Pope Francis and the Rebranding of Catholicism

As a Catholic who observed closely the resignation of the emeritus pope and elevation of Jorge Bergoglio, in March of 2013, with hope and some suspicion, I find myself vexed by the profuse adulation Pope Francis I received during his visit to the United States. The pope is a world leader and head of a sovereign state. Obviously news outlets should be covering his visit, but I find he secular media's fawning alarming. Francis does amaze, and I am not immune to his graciousness. I love that we have a pope who unequivocally preaches that greed is a sin. Hell, I love that he's a Latino, that he's a cutie, that he has a twinkle in his eye. I believe we have already seen him tweak, in subtle ways, the sex-negative message too often present (in my opinion) in Roman Catholic education. Pope Francis is indeed a charming man, but his charm is hardly accidental. I believe Pope Francis was selected, in part to heal a broken church, to improve its complexion, and to arrest the exodus of Catholics leaving the church in disgust. Pope Francis is the face of the new brand.

I cannot deny that there is a personal upside, for me, in all the pope love. Most of my friends and colleagues are not Catholic or even religious. Many are intellectuals and feminists who, though too polite to say so, think my own Roman Catholic practice is odd. Many of these people now regard my devotion as a tad more legitimate. I like that. After all, what an amazing pope! Pope Francis may amaze, but he still believes married LGBTQ Catholics should not receive the sacraments. He continues to uphold the doctrine that classifies terminating a pregnancy as a mortal sin and the taking of a human life. He continues to supports an all-male priesthood. Not only does he support an all-male priesthood, but he continues to affirm the policies put in place by his predecessors. "The church has spoken," the pope said in 2013. "the door is closed," and Francis has not since revised his position. Roy Bourgeois, who lost his frock as a result of taking part in masses celebrated by women is still without a frock. The pope continues to shelter Bernard Law, a cardinal credibly accused of having facilitated and avoided prosecution for wide-scale sexual abuse. And just this week, Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra, an Inquisition-sponsored torturer who some say converted much of indigenous Californian by force. One comes to expect failure to discern from chauvinistic 'Father Says' Catholics, but it surprises me to see so many atheists, non-Catholics, progressive Catholics and journalists draining the chalice of papal Kool-Aid without giving complete (enough) thought to what Pope Francis still represents.

Pope Francis won praise for quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in preaching against discrimination, yet he presides over a church currently engaged in unabashed discrimination. Let the religious leader who is not discriminating within his own church lecture Congress on that topic. Let the one without sin, a pope who will not ordain women has no standing when he preaches against discrimination. 50 percent of Roman Catholics are offered six sacraments; 50 percent, are offered seven.

I am often asked whether the pope can decide to ordain women. "Yes and no" is the answer. The Canon Code spells out the requirement that only men may receive Holy Orders, but Canon Law can be changed and has been changed in the past. (Canon Law is complex.) An adequate discussion of would be too long for a short reflection such as this one. It is helpful to know that the Magisterium teaches that distinction between changing man-made laws and Divine Law is a critical one. The pope's Motu Proprio modification of in annulment proceedings is an example of amending the Canon Code by changing a "man-made" law. How do we distinguish between man-made and Divine Laws? The Church fathers tell us which are which. On what bases have they decided? Sola Fide and revelation: faith and visions. Who can amend Canon Law? The Supreme Pontiff, of course. Is he willing to re-open the discussion of ordaining women? No. The door, he has said, is closed on that.

Everyone's favorite pope could open that door. He could invite the bishops and theologians to discuss the ordination of women, but Pope Francis does not much like the idea. He has said women must have a greater role in church leadership, but he has also said we are "the strawberry on the cake." (No, Your Holiness, we may be strawberries, but we are also very much cake.) Why such fear around discussion of the matter of ordaining women? The arguments are stronger, theologically on the pro-ordination side. Most of the clerics I know seem to think the Vatican will ordain women when doing so becomes an economic necessity -- and not before.

Read "Pope Francis and the Rebranding of Catholicism" at Indie Theology.