It’s OK to hit kids. Women’s wombs should be “welcoming.” Same-sex couples aren’t welcome when it comes to marriage. And an official role for women in the church other than being nuns? Well, if you were looking for any of that to signal quick change in the Church last week, forget about it.
And how about the big event of the month so far at the Vatican?
Actually nothing has came out of Pope Francis’ Pontifical Council for Culture when it convened a series of meetings on the rather broad topic of “women.” I’m not sure if anyone expected too much to come of it – I doubt at all that many people even remember the last time this group met to discuss “youth.” While I understand that talking is always better than not talking, what came out of recent chatter at the Vatican remarkably was not from the conference itself, but from a series of short sound bites from the Pope during his weekly addresses.
Pope Francis made such a splash when he was elected to the Catholic Church’s highest office. In my lifetime, I can’t recall a more lovely, genuinely humble, truly engaging man in that very key role. I grew up with pictures of the Pope in my classrooms at school and my mother’s advice was always that I should understand that nobody was better than me – except the Pope.
With great public humility comes great responsibility though. If he could pay his own hotel bills and shun the fancy digs in the Vatican apartments in favor of more monastic surroundings, wouldn’t he naturally want to give us real-deal 21st century answers to our problems? We’ve been struggling for so long trying to come to terms with the role of women in the Church, acceptance of same-sex relationships, family planning, divorce, and the safe treatment of children – wasn’t this pope going to be the one to solve all this? And in short order?
The simple answer is complicated, so effectively, there’s no real simple answer.
I wanted him to be the one to bring about sweeping change in our 2,000-plus-year-old established religion but we forget he can’t really do that, at least not by himself. We want him magically to proclaim that women can be priests now but it’s just not going to happen. We want him to start appointing women as cardinals, at least, because cardinals do not have to be priests first – but yeah, that’s not happening either. And even though he said famously he was not one to judge same sex relationships, he’s also not going to be the one to condone same sex marriage any time soon.
So, what to do, what to do?
In one week, Pope Francis spoke out in favor of corporal punishment of children, against same-sex unions in Slovakia, and he identified the role of women in the Church as generative, like a “welcoming womb” – because he continues to define the role of women in terms of child-bearing. Moms first and all other roles follow that. And he’s made the news almost every day recently because all of a sudden, he sounded less like the lovely humble man who was in tune, in touch, in step with the liberal members of the Church, and more like the Pope of a really old Church that was trapped in its own history.
To be fair, it shouldn’t surprise any of us if he suddenly sounds like ‘The Pope’ and we should not be so keenly disappointed. Not everyone thinks that women need any role in the Church and there are lots of women who prefer that their priests be male. Pope Francis is obligated to speak to all Catholics, not just the ones who like what he says and who see his humble exterior as a symbol of imminent change toward more liberal thinking.
But Pope Francis never should have condoned any kind of physical punishment of children, not in any context, not in any arena. If it is a sin to strike a blind person, it is a worse sin to strike a trusting child. Pope Francis will just not be there when somebody takes his words to heart and decides to “punish” their child with what the Pope called “dignity” by just not hitting them in the face. And as much as he speaks at some length about how important women are in the home, at the very mention of a man striking his child, he agreed that the father acted correctly and never asked where the mother was and if she too thought corporal punishment were appropriate for their child.
The United States isn’t the only country going through a soul-searching about gay marriage. Slovakia is addressing the political issue of establishing same-sex marriage. A recent Slovakian referendum failed to reaffirm that marriage is only between a man and a woman due to the lack of voter turnout. But Pope Francis stepped into the discussion to say that, regardless of his earlier more sympathetic words about gays, marriage is only between a man and a woman.
And now, Pope Francis would like us to believe he wants women to have more “incisive” jobs in the Church, that we should have more choice in the workplace and be able to choose to work outside the home in addition to our roles as moms. My issue with this is that of all the things he has said that are contrary to what I need him to say, this is the most troubling. It’s not likely that women who have never been offered a serious role in their Church will suddenly be empowered to take a step further and assume a more serious role in religious society. And it is equally unlikely that the role the Church could assign to women, after they have fulfilled their primary objective as mom, will be fulfilling or satisfying. It’s like waiting for a handout.
There’s not a great path here – no quick way out of this forest. I keep wishing for him to be the Messiah I’ve been waiting for and I have to keep reminding myself that Pope Francis is not that. I think he is, at heart, a good man, setting an agenda by example. He is trying, within an impossible antique framework, to speak with compassion and to chart a course for the future that is no longer based on misused finances and child abuse but rather more about work and service. It’s hard to say what role women will play. For the moment, I’m glad women are on the agenda even if they’re not yet sitting at the table. In the big scheme, that’s progress and it will be very interesting to see how this pope addresses Congress in September. I just hate being spoken of in the third person – as if I didn’t exist.
We thought — we hoped — Francis was going to be a different kind of pope. Looks like not so much.
Anne Born is a New York-based writer who has been writing stories and poetry since childhood. She blogs on The Backpack Press and Tumbleweed Pilgrim and her writing focuses on family and life in a big city after growing up in a small one. She is the author of “A Marshmallow on the Bus” and a photographer who specializes in photos of churches, cemeteries, and the Way of St. James in Spain. Most of her writing is done on the bus. www.about.me/anneborn. You can follow Anne on Wattpad, Instagram, and Twitter at @nilesite.