As the hullabaloo over Pope Francis’ visit to America reaches a fever pitch, it’s important to keep in mind some sobering realities about the organization he leads.
The Pope has been widely lauded for his seemingly revolutionary statements, such as:
“Who am I to judge?”
“there is no Catholic God”
“when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”
“How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor”
“Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense.”
But these missives are little more than symbolic gestures entirely devoid of meaningful and substantive change. They’re reminiscent of a slick politician who promises hope and change in order to please his constituency, but behind the scenes continues to conduct business as usual.
And the Catholic Church is a business, one with enormous power. In America, the Catholic Church has 74 million members, employs 1 million people and spends $170 billion yearly. And that’s just in the United States. World-wide there are some 1.2 billion Catholics and vast financial resources.
But the size and power of the Catholic Church isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. What is troubling are many of the beliefs espoused by the Church, beliefs that are fully supported by the Pope and which every Catholic, whether they like them or not, are supposed to believe. These aren’t obscure bits of theological ephemera, they’re essential dogmas of the Catholic Church.
Let’s remember that the Catholic Church believes:
- Salvation is only possible through the Catholic Church
“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 846
- Eternal conscious torment in hell
“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1035
- Birth control is “intrinsically evil”
“‘every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil.” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370
- Women are denied full equality with men
“‘Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.’ The Lord Jesus chose men (ver) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1577
- Homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered”
“Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357
Pope Francis is probably a great guy, and I have no doubt that his heart is in the right place, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the Catholic Church has undergone some sort of radical transformation under his leadership. Instead, let’s remember that those who applaud the Pope are lending implicit support to all that the Catholic Church represents, including pervasive cover-ups of rampant sexual abuse, on-going condemnation of birth-control and reproductive rights, and the continued marginalization and exclusion of LGBT people. Until those things change — and don’t hold your breath for that to happen — I’m not going to be cheering for the Pope, and neither should you.
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has two cats.