Hold Your Applause, Please

Confetti floats from the sky.

Children and adults praise the words that he speaks.

“Best. Pope. Ever.” says ThinkProgress.

By now, you’ve probably heard about Francis’ latest round of pleasantries:

Pope Francis, in the first extensive interview of his six-month-old papacy, said that the Roman Catholic Church had grown “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.

Things like this have people tending to think that Francis is ushering in a new wave of tolerance and acceptance of LGBT people and (in comments past) atheists. The problem is: he isn’t.

Instead of populating panels full of men about religious views on birth control and chastising nuns for being too nice to gay people and ‘radical feminism’, Francis would like the church to focus on issues of ‘social justice’. Does this represent a good direction for the church? Of course – if the Catholic church stops interfering with access to birth control, then we’re all generally better-off.

However, is this some revolution in Catholic doctrine, dogma, beliefs, and what-have-you? Not at all – they still dislike gay people and feminists, but they’ve just decided to not focus on it as much. We could treat this as a hope that Francis is going to try to lead the Catholic church into a new era of progressive-mindedness in the Vatican. The reality, though, I fear, is that that isn’t the case.

Remember: this is the same guy who, little more than three years ago, called legislation supporting marriage equality in Brazil a “machination of the father of lies”. While a turnaround in perspective on marriage equality isn’t entirely out of the question, it seems unlikely that Vatican officials, not known for their progressiveness, would have let that one slip by.

What, then, might inspire this new outreach? Does it seem more likely that, in the face of hemorrhaging church-goers and legalization of marriage equality in a country that identifies officially as Catholic, the Vatican has decided to change its message and focus on the good parts (and one can’t deny the good of some of their philanthropic work)? It seems increasingly likely that this isn’t anything more than a PR campaign – after all, the Pope’s job is to do what’s best for the church.

Ultimately, my point is this: a Catholic church that doesn’t try use its weight to interfere with the happiness of others is a better church than what we had under Benedict, but the beliefs that have established the church’s reputation as anti-gay and anti-woman aren’t gone. They’re still there – they’re just not being discussed.

And that’s good for the church. For the rest of us? Well, that depends on how Francis and his successors feel once they’ve successfully distracted everyone away from the church’s flaws.

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