I came of age in the Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope John Paul II. In fact, my entire Catholic life was spent under his tutelage but by the time Pope Benedict XVI was elected, I had left the church behind.
As a Catholic school student, every year of my educational life required religious classes. (Publicly funded, may I add, as the Catholic school boards in Ontario are run on the government’s dime.) It was during these classes I began to question what I was taught. Under the pope’s ever-present eye, my religious schooling included abstinence education, the sin of birth control, and — while we should embrace the homosexuality community — we shouldn't forget that they were all sinners.
Eventually I wondered: Why do we, as rational beings, believe this without question?
No one — not my teachers, chaplains, priests, or family — could answer me. Meanwhile, conservative culture began taking over the media — even in Canada. People used the Bible to defend the most vile of actions — discrimination, hate crimes, condemnation of other religions. The only explanation I was offered was that I could pick and choose which elements of the religion I believed in: become a cafeteria Catholic. So I tried to ignore it as the pope condemned homosexuality, repressed women in the Church, called birth control a sin while claiming priestly pedophiles could be redeemed (and protecting them).
These issues came to head on Christmas Eve Mass, 2004. The priest asked for us to pray that a bill legalizing gay marriage be struck down. I was appalled that the priest would use the holiday ceremony to force the issue. When we supposed to be celebrating, this priest was politicking. I haven't entered a church since except for weddings and funerals; and I haven’t looked back.
So it’s been interesting to see Pope Francis I take the reins. He is, of course, being hailed as a revolutionary figure that will shake up the old guard and bring people back to the fold. Specifically, he has so far focused on people like me, who have left the faith because of fundamental differences on social issues.
"It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time" he told La Civita Cattolica. "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods."
He says he wants to bring the focus back to the religion instead. This comment came after he decried abortion as part of our "throwaway culture," painting women who choose the procedure as callous and unfeeling. He has even asked that Catholic doctors refuse to perform them, despite calls from the United Nations for all countries to support choice. His views are antiquated and he supports his conservative predecessors in both rhetoric and actions.
Still, Pope Francis puts on the mask of a liberal. Time reports that he told reporters in July that he doesn't find fault with gays. "If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?" he said.
It’s a nice sentiment, but the pope seems to be more sentiment than action when it comes to change on social issues. As of now, while he may not judge gay people, his Church still refuses to marry them.
He also supposedly wants to reach out to women, but continues to stand with the old guard on many issues affecting us. Even if you discount abortion (which we should not), women are still treated as second-class citizens in the Church. The most glaring example is the pope’s failure to launch an action plan for the ordination of women. Men are, without exception, the only ones permitted to be ordained as priests. While he continues to talk about women’s futures, he does nothing to advance them.
Even if I did still believe in Catholic dogma, the refusal to reform shows me that the Church as patriarchal as ever. A pope who describes himself as wary of "female machismo" is a pope who understands little about women, whatever his promises.
Ultimately, Pope Francis represents a change in tone for the Catholic Church, that's for sure. However, this change are too little, too late. The institution may be about morals and charity, but it is also about exclusion and oppression. Until there is a radical shift not just in rhetoric but in policy, the Church will continue to hemorrhage followers.
I can't say that's a bad thing.