‘The People’s Pope’? If By People, You Don’t Mean Women


If the world needed any further evidence of the public-relations prowess of Pope Francis, it was granted by Time magazine on Wednesday, with a fawning profile and bestowal of its Person of the Year Award on the current occupant of the throne of St. Peter.

Explaining the rationale for the magazine’s choice of Francis, writer Howard Chua-Eoan, narrating a video produced by the magazine, says, “The fact that he’s given so many people so much hope and inspiration in the last nine months—it’s only been nine months—no one else has done that this year.”

Yet it is that very hope that fills me with despair, for it is hope destined to be dashed. Based on nothing much—just appealing optics and some pretty words—the hope offered by Francis is mere cover for an institution that models, in the guise of holiness, the very sort of patriarchal rule over half the world’s population that facilitates violence against women, as well as their impoverishment and oppression. It is a model the pope has stated he has no intention of changing.

While Evangelii Gaudium, the papal manifesto released last month by the Vatican, excited progressives with its critique of capitalism and condemnation of trickle-down economic theories, the document, known as an “apostolic exhortation,” flatly stated that allowing women to enter the priesthood “is not a topic open to discussion.” He also affirmed, in that document, the church’s strict prohibition on abortion under any circumstances, and tacitly endorsed church teaching on the sinfulness of sex between two men or two women.

Chua-Eoan, who co-authored with Elizabeth Dias Time’s profile of Pope Francis, admits as much in the video. “Everyone’s saying he’s going to allow divorced Catholics to have Communion, he’s going to open the church to gay people, he’s going to be much more open about abortion, but he actually never said any of that,” Chua-Eoan says in the video. “He was just being more open so that these people are willing to come back to the church, without having to deal with the actual rules.”

What got people so filled with the notion that the pope represented the kind of change they could believe in was a masterful bit of public relations executed via an interview, published in English in the Jesuit magazine America, that he gave to Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica. In his discussion with Spadaro, the pope said it was not for him to judge gay people, and he urged compassion for women who have had abortions or gotten divorced. In all of his utterances since winning the papal throne, Francis has urged a change in tone, style, and rhetoric—away from condemnation of those who have sinned, and a more full-throated proclamation of the church’s longstanding “preferential option for the poor.”

I do not mean to suggest that the pope is insincere in his concern for the poor; I have little doubt that he is earnest in his desire to see the church better, and more loudly, defend them. For all I know, it may have been the pope’s exhortation that permitted Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the very Catholic House Budget Chairman, to momentarily turn his back on his Ayn Randian, Koch-backed sponsors to hammer out a budget agreement that will save Head Start. If so, that’s a good thing.

It is important, nonetheless, to note that this emphasis also serves another of the church’s needs: the remaking of its image at a time when it is losing practicing members in the more developed nations, and competing for souls with Islam and Protestant Christian sects in the developing world.*

This loss and competition is taking place against a backdrop of scandal—multiple scandals, really, that include, but are not limited to, the massive sexual abuse of children by priests long covered up by church leaders, and the pit of corruption that is the Vatican Bank. (The pope does seem to be taking serious steps to clean up the latter.)

And so we see a great public relations campaign to highlight the pope’s “humility”—his refusal to live in the opulent papal apartments, his photo ops with the poor and infirm, his washing of the feet of convicts, and even a story leaked by one of his underlings asserting that the pope secretly slips out of the Vatican at night to minister to homeless people.

Members of the media are beside themselves, as are many progressives—particularly progressive men—who gush that a new day has dawned in the church. Raise the subject of the pope’s affirmation of the church’s exclusion of women from any form of meaningful leadership, or of the cruelty of the church’s opposition to any form of reproductive freedom—doctrine that often finds its way into the laws of nations—and you’re all but told to shut up and wait.

In their Time profile, Chua-Eoan and Dias write:

Francis is aware of the liberal clamor in the affluent West for the ordination of women. He also recognizes that Catholic doctrine, as it is currently formulated, cannot be made to justify women as priests.

When I was a child, Catholic doctrine, as it was then formulated, forbade the eating of meat on Friday. To do so in conscious defiance of the rule was a mortal sin, which carried the penalty of eternal damnation, unless one confessed the sin before dying. And guess what? Today it’s okay to eat meat on Friday, as long as you substitute some other sort of penance for your indulgence. (I can’t remember what then happened to the souls of those burning in Hell for having had a slice of pepperoni on a Friday.)

Next year, an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, called by the pope, will convene in Rome. If Pope Francis has any intention of rendering Catholic doctrine on church leadership into a morally acceptable form—one that affirms the equality of all people in the eyes of God—it will come to light then. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Time magazine, in the title of its Person of the Year profile of Pope Francis, dubbed him “the people’s pope.” If by “people,” you don’t mean women, I guess that could work.

Sections of this article addressing the Roman Catholic Church’s decline in more developed nations and its teaching on Friday fasting have been revised for greater clarity.

*In Europe, the pews of Catholic churches are sparsely occupied, while in the United States, the Catholic population gives the appearance of stability, thanks to the entrance of immigrants from Catholic countries. However, former Catholics comprise 10 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Project on Religion and Public Life.

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  • MsC

    I will acknowledge that Francis has made some steps in the right direction, and has said things that need to be said and Catholics need to hear. But until there are actual changes in church policy, and changes in the priorities and behavior of the American Catholic churches, it’s just window dressing and nice words. Eventually, Catholics are going to have to provide substance to Francis’ style.

  • Constant Comment

    Thank you for pointing this out. I get tired of hearing people give this Pope props for being a compassionate human being just because all his predecessors happened to be total dicks. He’s still all about women as second-class citizens with no agency and it annoys me that people seem to overlook this. P.s. I also don’t hear about any pedophile priests going to jail, either…

    • SammieJo

      Honey- read your Bible- as far as it’s concerned Women ARE second class citizens ment for nothing more than making babies & taking care of the men ;)

      • cjvg

        I think they classify us as helpmeets.
        The word says it all

        • SammieJo

          Ha Ha – you should read the help meet book- it actually DOES give a pretty accurate view of how women are expected to behave according to the bible ;)- One of my friends gave it to me to read a few years ago.

      • Marlowe53

        The Bible is not the last word in Christianity. It was not written my God or by Jesus but was assembled by a bunch of men several hundred years after Christ died and rose again. Those men threw out any books written by women. There are Christian churches that make every effort to ensure that women are treated as equals within the church.

        • colleen2

          “There are Christian churches that make every effort to ensure that women are treated as equals within the church.”

          It may be true that some congregations do this (although I have never run across one and I have looked) but what I do see is that those men and women aren’t admonishing the religious right or objecting about the manner in which they treat women. What I do see is that AS PRACTICED in the US, Christianity finds the religious right’s treatment of women acceptable, necessary and somehow moral. It is none of these things.

    • Mindy McIndy

      He’s also anti-gay. He may say a couple nice things like “who am I to judge”, but in his own writings, he says that gay people need to be celibate and not engage in gay relationships. This is not a nice pope, he just looks better than the last golem of a pope.

    • Ted Kuhnen

      I didn’t know the Catholic Church had the power to put people in jail. But yes, pedophile priests have gone to jail if the crime was within the statute of limitations time frames.

      • expect_resistance

        They do have the power to report pedophile priests. Maybe not to incarcerate them but at least do the right thing and report them to the authorities.

      • colleen2

        They have the same power to “put people in jail” that any other responsible adult has. Instead they almost always protected and enabled the child rapists and failed their legal and moral obligations to report these rapes. They often threatened and disparaged the victims and their parents though and, of course, destroyed the lives of many children in their care.

        I guess pedophiles and pedophile enablers have a sort of skewed notion of what “the sanctity of life” looks like but I am quite certain that I want nothing to do with what those sick, sick men think is ‘moral’.

      • Erik Wise

        Ted: The majority of pedophile priests have gone unpunished. What century are you in? Do your homework.

        • HeilMary1

          Dr. Richard Sipe’s research shows that 80-90% of priests have affairs with adults of both sexes, and he personally dealt with 50 mistresses forced to get abortions to save the priests’ “reputations”. Priest scandals go far past pedophilia.

      • Marlowe53

        Many of them have not reported the rapist priests until the statute of limitations has passed. The Catholic Church has also fought every proposed state and federal law to extend the statute of limitations for sexual assault.

  • Louise Margarite

    Thank you for stating why I am not waiting and this Sunday will be received into the Episcopal Church, where I can be a fully equal human and be a member of a faith community that recognizes that …

  • wildthang

    Or acknowledge human sexual reality as not just for having children or for people to have the right to touch their own bodies for personal pleasures, as if it weren’t designed for that. Or medical rights after centuries of trying to avoid medicine and stay with their form of witch craft. Or the human reality of homosexuality and the part any god, if it existed, would have to have been complicit in. The biggest capitalist venture of all time selling tickets to a heaven and the threat of being thrown into hell by incantations like a witches spell. Nevermind the witches were old spinsters with arthritis of their fingers laid up at home sweeping their steps at home alone and mixing up herbal remedies.

  • Ted Kuhnen

    Give it a rest. You want everything yesterday and expect that everyone can do everything. What the Pope is doing is a huge step forward for the Catholic Church.

    • colleen2

      Please find some other blog to be a dismissive asshole.

      • HeilMary1

        Really!

    • L-dan

      Yesterday? How many centuries has the church been polishing it’s misogynist messaging?

      I mean, I’m glad they finally stopped that whole Magdalene Laundry thing this century, quite progressive of them.

      But I’m not planning to look kindly upon the church as Catholic hospitals continue to put the lives of pregnant people at risk while reducing the amount of charity care they manage; as they shuffle abusive priests around and play games with money to shelter it from judgements for their victims; as they continue to put their stamp on every international agreement to make sure that they can weaken wording that might imply women should be in charge of their own lives and reproduction.

      If his stance does end up benefiting the poor, that’s a good thing, of course. Though I find it more of a PR move to try staunching the hemorrhage of believers so as to keep their numbers up and keep the tithes flowing in.

    • CJ99

      if this was the 5th century it could be a step forward. In reality its the 21st century.

  • Arachne646

    With respect, I (as a progressive Christian feminist) don’t think that all the women that were tortured and slaughtered during the “burning times” were wise women and goddess worshipers. Most were just unlucky, or unpopular, in the wrong place at the wrong time, since witch-burning was a craze that decimated Europe, sweeping it along with the “Black Death” plague. I’m not sure how many pagans actually existed and how much folk belief was mixed in with Christianity–can we ever know?

  • expect_resistance

    Great title. While everyone is fawning all over this pope we do need to realize that the position of women in the Catholic Church has not changed and probably won’t change in the foreseeable future.

  • expect_resistance

    “Pagans didn’t invent the devil, christians did; so the next time someone tells you that pagans and/or wiccans worship the devil, just know that we can’t worship something that doesn’t exist.” Excellent point.

    I’m a pagan and have studied the “Burning Times” and some women were implicated as being witches that were not healers/witches and were “old spinsters.” Anyone could implicate a woman for being a witch. Many women who were healers were murdered, executed and their knowledge of herbal healing etc. died with them.

  • wildthang

    I agree but the popular stereotypes are like I mentioned. Were all the damned witches in witch hunts actually all wiccans and healers? As in all witch hunts all kind sof people get swept up by their brooms like in HUAC but feel free to witch hunt me if you want it is great fun for people who like to do it.. You may be taking my facetiousness too seriously, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Please don’t burn me on a stake by mistake!.I was talking about christian tickets to heaven for heavens sake.

  • December27

    *Thank you* for this, Adele. I’ve shared my own doubts in several online discussions and have met nothing but resistance.

    I’m wary of this pope. His “awakening” apparently is genuine and predates his papacy but, if so, how was a reactionary, reprobate college of cardinals persuaded to elect him? How were such a mob of privileged and loathsome old men were persuaded (or duped) into choosing for their leader a mild mannered, open hearted, modest, nice guy? For good public relations seems as reasonable an explanation as any I can think of. It seems to have duped the chattering class perfectly, and in record time.

    • HeilMary1

      Don’t know what this means, but he nearly beat out Ratzinger in the previous election.

  • Rabbit Fighter

    Even before the pedophilia embarrassment hit the news the past few years and unintentionally made a new generation aware of its level of corruption, the Roman Catholic church had already squandered much of its credibility during World War 2 when it secretly assisted and colluded the Nazis in various power-plays for control throughout Europe. Google Nazis and the Roman Catholic Church and see what pops up.

    The shameless pomposity of the church goes back generations. One Cardinal Acton (1803-1847), refused to take an oath that had been required of all Cardinals of the Church since the 16th Century, an oath to preserve a fund to be used only in times of great need. Cardinal Acton was privy to the fact that the fund no longer existed, that it had been exhausted for forty years, during which time the cardinals had been swearing to preserve a fund that was gone. Just like the fund that didn’t exist… the RC Church has been
    morally bankrupt for centuries.

    • HeilMary1

      Thanks for new and needed-to-be-repeated info! If I ever win the lottery, I will try to finance a Hollywood movie on Vatican-Nazi collusion, especially the Vatican-funded genocide in Croatia and the rat lines.

    • marshmallow

      The catholic church in Ireland would not let Jewish refugees into the country. But they let fleeing Nazis in…np

      • HeilMary1

        And Cardinal Spellman welcomed thousands of Nazi criminals into the U.S.after WWII.

  • Erik Wise

    All the gushing about the Pope and awarding him Person of the Year by both Time magazine and the Advocate (complete betrayal of Edie Windsor and the LGBT community, if you ask me) is akin to giving a high school diploma to a kindergartener who just learned how to tie his shoes.

  • Emma

    Guys… the man has been in office for 9 months. Huge social changes in the Catholic Church won’t happen over night! He’s getting there. He’s actually trying to do something instead of letting things go on as badly as they have done. Give the guy a break. I’m not saying fawn over him, but he’s done a whole bunch more than the other Popes.

  • marshmallow

    Catholic Hospitals Are not doing Much for the Poor

    http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/12/catholic-hospitals-arent-doing-much-poor

    Despite this heavy mixing of theology and health care, Catholic hospitals in 2011 received $27 billion—nearly half of their revenues—from public sources, according to a new report put out today by the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch, a reproductive rights advocacy group. And that figure doesn’t even include other tax subsidies the hospitals receive thanks to their nonprofit status.

    The hospitals have long justified their tax status and restrictions on care by pointing to their religious mission of serving the poor and their delivery of charitable care. But the new ACLU/MergerWatch report suggests, and the chart below illustrates, Pope Francis might be on to something when he’s said that the church needs to shift its priorities to focus less on abortion and more on the poor. MergerWatch data show that Catholic hospitals, where executives often earn multimillion-dollar salaries, aren’t doing any better providing charity care than other religious non-profit hospitals that don’t restrict care. They’re barely any better than ordinary secular nonprofits.

  • expect_resistance

    Yes, look at Minnesota for example. The Archbishop John Nienstedt has been accused of inappropriate touching. The St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese have been court ordered to release
    the names of priests they believe have sexually abused children. The police chief of the St. Paul Police has accused the archdiocese of not cooperating.

    From Minnesota Public Radio — “Twin Cities, MN – “The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has released the names of 30 priests it believes sexually abused children between 1950 and
    2013. The archdiocese also released the names of four other priests who had been included on an earlier list, but church officials now say those four should not have been included. A Ramsey County judge ordered the archdiocese Monday to release a list of 33 priests that had been sealed since 2009.”

    St. Paul Pioneer Press — “A clearly frustrated St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith said Tuesday that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has failed to cooperate with investigations into alleged clerical sex abuse. ‘We have through written and verbal requests made clear our desire to speak to individuals connected with
    the archdiocese, and we’ve been told no,’ Smith said at a news conference. His comments came several hours after the Roman Catholic archdiocese said Archbishop John Nienstedt has been accused of ‘inappropriate touching’ of a boy on the buttocks in 2009.”

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — “The Roman Catholic Diocese
    of Winona on Monday named 14 priests accused of sexually abusing minors, most of whom were not previously known by the public or local churchgoers to have faced such allegations.”

    Just Google, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

  • L-dan

    Talking the talk, but they’ve never walked that walk.

    Letting women die because their septic miscarrying fetus still has a heartbeat, is not upholding equal dignity.

    Telling women they are not suitable to serve in the same positions of power within the church is not equal anything.

    Were there ‘homes for wayward men’? Were rakes, men deemed promiscuous, and even men deemed too handsome and tempting sent off to slave in church owned facilities?

    While they may teach that God gave men and women equal dignity, they do not seem to think that means that the church needs to regard them as having equal rights or even the right to be treated equally.

  • L-dan

    And we’re saying, that’s nice, but we’re not really feeling the lavish adulation he’s getting elsewhere is warranted based on so little after so long a history of oppression. Nor has he shown any interest in changing the church’s teachings on women’s issues other than poverty. So we’re not jumping on that bandwagon.

    I think it’s great they’ve elected a Pope that’s making a lot of people in power uncomfortable. I can think that while simultaneously thinking the world would be better off if the church (and all organized religion) fell entirely out of power.

  • L-dan

    And…all this excuses their superiors for covering up for them how?

    Nor was it just one, isolated case but pretty much churchwide, which makes it look rather like policy–official or unofficial. Even saying that pedophiles are also victims, need help, etc. does nothing to answer why the church chose to enable their predations.

  • Erik Wise

    Christ, you’re an asshole.

  • marshmallow

    Suck it

  • marshmallow

    Woman as property is not dignified

  • Arakiba

    Meet the new boss (of women), same as the old boss (of women).

  • colleen2

    You missed the point, Ted. The REAL problem is that these men that you insist all women should bow to KNEW their colleagues and employees were raping children and, in almost every case, they CHOSE to protect and enable the child rapists and often threatened the victims and their families.
    We have ample evidence that this enabling and protecting of sick men who destroy the lives of children was institutional policy. Thank you for mentioning NAMBLA, a secular and now defunct group. Your mention will help make my point that your church, the church whose beliefs you would have all women sacrifice our values, goals and, if necessary, lives for, that church has functioned as a gigantic global pedophile ring for a very long time.
    I understand that,. as women, we aren’t allowed to object to this and we certainly don’t have a seat at the table that tells us our “true nature” or even allows us freedom of religion or conscience. But, see, we DO object to being told how to live our lives and this is particularly trie when those doing so are men whose own moral compass is that broken and twisted.
    They would do well to look in a mirror and stop pretending to a moral authority they are not entitled to.

  • colleen2

    You really need to do some research. It was policy and the careers of a (very few) decent Priests who stood up to this policy were destroyed. If we prosecuted 60% of the Bishops in the US would be on trial. Read the Bishop Accountability Project and what SNAP has to say.

  • L-dan

    OK. But then what was the point of the long-winded bit about ‘did not control themselves’ in response to someone finding the whole mess indicative of people whose morality she didn’t find compelling? Even if those doing the molesting knew it was immoral, and therefore maybe could be argued to have a proper *knowledge* of morality while choosing to be immoral, the structure around them continued to decide that it was more important to keep those priests as priests than it was to keep them out of positions where they could continue their predations. That’s a pretty solid indictment of the morality within the structure.

    Additionally, why would someone want to take direction from a group who have a ‘so as I say, not as I do’ morality of that sort? They wish women to obey their rules to the point of dying for non-viable fetuses, but can’t be bothered to discipline priests preying on actual children. You can see where this creates a large amount of anger and distrust directed at the institution, no? That’s not going away in a few months of talking change.

  • L-dan

    Given the harm that it does, it’s rather hard to laugh it off and not take it too seriously. I works well for people, apparently, except when it doesn’t because they’ve taken a step out of line.

    Even then..whatever, they can go live their lives if that’s the sort of thing they want to be a part of. Similarly, I have the right to think they’re morally bankrupt for supporting churches that do horrible things.

    If it weren’t for the leadership pushing their policies in arenas where it actually harms people, I wouldn’t much care. But they do. Hence the objection to organized religion. Something less organized doesn’t have that ability.

  • L-dan

    I’m not giving them cookies for ‘approaching’ bare minimum decent organization status. That’s like being pleased the KKK does some charity work and stopped with the cross burning on people’s lawns. I don’t think anyone expects us to pat them on the back for being *slightly* less racist.

    So the Catholic Church going “you know, we’ve been ignoring this whole helping the poor thing. We’re not actually stepping back any of our homophobic or misogynist beliefs or policies, and we’re not actually going to be any more transparent or open about abuse,” isn’t earning them much other than “mmm-hmm, that’s nice. I still don’t trust you with any power.”

  • Jennifer Starr

    That may be the theory, but that sure as hell has never been the practice.

  • Jennifer Starr

    They say there’s nothing like a good joke. And that was nothing like a good joke.

  • colleen2

    God may well have given women equal dignity but the Roman Catholic church is determined to strip that and our basic human rights away. Please do not cite bullshit and call it evidence.

  • colleen2

    The Pope’s ‘position’ on the poor is that women and our 12 or 15 children should be able to eat. I am not grateful. The notion that it’s possible to have a coherent anti-poverty policy while simultaneously denying women (Catholic or not) effective contraception and abortion is absurd and insulting to anyone genuinely concerned about the poor. It isn’t as if the planet is devoid of examples of what happens to whole countries governed with the ‘help’ of the insane doctrines of the RCC, Places like El Salvador or the Philippines or Guatemala come to mind.

  • Ella Warnock

    The rich and powerful capitalists are not the ones who insist that women have more children than they desire or can care for well. That would be the catholic church and it’s miraculous new pope.

  • Ella Warnock

    And having more children than you desire or can care for well removes your dignity with each birth.

  • RonPaul2012

    As far as the RCC Is concerned women are disposable incubators.

    Fuck you.

  • Marlowe53

    Thank God somebody else gets it. I’ve been making this point all over the internet with very few indications that people understand how oppressive the Catholic Church is of women and how Pope Francis has absolutely failed to offer any hope to women that the oppression will end.

  • Marlowe53

    There was a recent case where a naked, drunk priest chased a young boy home. When he was charged, the Catholic diocese made a no interest loan to pay for his high priced defense attorney. The loan was made from church funds.