The many faces of Pope Francis
Throughout the papacy of Pope Francis, people have grasped onto one particular quotation from the Pope: “Who am I to judge?” It’s been placed on T-shirts and has graced the front pages of liberal blogs and newspapers the world over. In contrast, Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, after all said that the “homosexual inclination” was a “disorder.”
But in reality, the people Pope Francis was referring to were only gay priests. And not only that, he hedged that if a gay priest were “seeking God,” then who would he be to judge him? In so many words, who was the Pope to judge a contrite homosexual priest who would never again act on his homosexuality?
Had people listened a little more to what Pope Francis actually said, they would have heard the following. “The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worst problem.” To be fair, I don’t think this all would have fit on a T-shirt.
So, how can such an accepting message be construed from such a specific and narrow meaning? For one thing, the quote has already lost its context. But, the far greater reason is that people are reading into Pope Francis whatever they want to believe.
In a 1999 study, Raymond Nickerson of Tufts University found that people assume that the knowledge they have is, by default, shared by everyone else. And, because of this, people tend to think that other people would have the same beliefs as they do.
A 2009 follow-up by researchers from Columbia university showed that not only do people project their beliefs onto others, they particularly do so on people they admire and, especially, God.
When asked about what they thought the opinions of God, George Bush (someone with well-known beliefs), Bill Gates (a well-liked person with largely unknown beliefs), Barry Bonds (a disliked person with largely unknown beliefs) and the average American were on controversial matters such as abortion and same-sex marriage, participants in the study considered the beliefs of Bill Gates and God to correlate well with their own beliefs.
That is to say, when the participants admired someone, they tended to assume that they probably believed the same things they did.
I contend that the same thing is happening with the so-called “People’s Pope.”
Vague words, contradictory actions
Pope Francis has abandoned many of the luxuries of the papacy and he certainly appears more in touch with believers on the ground. And yet, after each seemingly progressive statement by the Pope, the Vatican would come out to backtrack, or rather clarify. After a synod that seemed to contain language friendly to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, later versions of the document came out without this statement.
And, after the Pope appeared to have opened the possibility of atheists going to heaven, the Vatican came out to say that people cannot be saved if they knowingly refuse “to enter [the Church] or remain in her.” So, yes, atheists can be saved, if they renounce their atheism and join the Catholic Church.
Lest it be said that the Pope is trying to move the Church forward while he is being held back by conservative elements, it should be noted that when it comes to certain progressive matters, Pope Francis is a lot less vague than “who am I to judge” and more direct, like in calling abortion, euthanasia, and IVF “playing with life” which is a sin against the Creator and in saying that children ought to have both a mother and a father.
On the matter of women priests Pope Francis has said, “The church has spoken and says no…That door is closed.”
While the Pope has criticized and apologized for those who have helped shield rapists from prosecution, he has gone ahead and appointed as top Vatican prosecutor a person who had failed to report a notorious child abuser. We see a pattern in Pope Francis’ Church—vague but impressive words, followed by clear but contradictory actions.
The fact is, Pope Francis has either been against progressive advocacy issues such as women’s rights and LGBT rights or just plainly silent about them. And in this absence of a clear narrative, people have made graven images of their own Pope Francis and ascribed to it their own beliefs, which they think the Pope must certainly also believe.
In the gaps of the feel-good platitudes from the Pope, progressives try to find wiggle room in an institution that was never built for them. For if the Church were to surrender that maybe God can change his mind about homosexuality, maybe He can change his mind about condoms or women priests. And that’s not going to happen, not under Pope Francis and not under whoever comes after.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle quoted the Pope as saying that he hoped that he would not be the focus of his visit to the Philippines. It’s hard not to find this statement ironic as no other head of state was welcomed as Pope Francis was. And why wouldn’t he be? No other pope in history has been as clever in creating an image.
The trick was to let the people make it for him. – Rappler.com
Garrick Bercero is the Multimedia Producer and an Advocacy Director for Filipino Freethinkers. He was Founding President of Filipino Freethinkers – UP Diliman Chapter. Freethought is a way of thinking unconstrained by dogma, authority, and tradition. To a freethinker, no idea is sacred; all truth claims are subject to skepticism, rational inquiry, and empirical testing.