How The Reaction To Pope Francis Has Overshadowed Realistic Expectations
Unless you have lived on Mars with your fingers in your ears and your eyes closed you are familiar with the “Yanny vs. Laurel” test. What the viral audio reveals is a somewhat obvious statement: there is no universal objective truth. We hear what we want to hear, what we understand from our background and prejudices. Different interpretation does not automatically mean that every party is wrong. In fact, it could be that each party has a kernel of truth. The difference is how much emphasis individuals put on those kernels.
A recent example of this is the comments by Pope Francis to Juan Carlos about being gay. Carlos is a victim of the massive and tragic Chilean sexual abuse scandal. When discussing Carlos’ homosexuality, he said “that does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this, and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”
This has been celebrated as a possible changing of the entire doctrine of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church officially calls homosexuality a sin. Pope Francis has previously been open, but less strident in his language. He has said that he would not give judgment to the LGBTQ community. By saying someone is gay is how God made them, it acknowledges being a member of the LGBTQ community is not an individual moral failure, but a design by God. This is a radical change in doctrine. Others have pointed out that the Pope using the term “gay” is an essential shift in rhetoric from homosexuality, showing a more modern conception of sexuality.
Never forget this golden rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Mt 7,12)
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 19, 2018
However, this does not mean the Catholic Church is making a significant change. Many cardinals and archbishops are still firmly against being gay. This can depend on the geographical location of the official. Most Catholic members of Africa and South America deny gay marriage. Even in the United States, it is just slightly in favor.
When the Vatican was asked about the pope’s conversation with Carlos, they responded saying they “do not normally comment on the Pope’s private conversations.” This indicates they believe this was not an official statement and should not be considered. Pope Francis is also consistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which is a summation of official church teachings) which states kindness should be given to the LGBTQ community. Rather than outright calling being gay a sin, priests are instructed to call on LGBTQ Catholics to be chaste. This means the act is considered sinful, not the person.
People have also exaggerated that the Pope by himself can entirely change the Catholic Church. While the pope is seen as the infallible word, he has to comment on existing teachings, not wholly change doctrine. It is more about reinterpretation than transformation. But Pope Francis has made subtle changes. He brought together leaders in 2015 to try to get an official ruling on the LGBTQ community and was supportive. He has replaced bishops with more moderate individuals that preach openness and acceptance.
So we shouldn’t think that the Catholic Church has changed. Nor should we believe things will continue to be the same. Pope Francis has been more supportive than the last two popes on many social justice issues. He has worked within the limits of his office. So both positions are right and both are wrong. It is important to be measured to give appropriate credit and criticism.