Ladies and Gentlemen, the honeymoon is over. We’ve had just over nine months of feet washing, baby kissing and even some atheist loving but, it seems, the Catholic Church has declared open season on world sinners. Again.
Pope Francis has been called both a religious reformer and a political genius, as well as winning admiration with his displays of public affection to the faithful. He has certainly practiced his church’s teachings when it comes to poverty. Rumours that he ghosts from the Vatican at night to give alms to the homeless have spread, hand in hand with his official pronouncements upon the subjects of wealth, poverty and human kindness. From a distance one cannot help but be charmed by this new Austerity Pope.
Only a fool would insist that the Papacy is a purely spiritual office. While Francis may be the head of a church he is also the head of a state, one that wields far more influence than its few square kilometres suggest it should. The Catholic Church does, after all, claim ownership over one billion souls and the edicts it issues to the faithful cross boarders with ease. If, therefore, one must consider Francis to be a political figure as well as a spiritual one he cannot be judged on his warm hearted proclamations alone.
What action has there been, for example, to work on rooting out those responsible for decades of child abuse within the church? Precious little it would seem, as this week a United Nations panel began investigating whether the Vatican has breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite being a member of the UN and a signatory to the convention the Vatican is yet to release information on potential child abuse to the UN. In fact the Vatican has only reported on its implementation of the convention twice since 1990. Despite tough words from the Bishop of Rome there is no evidence that the Vatican has actually acted to bring those responsible for abuse to justice.
Moving swiftly over the parlous state of the Vatican Bank (an organisation with a history shadier than most inner city drug dealers), which today had its Board of Directors replaced, we come to the issue of abortion. A woman’s right to chose is, along with contraception and homosexuality, at the very nadir of Catholic ideology. All three topics have been largely avoided, or at least alluded to in unfamiliarly compassionate terms, by the Pope until this week. Address foreign diplomats he called abortion ‘horrific’ and ‘frightful’ before pivoting back to an all too familiar argument, that abortion is a ‘waste of life’ and the fault of the modern world’s ‘throwaway culture’.
This poses the question, what exactly is a ‘waste’ of a life in the eyes of the Catholic Church? What about abortion on the grounds of health? Or for the victims of rape? Could it be that the Pope sees women only as a vessel for a foetus to ride in? Not as living beings themselves, with rights of their own. His comments certainly make it sound that way. Of course, as Laurie Penny points out, there should be no real sense of shock that the Pope, a Catholic, is opposed to abortion. The warm glow of his child hugging, penny pinching persona may have been able to obscure some of his church’s smaller warts but we always knew the big ones were there. Penny also states that the Pope’s views will ‘become relevant the day the Pope becomes pregnant’. Were he any other anti-choice white male I would agree. However as he is the nominal leader of over a billion people and can speak directly to an audience of foreign dignitaries, I have to disagree. The real tragedy of this new, soft focus Papacy is that if Francis extended more than token compassion to those outside of his church’s flock he could probably do some real good, rather than just making feel good news.