirming the church’s opposition to abortion, for instance, Francis states:

Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?

Such an admission of the church’s shortcomings in tending to the needs of the desperate pregnant woman would have been unthinkable by this pope’s recent predecessors; in doing so, Francis casts himself in a more favorable light while doing nothing to change the doctrine that robs women of their full agency, and hence, their full humanity. It is also a doctrine that can rob a woman of her life.

The entire document, in fact, advances little change in the substance of church teaching, and more a change in style and tone. It is, at its essence, a blueprint for winning converts to the faith, and reeling in disaffected Catholics back to the church. It is a survival playbook for a church abandoned by its European flock, and losing substantial numbers among its North American constituency. In Latin America, the church faces steep competition with evangelical Protestant sects, and in Africa, it’s competing with those sects and with Islam. The stern and condescending Father-knows-best condemnations of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI—who launched a holy war against Latin America’s native liberation theology movement—proved to be deeply alienating.

A nice pope who seems to be of the people, who writes in an accessible style, who appears to understand the difficulties faced by those wriggling under the boot of global capitalism can only help the church’s predicament. And so Francis recasts the church’s social teaching on ministering to the poor in the language of progressive economists and the Occupy movement, and challenges unnamed Catholic politicians and business leaders (Rep. Paul Ryan [R-WI], House Budget Committee chairman and former vice presidential candidate, comes to mind) to abandon “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”

Such theories, Francis writes, pointedly, have “never been confirmed by the facts.”

Yet, in his defense of the faceless poor, Francis seems to miss the fact that women are more likely than men to be in poverty, and that is because of the very kind of structural inequality that his church models for the world as an image of holiness.

Doing Well by Doing (Some) Good?

I do not mean to suggest that the pope is insincere in his call to defend the poor. I believe that he is. And his pronouncement certainly does put those Catholics who advance the cause of Ayn Rand and the fortunes of the Koch brothers in an uncomfortable position. If that helps to save the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, from the chopping block, that’s all to the good. If the bishops put more of their diocesan budgets into bringing real services and comfort to the poor, that would be outstanding. But it would be naive not to note that Francis’ call to serve the poor also serves the pope’s obvious effort to re-brand the church, still suffering the moral bankruptcy of its child-abuse scandal, as a force for good.

So, too, does the pope’s admonishment, apparently aimed at members of the Curia (the Vatican bureaucracy), to avoid going on “witch hunts” of those deemed doctrinally impure. Although again, the pope declines to provide examples, it’s hard not to think of the Vatican’s 2012 attack on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for facilitating the spread of “radical feminist ideas,” when reading those lines. The bishops and the Vatican lost big in the court of public opinion on that one, when it was revealed that American Catholics like their nuns much better than they do their prelates.

Francis cites the withholding of the sacrament of Communion from the impure—as has been done to punish pro-choice Catholic politicians—as not particularly helpful. He urges priests to stress the joy of the Gospel in their homilies, and advises them not to deliver sermons that comprise lists of obligations.

In an interview given earlier this year to the Jesuit journalist, Rev. Antonio Spadaro, Francis suggested that church officials stop harping on church teaching that opposes abortion and condemns homosexuality. He didn’t suggest that any change was warranted to those doctrines; just that it was not really helping the church to keep emphasizing them. (Interestingly, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker [R], who is Roman Catholic, recently told a press gathering organized by the Christian Science Monitor that while he is anti-choice and personally opposed to marriage equality, he preferred to talk about fiscal issues.)

“Exclusion, Mistreatment and Violence”

In the section of Evangelii Gaudium titled “The Inclusion of the Poor in Society,” Pope Francis throws this bone, without irony, to women in poverty:

Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights.

All women, of course, “endure situations of exclusion” from the leadership of the church, and that very exclusion sows the seeds of their mistreatment both within the church and in the greater society. A powerful message, marginalizing women as creatures unworthy of respect and incapable of authority, is inherent in the very image of the church’s leadership.

Women are to content themselves with whatever grace trickles down to them via the transformative powers invoked by the male priest.

The Roman Catholic Church, with its own nation-state, temporal power around the world, and command of media attention, is arguably the most visible religious institution in the world. Any entity that treated any other class of people as the church treats women would rightly, in the 21st century, be a pariah institution. But since it’s women we’re talking about, it’s all right. And the sad thing is, I don’t think the pope even sees the internal contradiction in his words.

Surely you can give the pope some props for his comments on the evils of free-market economics, one liberal male friend said to me, when I expressed my disgust at the kudos raining upon the pope with the publication of his magnum opus. Wow, said another, you’re really going to lay into him for not making changes yet on the position of women in the church?

So here are my props on the economics section of the pope’s treatise. This from Evangelii Gaudium is just terrific:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.

But by that same logic, an honest person must then say “thou shalt not” to a theology of gender exclusion and inequality.

Such a theology kills.

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  • CJ99

    As long as religion treats some people as inherently better than others which is unjustifiable nothing else they say will ever matter.

  • colleen2

    I noticed the swooning and found it disturbing. The fact of the matter is that you just can’t pretend to care about the poor or even have a coherent poverty eradication plan while you are simultaneously treating women like servants and breeding livestock. And that is precisely what this Pope and every other Pope does.
    I DO NOT want to hear about how non-Catholics can’t comment. Y’all lost that argument when you started using our tax money to discriminate and impose your beliefs on all of us.

    • Quis ut Deus

      imo, it’s nothing but an insincere public relations gambit

      • BJ Survivor

        Exactly! I keep saying “new pope, same as the old pope, but with prettier words.” It’s all bullshit, just like “compassionate conservatism” or “pro-life feminist.”

        • Quis ut Deus

          Hey bj, wb!!

          Hope you had a good holiday, or whatever, if you did

          They have been shit-talking us over at liveaction

          Apparently you are a :


          ‘crass b1tch’

          • CJ99

            Considering who says those things I’d call them compliments if they said it to me. All I ever get is grumpy old bear ;P

          • Quis ut Deus

            if you are gonna be trolling LAN, temporarily put your disqus profile on private

            They will follow us here…

            And this is where we mock them:)

          • Quis ut Deus

            So far they have accused me of being:

            a stalker

            I love the plagiarism accusation, which happens in two kinds of cases

            1) I say ‘so and so scientist wrote this’ and then I paste his words. Apparently that counts as plagiarism, even though I cited my source…

            2) If i blockquote their replies…they think that is plagiarism


            How fucking stupid can you be?

          • Ella Warnock

            There are none so blind as those who cannot see. Snork.

          • CJ99

            almost afraid to ask but whats a snork?

          • Quis ut Deus

            A snork is used to kill the innocent baybeez!!!!!!!!!!1111

          • CJ99

            so thats what they call the limb ripping brain melting machine that exists only in their dreams? was it invented by clive barker? or perhaps ed wood?

          • Quis ut Deus

            I suspect that it aligns with what recent studies have said about conservatives…

            They are easily grossed out/afraid

            They oppose gay sex because it scares them, and because they find it to be unsettling

            They fear non-existence, because they believe they are special snowflakes

            They identify too strongly with the fetus, and they have nightmares that their bodies are the ones being ripped apart by evil mommy

            They are risk averse.


            I am actually more conservative than liberal. I am OCD, afraid of germs, filled with anxiety most of the time, and terribly terribly risk averse

            Yet somehow I ended up as a liberal, and not a con

            I guess it’s because I am able to realize that my own hangups should not dictate how others live their lives..

          • CJ99

            Perhaps their afraid of gay sex cause they might be found out?

          • Ella Warnock

            Something between a laugh and a snort of derision. ;->

          • BJ Survivor

            /eyeroll You should definitely consider those to be compliments! And yes, forced-birthers are pretty fucking stupid. And disingenous. And just all-around full of shit.

          • CJ99

            You forgot the best one: Cool beans ;P

          • BJ Survivor

            Considering the source, I will definitely consider those to be compliments!

        • Quis ut Deus

          MarcusFenix bragging that he crushed us

          what a joke

          his entire argument was ‘pregnancy is an exception to the rule of forced biological support because I say so’

          What a narcissist.

          • Ella Warnock

            I’ll take “Delusions of Grandeur” for $1000, Alex.

          • Quis ut Deus

            Ella, I messaged you like 500 times

            damn you for cluing me in to the activities of PrincessJasmine


            anyways, it’s all on the other thread

            I should be playing my game!

            but instead, once again, I am playing Disqus!

          • Ella Warnock

            I’m sorry, I’ve been wiped out with bronchitis the past few days. I slept for, like, 20 hours straight! PJ really is so funny; she tries to come off as a sophisticated woman of the world, but she sounds like a silly child.

          • Quis ut Deus

            I am so sorry:((

            {{hugs}} if you need ’em, and I’ll ‘et a beh beh’ for you!

          • Ella Warnock

            Lol, thank you, I’ll take them. And don’t forget a nice mango chutney salsa to go with the behbeh!

          • CJ99

            I noticed the same. Her whole view of the world even her profile pic comes from a nonstop stream of disney videos. Part of the reason I picked my pic (yeah meant to do that!) that my point is theres more to life than Disneyland.

          • CJ99

            As I told “marcus” directly he’s nothing more than a 3rd rate gamer troll. I dunno if anyone else here has looked up any video game related blogs or forums (with open comments) but the over the top hysterical BS is nearly identical. You could substitute the words “prolife” or “prochoice” with “playstation” or “Xbox” and the commentary would indeed be identical.

          • Quis ut Deus


  • Quis ut Deus

    There is an article on Rawstory about how Cardinal Dolan has just said that the RCC opposes the ACA because the ACA doesn’t cover healthcare for the ‘unborn’

    Which is a lie, since more women will now have pre-natal and birth coverage than ever before…

    However, what he really means is that contraception is not health care, because it prevents life from existing!!

    And seriously, in the past week I have read comments from multiple asshats claiming that birth control is anti-health because life doesn’t get a chance to grow!!

    Stupid stupid stupid.

    • CJ99

      That’s what the whole situation reminds me of. that most ancient of B movies “Plan 9 from outer space” and the story makes as much sense too ;P

      • Quis ut Deus

        Did you see the first comment on that Lan article about the anencephalic baby..

        “”blair miller

        day ago

        People keep saying that if
        your child is diagnosed with a life threaten condition or illness that
        shortens their life . That’s a good reason to abort, but in reality
        thats a good reason not to abort. If your child diagnosed with
        something, why make their life shoter?You should tried to make their
        life as long , and happy as possible.I solute this couple, who didn’t
        kill their son. A brief life is still a life worth having.”””


        an anencephalic baby cannot *experience* life or be *happy* because it is permanently *unconscious*

        oh, and if your child is diagnosed with something *painful* that will cause *suffering* why torture them???

        I am not going to go over there, but I think it would be great to ask them if the anencephailc baby should be kept on life support for 30 years so it can truly experience a long life:P

        • Jennifer Starr

          Not to mention the emotional trauma of carrying a baby to term, knowing that the baby is going to die during birth or shortly after–having people ask you when the baby is due, watching other moms to be decorating their nurseries and planning for their child’s future when you know your child won’t have one. Honestly, that kind of pain is something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

        • Jennifer Starr

          There was actually a case in the late ’80s and early ’90s where a mother who gave birth to an anencephalic baby and tried to force the hospitals to keep him on a ventilator/ life support so he could stay ‘alive’ as long as possible.

          • Quis ut Deus

            “To clarify my views on anencephaly and abortion, as far as the baby’s
            capacity to feel pain is concerned, I don’t think that a person has to
            be able to feel pain in order for something to be torture. I would
            imagine that the government would still consider dismemberment to be
            torture, even if the person being dismembered was under heavy
            anesthesia. In my opinion, it’s the action that makes something like
            abortion torture, not whether or not the baby can feel pain.”


            These idiots…

            They can’t seem to understand that the person under anesthesia is a person with the capacity for sentience…

            An anencephalic fetus has NONE of that

            and furthermore, they completely erase the woman, as usual!

          • CJ99

            I agree that a person doesn’t require conciousness to be tortured but you put it better than I could.

          • CJ99

            wow that’s sum serious denial right there. Even in such a case where the child could never be concious it fits the definition of a fate worse than death.

  • grantal

    I was raised in the Catholic religion until I was 18 and left the church. Why? because of everything you stated in this article about how women are treated as not quite the same class of humans as men. I felt it damaged me for life. I have been trying to get the brainwashing out of my system but it is very hard to do. While this Pope is probably one of the best the church has had as far as communicating he just does not get it. Many men just don’t get it.
    Abortion was never really condemned in the Bible so why the huge issue of abortion? It is just another way to control women. If God had wanted women to be deaf mutes he would have made us that way. He would not have given us all the same wants, needs and desires as our male counterparts. If women were not a human species the same as men we would not be able to breed and produce offspring. I mean its simple biology.
    I was so sick of men running everything unfairly that I left religion, all religions because the only religion I could find that was headed by women was Dianica Wiccan and I realized that was just another cult as all religions are. I remain religion and cult free but still love Jesus and live for Jesus NOT men. I am much happier today but still the beaten in shame of womanhood continues in my life as a monkey on my back. May all the unfair controlling men be reborn as pregnant male seahorses.

    • Quis ut Deus

      I am so sick of all the christian men who keep insisting that Christianity was the best thing that ever happened to women. That before the RCC women had no rights! Which is a complete lie because women had more rights under the pagan roman empire ..

      • Arachne646

        No, they did not. They were the property of the head of the family, who was the senior man. There were occasional independent women in Rome, but in the early Jesus movement, before it became the official religion of Rome when Emperor Constantine converted, women were equal to men, and were leaders of churches. Militarism and sexism took over Christianity when it became the religion of the Roman Empire, though, rather than the other way around.

        • Quis ut Deus

          Yeah, Jesus favoured equality, but that didn’t last for long.

          “In line with these statements women were until recent times not
          permitted to speak in church, and they are still expected to cover their heads in traditional churches. Under Christian emperors and bishops the rights that women had enjoyed under the Roman Empire were gradually pared away. As early as the fourth century
          it was decreed by a synod that women should neither send nor
          receive letters in their own name (Synod of Elvira, canon 81 ). They were also confined to minor Orders and forbidden to sing in church. Later they would be deprived of Holy Orders altogether. By 581 a Church Council at Mâcon was debating whether or not women had souls”

          • CJ99

            Thats what made me realize religion does NOT speak for god. Any claim that women have no souls is just to absurd to be taken seriously. I tend to think women on average are more well balanced than men.

      • CJ99

        I grew up in every flavour of protestantism one can think of and found alarmingly few in those churches that are any different than the flavour of catholocism found in this article, also found many far worse. There were even a few cases where some of the targets of bigotry weren’t women either as strange as that sounds.

    • IslaClare

      Have you tried Quakerism? Its been gender equal since the 17th Century? I moved there for all your reasons and it’s wonderful

      • Jennifer Starr

        I’ve actually considered Quakerism–at the moment I’m nothing in particular.

  • Sarah

    Your entire article excluded mention of the powerful voices of the Catholic nuns. Their sisterhood is a valid sign of feminist strength… Indeed, they were the first feminists that framed my social justice view of the world during my undergraduate years at Ursuline College. You missed the boat here.

  • JamieHaman

    Thank you Ms. Stan for writing this.I had great hopes of this pope, with some of his early comments. This was not something I had seen or read.
    While I agree this may be a “kinder, gentler pope”, this document makes clear there is still an iron hand, now it is in a velvet glove.

  • youngexecutive

    And how many men head the feminist churches? None. Catholics treat women better than feminists treat men.

    • marshmallow

      citation needed

      • youngexecutive

        A cop can give you one of those, but what you really need is a brain.

        • marshmallow

          still waiting for that citation, pumpkin

          • youngexecutive

            Still waiting for that brain, marshmallow

          • marshmallow

            So you are just making shit up? And cannot actually prove your claims?

          • Jennifer Starr

            Yep, he’s just making shit up.

          • marshmallow

            Thanks for backing me up vs. acyu.

            He is so obsessed with ‘politeness’, yet he can’t see how he was basically treating us the way I treated him in my dildo post, only in tl;dr form.

            If it made him uncomfortable it was supposed to. Of course, he can’t see the irony. They never can. And they use ‘civility’ as an excuse to direct the conversation. They always do. That way they can easily withdraw if too many inconvenient questions are asked.

          • youngexecutive



          • marshmallow

            Less typing more sucking.

          • youngexecutive


          • Jennifer Starr

            Yours first, Charlie.

          • youngexecutive

            water is wet…just thought you should know.

          • CJ99

            And you’re still the irrelevant fool. Don’t let the door smack your butt on the way out.

            buh bye.

          • youngexecutive

            And you’re still creepy…
            Douchenozzle and butt smacking. SMH.

        • CJ99

          You first douchenozzle ;P

          • youngexecutive

            I betcha you could really use a douchenozzle.

          • marshmallow

            You’ve got one jammed down your throat. Perhaps that’s why you are incapable of one coherent thought.

          • youngexecutive

            citation needed

          • CJ99

            You’d really get off on that if you had a clue what it was.

          • youngexecutive

            Such wit!

  • David Huisjen

    Having read through the exhortation in question rather thoroughly, I still missed where there would be any reference to the LGBTQ community, positive or negative. The argument against female priesthood, on the other hand, seems to be based more on some obscure idea of the Eucharist having a certain erotic imagery inherent to it that would get confused if women were to deliver it. Beyond that, yes, he seems to stereotype women (primarily positively) according to his experiences with his own Italian mother.
    To me though (as a white Protestant American expatriate man, to get that all out there) the significance of the document is first of all, as you said, in discrediting those who would try to base their rejection of ACA, SNAP, etc. on their Catholicism. Secondly, it theologically reverses the implications of John Paul II’s “Veritatis Splendor”, which asserts that prohibitions against things like birth control are more absolute than positive exhortations to do “loving” things like feeding the hungry. Francis makes it clear that he considers the leftovers of Reaganomics to be inherently sinful, calling their supporters’ salvation into question far more than any sexual practices as such. That’s not enough to make me seriously consider converting, but it is enough to earn a bit of moral respect from me.

  • Ella Warnock

    Heh, are you messin’ with me, Alex?