Julia Greig
Julia Greig

 

Pope Francis’ current tenure as pope may be short, but it has certainly caught the media spotlight. Unlike his traditional, pomp and pious predecessor, Francis shocked the Catholic world with his simplistic living habits, approachable nature, and what many consider big steps in the direction of tolerance. 

 

Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio took his name after St. Francis of Assisi, a great reformer of the Catholic Church. Elected by the Papal Conclave in March, he is the first pope ever from a non-European country. 

 

Francis has become something of a papal poster boy in mainstream media. Every few weeks a new story is bound to pop up about Francis’ behaviour. He casually took the subway in Buenos Aires, he’s driven around Rome in a Ford Focus rather than the Popemobile, he appears in a selfie with some tourists at the Vatican, and supposedly “makes a mean Paella.” These articles have undoubtedly made great publicity for the Vatican, an institution historically known for being out of touch with the billion Catholics it represents. 

 

More shocking than the fact Pope Francis occasionally acts like an average Frank is the direction in which Francis is taking the Church. His predecessor Benedict XVI called for a “smaller, but pure” brand of Catholicism, while Francis has done the opposite, wanting to bring lapsed and progressive Catholics back into the fold. He has expressed his opposition to the Church’s “obsession” with contraception, abortion and gay marriage. 

 

Pressed by the media, Pope Francis declared that “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” He has also denounced the wealth associated with the Vatican by calling for “a poor Church for the poor.” He has criticized global economic powers for worshipping a “false idol called money” and the negative impacts of “unbridled capitalism.”

 

Many evangelical Christians have opposed these statements, including Sarah Palin who labelled The Pontiff as “a kind of liberal.” Do these progressive statements from head of the Catholic Church actually mean that it is attempting to modernize itself? To answer this question, it’s helpful to think of the Church as a corporation that thinks in terms of centuries, rather than years. It was only in 1992 for instance that the Church got around to making an apology to Galileo, just 350 years too late for him to accept it.

 

Let’s also not forget that while Francis may be making these rosy and liberal-pleasing statements, they are only words that are open to interpretation. The pope may have tipped his really big hat to the LGBT community, but his words don’t necessarily reflect the views of over 200 000 Catholic priests around the world, and many high-ranking Catholics are quick to indicate that Francis’ remarks do not endorse marriage equality. 

 

Nevertheless, this point may not even matter in the greater scheme of what media are calling the “Francis Effect.” Tourism to Rome and the Vatican is up, as are attendance rates in Catholic Churches. The media has already hailed him as a symbol of progress: whether or not Francis’ words are actually translating to Conservative high-ranking Catholics doesn’t seem to matter. 

 

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