Pope Francis, the Reformer

Some people think that Pope Francis is a reformer. Message to these people: to be a reformer you actually have to change something.

In fairness to Pope Francis, the Reformer, it's pretty hard to change something if you believe that the Catholic Church is the one true church. It doesn't get much better than believing that you have a corner on eternal truth, so I'm not expecting any change there.

The Catholic Church also teaches that the pope is infallible on matters of faith and morals. The only way that Pope Francis could be a reformer on the doctrine of papal infallibility is to speak ex cathedra on a matter of faith or morals and then admit that he made a mistake. I'm betting that won't happen either.

But what about the issues on which the Catholic Church could really rock the world if it changed? Let's start with women. Women aren't an issue to me, but they are to the Catholic Church. Consider the fact that in more than 2,000 years no woman has ever held a position of authority in the Catholic Church. That's because to hold a position of authority in the Catholic Church, you have to be a priest. The Catholic Church refuses to ordain women as priests. It's position is that it has "no authority" to ordain women. Right. God, i.e., the Creator of the Universe, has not given the Catholic Church the authority to ordain women, so women can never be priests. Pope John Paul II explicitly stated this position in an apostolic letter in 1994. With the expressed intent of removing "all doubt... regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself," the pope formally declared in the letter, "that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

So no ordination for women is the will of almighty God, and all Catholics have to believe it. Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have both repeatedly reiterated this position. For example, in 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, stated that the ban on ordaining women "has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium" and "is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith." More recently -- like on the airplane headed back from Rio--Pope Francis said "on the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed." I'll bet it's locked too with a deadbolt. Never to be opened. So much for the ordination of women.

What about women's reproductive rights? According to the Catholic Church, women don't have any -- except of course the right or maybe it's the responsibility to procreate. That's women fulfilling their all-important "maternal role." Men have a paternal role too, but it's not "all-important" because they already run everything. The church opposes abortion under all circumstances, even when the mother's life is in danger and even in cases of incest or rape. Indeed, the only so-called exception is if a life-saving medical procedure indirectly causes the termination of a pregnancy. So zero chance for reform on this issue.

How about the possibility for reform on the church's position on contraception? Let's put it this way: in response to whatever Rick Santorum, the noted Catholic theologian, has ever thought or said about the subject, I'm sure Pope Francis would say, "Amen."

Homosexuality? This is the issue that got some people excited. Why? Well, in that same airplane interview on the way back from Rio, Pope Francis made the incredibly magnanimous statement that if a person is "gay" (yes, the Supreme Pontiff actually said the word "gay" in English) "and they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?" Would the pope ever say if a person is "straight," and "they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?" No, he'd never say that. So in making his kinder, gentler statement about "gay" people, the pope is ironically reiterating that being "gay" is a problem. In fact, it's a really bad problem according to the Catholic Church. The church says that if you are "gay," you are "disordered," which means that your sexual orientation is contrary to nature, opposed to natural law, perverted. Being "disordered" is obviously a very bad condition to be in. Nevertheless, according to the church, it is not actually a sin to exist in such a state. However, since sex is permissible only within marriage and you, the disordered homosexual, can never marry, you can never have sex with a person of your own gender without committing a sin -- a mortal sin for which you are liable to be condemned to hell. That's all "according to the church." Ironically, all of these devastating judgments are packed into the pope's rhetorical question, "who am I to judge?"

Of course, the greater irony is that the anti-gay Catholic Church has a huge number of closeted gay priests. The Catholic Church is either the straightest gay organization or the gayest straight organization on the face of the earth. I can't tell which. But either way it wins hands down as the most hypocritical.

Then there is the eternal shame of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Talk about a chance for reform. Unless they retired or died, all of the priests in positions of authority over other priests -- the pastors, principals, monsignors, bishops and cardinals -- who reassigned predatory priests to other positions, allowing them to continue to prey upon innocent victims, are still in positions of authority in the church and going about their duties in good standing. If Pope Francis wants to be a reformer, he needs to identify every one of these people and hold them accountable for their actions in enabling and covering up the systemic sexual abuse that was rampant in the Catholic Church. All of these people should be taken out of their positions and censured by the church, and some should undoubtedly be turned over to the police for prosecution.

The chance that this will ever happen is absolutely zero. In fact, Pope Francis just cleared the way to sainthood for the person most responsible for obstructing investigations into the church's sex abuse scandal. That person would, of course, be Pope John Paul II.

The Catholic Church is greatly in need of self-examination and reform, indeed Reformation, on a host of issues. Sadly I see no reason to believe that Pope Francis is the reformer who could lead that change.