Wexistential Crises, Wayward Thoughts, Welcome Distractions and Willful Pursuits

A Secular Humanist’s Thoughts on Pope Francis’ Visit to the Philippines

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There are many atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and “nones” of various stripes who want to believe that Pope Francis represents a more progressive and inclusive Catholic Church. There’s a reason this meme is so popular:

Image source: http://www.snopes.com/politics/quotes/popeatheist.aspIt would’ve been nice if the Pope had actually said such a thing, but he didn’t. It appears that the 22 May 2013 homily of His Holiness has been interpreted by some to mean that atheists can achieve redemption through good deeds without belief in God. Fr. Thomas Rosica has since cleared up the confusion with an “explanatory note” that basically says according to Catholic teachings, atheists are still going to hell.

We, believers and non-believers alike, need to stop projecting our hopes and desires onto the Pope. It’s of far greater utility to examine his public relations image vs. his policies. Though he’s styled a populist, he’s actually a conservative who maintains nearly all of the social policies of his predecessors. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, but no different from the rest of the Vatican in terms of ideology. He’s maintaining the status quo; he’s just friendlier about it.

The local LGBT community wants to believe he is their ally. They welcomed the Pope by waving rainbow flags. I saw a banner that read,”LGBT loves Pope Francis.”

Image source: https://lgbtschristianchurch.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/lgbt-solidarity-march-for-pope-francis In 2013 Pope Francis said that homosexuals should not be judged or marginalized. Rather, they should be integrated into society. The LGBT community celebrated this, even though the Pope said in the same breath that homosexual acts are still a sin.

And since then he’s said a lot of things that sound like judgement to me.

I understand that figuring out how to integrate LGBT people into society is difficult for Catholics and Christians who have very deeply-held beliefs about gender, sexuality, and marriage. As a way of accommodating LGBT people, I’ve often heard the faithful say, “love the sinner but hate the sin.” And I guess that’s better than “God hates fags.” I like the Pope’s messages about mercy and compassion. But can you really show mercy and compassion and at the same time label a group of people “sinners” and deny them basic rights?

As part of his visit, Pope Francis addressed a large gathering of families. He warned, “The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage. These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation.”

As I was reflecting on “ideological colonization,” I remembered the film If These Walls Could Talk, which tells the stories of three lesbian couples across different time periods. The first story is about an elderly lesbian couple in 1961 and if it doesn’t make you a supporter of ‪marriage equality, I don’t know what will. I question your capacity for mercy and compassion if you are unmoved by this.

I am all for redefining the institution of marriage, not just to recognize the rights of LGBT couples but also to revise laws that discriminate against women. I am a happily married heterosexual woman, and I am for marriage equality and am prodivorce. If that means I’m threatening to disfigure God’s plan for creation, so be it.

In Slovakia, Pope Francis recently gave his blessing to a referendum that would ban marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples. I cannot for the life of me reconcile mercy and compassion and choosing to uphold heterosexual marriage vs. granting same-sex couples the right to adopt children and give them loving homes.

Scientific research consistently shows that gay and lesbian parents are as fit and capable as heterosexual parents, and their children are as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as those reared by heterosexual parents. Major associations of mental health professionals in the U.S., Canada, and Australia have not identified credible empirical research that suggests otherwise.

The Pope also issued a strong defense of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which upheld the Church’s traditional ban on birth control. He did say that there’s no need to breed “like rabbits,” but one should only use “licit” ways to regulate births.

I work to increase access to sexual and reproductive health education and services, especially for poor women who need it the most and for whom it is literally a matter of life and death. I’m staunchly in the birth control camp.

Here’s another woman’s take on the issue, a married Catholic mother who actually practiced natural family planning, who argues that the Pope’s recent comments on limiting family size were not actually “compassionate.”

‘What I find most ironic in all of this is that the pope is seen by so many as being compassionate for calling a woman who had eight children irresponsible and at the same time barring her from using the most effective and user friendly methods of birth control… Natural Family Planning is incredibly difficult to do correctly. It involves monitoring body signs, including temperature and cervical mucous—a dangerous proposition in a country with hazardous sanitation, I might add. It requires complete cooperation from the male partner, who has to be willing to go for without sex during a woman’s fertile days. It involves keeping careful records of body signs, charting fertility, and determining when ovulation has occurred (based on sometimes conflicting signs). Think you [sic] that it is compassionate to expect this of women in poverty, struggling to put food on their children’s plates?”

Sister, preach.

And while we’re on the subject of women, Pope Francis said that men need to listen to women more:

“Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes, we’re too machistas (chauvinistic). We don’t allow room for the woman… But women are capable of seeing things in a different angle from us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions that we, men, are not able to understand.”

Ironically, the Vatican is currently holding an assembly to discuss women’s issues… to which no women are invited. Well, women were invited to make presentations, but since the members of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture are all men, no women will participate in the actual discussions. The Vatican has described the process as “women directing the dance,” with men performing the steps.

The Pope has lots of positive soundbites about women, but to me these are empty words from the male CEO of a gargantuan global entity whose leadership positions are occupied all by men. It’s pretty clear that the Pope maintains a highly patriarchal view of the value and traditional role of women. I mean, he thinks women theologians “are the strawberries on the cake.” Image source: https://onlycake.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/strawberry-cake/ When women priests, bishops, and cardinals finally break through that ancient stained-glass ceiling, maybe then we can have a real conversation about gender equality and the role of women in society. Till then, I’ll be rooting for the feminist nuns.

Nothing about what the Pope has said or done so far surprises me. Catholic teachings about male and female roles, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, sex, contraception and abortion are all integrated with what Catholics believe about God, humanity, redemption, heaven and hell. I don’t expect those to change, under this Papacy or in my lifetime.

I can’t reconcile Church positions on social issues with the policy reforms I believe are needed for social justice. I don’t think it’s possible to address the social structures causing poverty and marginalization without addressing gender and power, for example. And I don’t think you can remove contraception and abortion from a discussion on gender and power. As a development worker I seek to address social inequality, and advocate for the rights of people who deprived, excluded, and marginalized. I do care for the poor, as Pope Francis implores us to do. I just disagree with the Church on specific points about how to do that.


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