Pope Francis dropped a giant bombshell on Catholic doctrine on Thursday, and it's actually good news. Instead of receiving news of another child abuse scandal or papal resignation, Pope Francis shared a message of tolerance. In very clear and commanding language, the first Jesuit pope called on his followers to give up their obsession with homosexuality, contraception, and abortion. "It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time," Pope Francis said. "We have to find a new balance otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel."
As a pro-choice feminist liberal Catholic, I nearly did cartwheels upon hearing these statements. For many Catholics, this gives us hope that the Church can be a place where all are loved. However, there are certainly some Catholics who will be less than pleased with the Pope's words.
The Catholic Church is subtly split in two factions. There is the conservative hierarchy that makes up the Vatican, and there is the subculture of liberal Catholics who value social justice above all. This dichotomy is the direct result of the Second Vatican Council.
Beginning in 1962 and lasting three years, the purpose of the council was to clarify church doctrine for a new era. This resulted in a number of major changes: mass was to be performed in languages other than Latin, Catholics were encouraged to love people of other faiths, and the Church finally recognized the unitive value of sex within marriage.
Many Catholics were very happy to become part of the 20th century. However, a significant portion of Catholics were appalled by the changes, including a small minority who believed the Church had turned away from the Bible and lost its legitimacy. What has ensued over the last 50 years is a subtle power struggle between the traditional and modern ideologies. The previous pope, Pope Benedict XVI, was very conservative and during his papacy as he re-instituted several pre-Vatican II policies. When he stepped down, many expected another conservative pope who would continue to move the Church backwards. Instead, we got Pope Francis.
Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. The humble, simple Jesuit priest is not what anyone expected. But he may also be exactly what we need. The unspoken battle within the Church has gone on long enough. Young liberal Catholics are sick of attending mass and hearing homilies about the slaughter of the unborn. Our young women are tired of being second class citizens. Gay Catholics are exhausted waiting for the compassion that should never be in short supply. It is time for a change.
There will undoubtedly be anger over these changes, but it will be dwarfed by the unbridled joy of young Catholics. Pope Francis's words alone will not change the Church, but his strength and conviction can inspire a generation who will demand more acceptance and love.