Pontiff’s Statements On Nazis, Abortions, and Gay Marriage Are Quite Revealing
Pope Francis has been called the “people’s pope.” A jovial figure smiling with children, washing the feet of convicts, calling out oil executives on the environment, promoting human rights, and telling a gay man that God loves him the way he was made. Social media posts are enthusiastic that Pope Francis is forever changing the Catholic Church.
But do we have proof that this is true?
Pope Francis has not created many sweeping reforms of the Catholic Church. He first defended Chilean priests accused of sexual abuse, before finally apologizing after negative reactions across the globe. He has apologized for human rights abuses conducted by the Catholic Church, but not offered any restitution to victims.
And then he spoke over the weekend about abortion. He claimed that individuals who aborted their babies with health issues were comparable to the Nazis. For any Catholic leader to use the Nazis for comparison is especially tone deaf. The Catholic Church gave the first bilateral treaty to Nazi Germany. Hitler and Pope Pius XII’s agreement, called Reichskonkordat, officially eliminated any Catholic protest to Nazis in Germany. The Catholic Central Party was the most significant political organization challenging the Nazis for power. With their dissolution, the Nazis gained complete control of the country.
Pope Pius XII was silent on Nazi Germany atrocities. Even though he was one of the first European leaders to find out the extent of the Holocaust, he did not speak out. When 1,000 Jews were arrested within walking distance of the Vatican, there was no severe criticism. Most of those arrested end up in the gas chambers in Auschwitz within a week and would not be the last Roman Jews to be arrested.
While the Catholic Church has apologized for their silence, it has not been substantial. Pope Pius XII is likely to become a saint. Therefore, it seems particularly odious for the Nazis to ever be referenced without an acknowledgment of how the Catholic Church played a substantive role in their rise to power and subsequent human rights violations.
Pope Francis also called out abortions made if the child was going to have serious medical problems. Again, this seems more in line with conservative Catholicism than radical liberalism. A decision to abort a baby with health problems is not always a moral decision. It could be economical. Perhaps a family cannot afford to take care of the medical costs of a child. Or it could be to protect the health of the mother, who could die of complications during the pregnancy or birth.
Pope Francis was trying to convince Argentian voters to reject a law that would allow abortions at fourteen weeks. This follows an Irish referendum to overturn abortion restrictions. Part of the reason Ireland, a deeply Catholic country, voted to allow abortions were the practices of the Catholic Church. There was widespread abuse of children that were given away by their families at church-run institutions. Mass graves of hundreds of babies and young children have been found at Catholic-led facilities. Catholic institutes also imprisoned over 10,000 unwed mothers in laundries where they were separated from their children. Catholic officials would change birth records, subsequently making it extremely difficult to near impossible for these mothers to find their lost children. Instead of acknowledging that shameful history, Pope Francis continues to toe the party line.
Finally, Pope Francis spoke about gay marriage. There have already been reports that Pope Francis has privately told Vatican officials he does not want gay priests, nor gay people raising children. Publicly, he declared “the family as man and woman in the image of God is the only one.” This was a direct rebuke to any other concept of family that could exist. Pope Francis permitted a man and woman to be “non-believers” and still be in God’s image if they were wed, but not for gay couples. So, the head of the Catholic Church is telling the world you can receive God’s favor even if you are not Catholic, but never if you are gay.
This is the problem with how Pope Francis is framed. Yes, there is importance to his public discourse on human rights issues, the environment, and a universal ethic of love. But there will always be a limit. He is the head of the Catholic Church and a man of deep faith. He is not going to radically transform church doctrine, even if people think so because of his public comments.
A cynic might argue this is all for branding. The number of Catholics around the world are shrinking. Given the global scandals plaguing the church, a new image was needed. This may be true. Conversely, it could be that Pope Francis is promoting Liberation Theology, an interpretation of Catholicism that believes that the Catholic Church should be an organizer of rights for the least protected in society while remaining true to the sacred mission of the church. Or it could be some combination of the two. Either way, one position is clear. Do not expect radical change from this pope.