“The pope ain’t dope, after all,” said Chris, tacking on a final rhyme, “and these Pope tropes on what constitutes ‘a family’ are a slippery slope.” Whenever my friend went into rhyme mode I knew he was seriously bothered by something. Chris came from a devout Catholic family and had spent years reconciling what he knew was a wholesome gay lifestyle with his religious beliefs. To him Pope Francis was the great redeemer. He could redeem the Vatican by confronting years of cover-ups when it came to pedophilia, sexual abuse and other long-term injustices. But, as Chris noted, “The pontiff is back to pontificating – which means they’re back to giving me dirty looks whenever I “eat” the body of Christ.”
Pope Francis had made news on several occasions such as when he told Juan Carlos, a gay victim of sexual abuse, “That you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.” Of course, no one thought to ask the Pope what he meant with ‘who you are’ which, judging by his most recent comment, meant, ‘a person incapable and unqualified to have his own family.’
The Pope also took the opportunity to explain that women choosing abortion based on birth defects were thinking in much the same way that the Nazis did when they euthanized those with impairments. The comment reverberated well in the pro-life community. Finally there were two things the Pope said that even the Russian Orthodox Patriarchy could agree on.
“I’m starting to be a bit cynical when it comes to Vatican epiphanies,” explained Chris. “Whenever they notice they’re losing too many believers, they modify their canons in an attempt to keep their paying flock in tow. And when the tide swings the other way, they’re just as willing to crucify those they were intent on saving the year before.” With a sigh, Chris added, “Well I guess the Pope has a business to run.”
There was something to Chris’s argument, despite a bias that may have existed because of his personal investment and subsequent disappointment. The Vatican was a business and Pope Francis like most Popes before him – especially in recent centuries – was no more than a CEO doubling as a figurehead. When communism was a threat to religion, many in the Church sided with the Nazis despite a great number of Church officials who felt the atrocities perpetuated on Jews was horrific and unchristian. When sexual abuse scandals arose, key officials did castigate the perpetrators but they also kept them in their positions and aside from some administrative reshuffle, they devoted most of their attention to covering it up. When it was no longer possible to cover things up and felt many would leave the Church, they finally took the side of the victims and began reforms. Likewise, when LGBT rights had finally become a mainstream norm, the heavy and slow behemoth that was the Vatican was finally forced to take notice.
Not wanting to appear centuries behind the times and alienate many Catholics, the Pope developed a more accepting attitude about the LGBT community. Of course, this would all come to a gradual but definite halt as Europe and the United States began to show more and more signs of shifting towards right wing populism. Trump’s win, Marine Le Pen’s rise, and the general swing to conservative rightwing values reassured the Vatican that they could forget about all the ‘indulgence’ nonsense and return to more medieval values. They could embrace their oppressive inclinations and revert back to the instrument of pain they had been for most of their history.
The Pope’s openness may have gone just about as far as its willing to go. The pendulum was swinging back. And with any luck, the Vatican could go back to its proud history of Crusades, inquisitions, gay-bashing, Jew-baiting, misogyny, realigning themselves with the rich past they had come to love and cherish.
The Pope’s tropes on what makes up a family sounded all too familiar. The Nuncio was back in full CEO mode again and no longer needed to make detours for politically correct comments. Wim Wenders had released a flattering film, Pope Francis: A Man of His word and ticket sales were ‘up, up, up.’ The overall PR machine was in full swing and the Vatican marketing department was reeling from the rise in Papal visit ticket sales. Francis is aware about his image. He knows the ‘Pope looks dope.’ And he also knows it’s time not to alienate all the lovely conservatives, haters, and neo-Nazis in his flock. As Chris reiterated, “He already has he highest approval rating from fringe groups of any Pope so why bother. He’ll probably just go back to being his old CEO self and forget about the rest of us.” In short, it may be that the Vatican is simply going to go back to business as usual.