The Who said it best in their hit song Won’t Get Fooled Again, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.
To recap the events of earlier this year, the Vatican had a big problem. In a nutshell, their Pope, “Benedict” (aka Joseph Ratzinger) had a series of problems, errors, gaffes and skeletons in his closet that he couldn’t escape. Ratzinger was a PR disaster, becoming the most hated pope in some time, and in a surprise announcement, he made the rare move of stepping down, instead of dying in office like most of the Popes before him. The speculation still swirls around why such a move was made, but as time passes it becomes clear it was not for any kind of health crisis. A new Pope – Francis – was appointed, and since then he’s become a bit of a “rock star” compared to Benedict.
Okay, so the new Pope isn’t EXACTLY the same as the Pope Emeritus, this one’s much more entertaining. If Benedict was “Pope Palpatine”, this one is “Pope Goofy”. Just days into the new job, Frances got to work making friends with the world again, making charismatic appearances and delivering what I call “wait, …what?!?” statements, after which the Vatican had to come in and do damage control, as they carefully explained what the Pope REALLY meant to say.
The first was that atheists can go to heaven, too. Well, that’s nice, but along with the god thing, atheists don’t typically believe in heaven, either. If atheists really wanted to go to heaven, they probably wouldn’t be atheists. It was a silly thing to say. The Vatican swooped in behind him and carefully explained that what he really MEANT to say. The church doesn’t want people reminded that they are not a necessary component to your eternal salvation.
After the favourable press that he received after that first statement, he said that atheists can be good people too. Another silly thing to say. Anyone with any kind of experience in the world knows this, and furthermore, they know the converse, that being Catholic is no guarantee that you’re a good person, either. Sadly, though, this announcement was indeed a revelation for some Christians. Atheists around the world, however, were relatively indifferent to his endorsement.
Later, he expressed in a rather long and allegedly poorly translated interview that evangelism was rather ineffective. This, of course, cast a disparaging light on the work of missionaries and priests. Again, the Church came running in to encourage people to continue proselytizing and evangelizing to the world.
The things the Pope has been saying lately are from so far out in left field that hoax articles are readily picked up as factual, for example, the announcement that “all religions are true” was spread far and wide with people believing it to be true.
Pope Francis in his first year has ordered the Vatican’s bank to be compliant with European standards of transparency. This is not laudable, as it should have been done a long time ago, and the order is only to come up to the standards by which everybody else abides. The order comes after Italy froze millions of dollars of the church’s assets in an investigation into the way the church’s bank does business after decades of laundering scandals, and more prosecutions were looming on the horizon.
He’s not living in the posh apartments usually reserved for the sitting Pope in the Apostolic Palace, but rather in a suite in the Vatican guest house. That’s nice, but what does it actually change? He still has the same staff attending to him. The Vatican still exists. It’s still sitting there, unchanged in all its opulent splendour. I’ve been a fan of the idea of “sell the Vatican, feed the world” before Sarah Silverman made an especially poignant video out of it in 2009. The Vatican’s wealth is quite literally inestimable, but financial experts agree that it’s worth in the tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. While Pope Francis hopes to lead by example, forgoing some of the luxuries of being top dog, his cardinals and bishops are not following his lead. To paraphrase Bill Maher, I wonder what Jesus would think of the wild extravagance of the Vatican’s Palace and assorted outbuildings.
Pope Francis is still maintaining the church’s hardline stance discriminating against women and homosexuals. In September, he excommunicated an Australian priest who supported women’s ordination in the church, and gay marriage rights. On November 27, he issued a statement saying that the church’s position on abortion cannot ever be changed. And just December 30, he blessed a mass in Spain dedicated to reforming (read: repealing) a 2010 law that made abortions legal.
The November 27 statement solidified the Catholic Church’s stance on just about everything and changed absolutely nothing in the church’s positions and doctrines. Pope Francis has the power to really be a progressive force and change any of these things, and yet he does not. I don’t find that to be worthy of respect.
The good news is that while the Pope does encourage his followers to give up THEIR riches and give to the poor, and being heavily critical of capitalism (calling it an economy of exclusion and inequality, a tyranny that idolizes money), this message is proving to be very unpopular with many wealthy Catholics who liked Ratzinger’s hard-right stance, and they are withdrawing their support from the church, and some Catholics are crying that Pope Francis is singlehandedly destroying Catholicism. The strange thing is, Pope Francis’s opinion of capitalism is no different from that of former Pope Ratzinger.
So yes, as Roger Daltrey sang, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. While the new Pope might have a more photogenic smile than the old Pope, and his brain farts are a little more entertaining than Benedict’s were, I’ll wait until I see some meaningful change before I applaud him as a progressive force.