My Problem With the Pope

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

Pope Francis the Good is one truly uplifting presence on the world stage. Millions of us welcome and rejoice over his messages about helping those less fortunate, building tolerance and seeking justice – all goals that could use reinforcing in almost every corner of this turbulent planet. Even for us Protestants, it’s a good time to share the name Frances, by whatever spelling.

But the pope and I have a small disagreement.

Should a woman have control of her own body? Not if it contains an embryo, or if she might want to prevent it from growing an embryo, according to the pope.

Abortion? Absolutely not, says the pope. Being a forgiving sort, he has empowered more priests to “forgive” women who have chosen to have abortions and would like to continue practicing their Catholic faith. But once conception occurs – no matter that it’s the result of rape, incest, abuse or a limitless range of very personal issues – the woman must be shoved aside and all focus be on bringing that unwanted fetus into a life of questionable care. And any woman who has made this very personal decision must “seek forgiveness”?

This writer does not profess to be a Biblical scholar, but I have not found, or ever had anyone point out, anywhere in the good book that it says Thou Shalt Not Abort. In all the centuries of mostly men who wrote and have subsequently interpreted the Bible, somehow they – including centuries of presumably celibate priests – have simply opted to deprive women of all reproductive freedom. And today they would still deny a woman’s right to exercise free will.

But it is on the issue of contraception that the pope’s messages ring false, and harsh. One cannot fight poverty and simultaneously demand that poor women bear more unwanted children. If one so adamantly opposes abortion, how can one ignore the fact that adequate contraception would prevent millions of unintended pregnancies – and reduce abortions exponentially?

According to a recent New York Times editorial, a “2014 poll of 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries found that 78 percent supported contraception; in Spain, France, Columbia, Brazil and the pope’s native Argentina, more than 90 percent supported its use.”

The Guttmacher Institute, quoted in the same Times editorial, reports that some 225 million women who want to avoid unintended pregnancies do not use (often cannot access) reliable contraception. “Providing them with contraception would prevent 52 million unintended pregnancies, 14 million unsafe abortions and 70,000 maternal deaths a year.” Even if you don’t care about the maternal deaths – as is clear with “Pro-Lifer’s” everywhere – how does it not make sense to prevent the 52 million unintended pregnancies and 14 million unsafe abortions?

Could someone please ask the good pope to consider these facts? He probably won’t get that request from House Speaker John Boehner, one of twelve children, but he could get it from his equally faithful follower former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pope Francis is reportedly a very good listener.

One can only hope.

Three cheers for Pope Francis

Dove peace
Dove peace (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Pope with the good name is all over the news these days with his remarks about the church being too obsessed with social issues, notably including abortion and birth control. And I say hooray for Pope Francis.

Not because I have any insight into his intentions, or any links with Catholicism beyond a bunch of good friends and an MFA from that fine Jesuit institution, the University of San Francisco. But because the Pope seems to be espousing peace and justice and inclusiveness, even going so far as to put them above dogma.

In case you missed it, Pope Francis told a fellow Jesuit interviewer, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. We have to find a new balance.”

Subsequent reports and commentaries and punditries have hastened to clarify that nothing has changed. Contraception is still forbidden, abortion is still a sin, and the remarkable folks of Catholics for Choice are presumably still in limbo. But compared to his predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, who were never noted for liberalism, this pope has a real heart.  His tone throughout the interview is conciliatory, and the message is all about mercy and compassion, love over dogma.

Dogma hasn’t been working very well. It’s an invitation to I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong conversations that end as fast as they begin: My Church Knows Best. My Religion Is The Only Religion. I’m Right And You’re Wrong. Let The Government Default.

If there are answers to the challenging issues of today, they are not being found in these sorts of exchanges. But if we were to start substituting kindness for meanness, conciliation for rigidity, collaboration for obstinacy, imagine what might happen. World peace.

You go, Pope Francis. Even if you spell it with a different vowel, I’m proud to share your good name.