Friday, December 13, 2013

Why Pope Francis Is an Important Figure in Progressive Politics

Sonali Kolhatkar on what makes Pope Francis an important figure in progressive politics:

Ultimately, what makes the pope an important figure in progressive politics is the very real ultraconservative power structure in the Catholic Church that he represents a sharp break from. [Jon] O’Brien [of Catholics for Choice] said, the church’s right-wing lobby wants to "use a conservative understanding within the church—which is a minority view—to beat up on our elected leaders like Nancy Pelosi and other Catholic leaders here in the U.S. What Pope Francis has done in one fell stroke is taken away some of the weapons that they try to use to go after our elected representatives who want to legislate for all of the people as opposed to legislating some conservative minority view into our laws."
In fact, Pope Francis has also made it clear that he disapproves of right-wing Christian fundamentalism, calling it "a serious illness."

I agree with this analysis. I think that progressives make a serious tactical mistake of the cut-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face sort if they discount Francis's positive effects out of hand because he has not fulfilled our hopes (and may not ever do so) of according women full human rights within the church and directly repudiating the the pernicious teaching about intrinsic disorder of gay folks. It is something, after all--and a big something--that he has been willing to begin deconstructing the alliance that his two predecessors made with neo-conservative political leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere, even as they talked about the dangers of unbridled capitalism.

At the same time, I think that women, LGBTI people, and survivors of clerical sexual abuse have every right to push, and to push hard, against the refusal of the Catholic hierarchy to grant that the pope's denunciation of socioeconomic exclusion apples to women, LGBTI people, and survivors--and that it calls on the church itself to live by the principles of inclusion that Francis proclaims to the culture at large. Those who care about the credibility of Francis's message have a very strong obligation to push in this way and in these areas, precisely because the message is important and needs to be effective in the life of the church itself, if it's to be meaningful in the world outside the church.  

Not only that: Francis himself has opened the door for such pushing and prodding. And so far, he hasn't slammed the door. As long as any door to constructive change has opened in a tradition-bound religious institution with global reach, why on earth would we not walk through that door?

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