Huffpost Religion
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Michele Somerville Headshot

Popacabana: New Tone, Old Message

Posted: Updated:

Pope Francis gave an impromptu interview on the plane as he returned from from his celebrated Brasil tour, a trip so lively and successful it earned the name "Popacabana." Popacabana was well-covered by news agency and from the standpoint of the pontiff's handlers, very well spun.

Each time I read about this pope I marvel at how much I like the guy and fear his "body people"/publicity team. I often think the playbook for packaging this pope emerged from the sweet 2011 film Habemus Papam. In Nanni Moretti's film, a pious and unassuming cardinal is elevated reluctantly to the papal throne, the chief irony being that the very aspects of his nature which make him such a fine and gentle servant of Christ, render him less a than than ideal papabile.

So Pope Francis has said "yes" today, to inclusion of LGBT people in Roman Catholic worship, and "no" to the ordination of women.

Rome stoops to divide and conquer.

Some of this reporting misleads. Pope Francis does not as much depart from Ratzinger on the matter of LGBT Catholics as it would seem. Yes, debunking the Ratzinger's belief that all gay people are intrinsically disordered constitutes a dramatic shift, but according to doctrine, all Catholics are asked to abstain from sex outside of marriage and from the sacraments if such abstaining proves impossible. That has changed. The rules for same-sex couples have not changed. Pope Francis merely stresses that gay people should not be scorned when they show up at mass. Far be it from me to throw a compliment Ratzinger's way, but that was actually his position as well. Ratzinger and Francis appear on the face to part on the matter of gay priests. My team of experts leads me to believe that by conservative estimates half the Roman Catholic priests in the world may be gay.

I believe Ratzinger, were he still pope, would have come around on the matter of gay priests as a means of ensuring that a paucity of priests would not create a more urgent need for female priests. Ratzinger wanted to impose a don't ask don't tell policy in the seminaries; Francis has no problems with gay priests as long as they remain celibate--which, let us not forget, does not mean "chaste," but unmarried. I, like so many others, find Pope Francis refreshing, but the conservative church would collapse without gay clerics and it's probable that a significant proportion of cardinals are gay. The pope is certainly taking a more congenial approach--but the Vatican is sticking with "hate the sin; love the sinner" on the matter of gay Catholics.

Ironically enough, the mainstream, conservative Roman Catholic Church would collapse without the work of women. Pope Francis offered some attractive rhetoric on the matter of women. The logic he espouses is familiar to anyone who practices any religion whose orthodoxy prohibits women from being clerics. The argument goes like this; women enjoy not a second class status, but its opposite, a more essentially exalted status; women are hearth-keepers and mothers. According to a July 29 NPR report, the pope expressed the following thoughts on women in the Church.

"It is not enough to have altar girls, women readers or women as the president of Caritas," he said, according to the Catholic Herald. "Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests," he said, in the same way that "Mary is more important than the apostles."

Thus the pope basically argues that 1) women should get more to do and 2) that Mary is more important that the apostles.

I once heard a theologian priest told this joke from the pulpit: An elderly lady stayed after mass and prayed the rosary in the pews. With each "Hail Mary" her voice got louder and louder and somehow more urgent. The priest, hearing this, quietly interjected. "Jesus hears your prayer," he said. The woman prayed louder and in a more desperate tone. Again the priest spoke. "He hears you. Don't give up." One more time the woman increased her volume and the priest intervened. "Christ hears you."

"Will you keep it down, Father? I'm not looking for Jesus. I'm looking for his mother."

Read "Popacabana: New Tone, Old Message" in its entirety on Indie Theology.