I was born a Catholic and went to a Catholic school until the third grade. A couple of years after my switch to public school, I began to recognize many problems with the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, it wasn’t until the first gay person I knew opened up to me about his sexuality and I learned of the church’s intolerance of the gay community, that I really stopped regarding the church as a significant influence on my life.
To be completely honest, I don’t know all that much about Catholicism, mostly because I stopped paying attention long ago. Aside from the whole gay thing, something that’s always really bothered me about the church is the very lavish existence of the Vatican. The idea of this divine, king-like celebrity living in his own palace in his own country has just always seemed extravagant and excessive to me, especially regarding a religion that preaches modest living and the importance of charity. This is why I fell in love with comedian Sarah Silverman after watching her tastefully offensive video, “Sell the Vatican, Feed the World,” in which she presented her solution to world hunger. She mocked Pope Benedict for preaching about living humbly while living in a “house that is a city” and advocated for the selling of his magnificent home, claiming that it would exempt him from any involvement in the Holocaust.
The church, at least from what I have observed, has been on a path to hell. Between its constant scandals and overly strict guidelines, the church is falling out of step with the rest of the world.
Recently, however, Pope Francis has been taking big steps toward making it more accepting. A couple of weeks ago, Pope Francis was interviewed for an Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, in which he was asked if God forgives those who do not believe. His response was unheard of. He said, “God’s mercy has no limits, if you go to him with a sincere and repentant heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience,” indicating that God does in fact accept atheists and those with beliefs not in line with Catholicism.
In another recent interview, Pope Francis advocated for the church’s relaxation of their focus on small-minded rules, such as those concerning abortion, gay marriage and contraceptive methods, stating, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
While the Pope has recently issued statements reaffirming the church’s stance against abortion to reassure conservatives, he still signifies a major progressive turn. The Pope is on his way to establishing the church as an institution of acceptance and love, rather than judgment and ridicule. Ultimately, this could be exactly what the church needs to regain popularity. It may also serve to bring Catholics back to the fold.
Though Pope Francis has been praised for his comments by left-leaning Catholics and even agnostics and atheists, many liberals still doubt his sincerity, and a lot of conservatives are upset by the Pope’s stepping away from some traditional Catholic values.
What both sides need to realize is that Pope Francis can be beneficial to everyone. The Catholic Church undoubtedly still has a huge influence across the world. Whether you view that as a positive or negative, it’s still the case. For agnostic with no intentions of joining the Catholic Church, but hopes of more acceptance throughout the world, Pope Francis can benefit their cause. For devout Catholics unsettled by the declining popularity of the church and hoping it can maintain its influence, Pope Francis can also benefit their cause.
Pope Francis is not going to change the Catholic Church overnight, perhaps not even in his lifetime. Perhaps he doesn’t even want to significantly change the church. Though he may never start rallying for Planned Parenthood, that’s fine — he’s getting the ball rolling. He’s opening the door for more possibilities, for both the Catholic Church and the people who feel they have been victimized.