Pope Francis revealed this week that ‘Catholics don’t have to breed like rabbits’, prompting the media to praise his shift towards modernity, and his liberal values. However, the only type of contraception the Pope actually condones is natural; that is, monitoring a woman’s ovulation to try and avoid sex when an egg has been released. It is not exactly Durex’s 98 per cent effectiveness guarantee.
This episode is typical of the way we have been encountering Pope Francis. He made a few mildly controversial statements shortly after his inauguration, choosing to live a simpler life in the Vatican than previous popes, and encouraging Cardinals to do the same. He has even been as radical as to say that gay people should not be marginalised, and instead included in society. As a result, the focus of much of the media coverage has been of his tolerant and progressive nature. However, if we lift the veil of wonder at change occurring in the Catholic church, we begin to see that there has been very little progress. Homosexual acts are still considered a sin, women are unable to become priests, and the practice of abortion is banned under any circumstances. These are not what would normally be described as liberal views.
These latest statements are an obvious attempt by the Pope at a move towards modernity, which should filter down through the church. As God’s representative on Earth, the Pope commands respect and his teachings are taken very seriously. Hopefully this will have the most influence in developing countries where lack of contraception has the worst consequences, in terms of perpetuating poverty and the lack of women’s rights. The fact that the church is attempting to be seen as more in touch with the modern world shows their realisation that their policies are outdated and problematic, and that as an institution they are being left in the past. As the western world becomes increasingly liberal, if the church does not even make a facade of modernity, they will be left to cower and crumble behind the walls of their oppressive castle in the sky. We should not congratulate the Pope for making this minute concession, which only serves to reveal how behind the times he is. The Catholic church remains a massively conservative institution which legitimises the prejudice and oppression of some of the most vulnerable groups in our society. By celebrating this tiny step towards modernity, we effectively accept the banning of abortion, contraception and homosexuality as permissible, when we should be working towards an equal society for all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or religion. Western countries jump at the chance to criticise Islam for imposing the burqa on women, so why do we not balk at being told that having control over your own womb is a sin?
Pope Francis’s attempts to tackle child abuse and the excessive richness of Cardinals in the church are commendable, but in terms of the Pope’s supposedly radical views, there is very little to celebrate. There has been no liberal shift in any real sense of the word. Until the Pope and the rest of the church recognise the problems in their teachings and make serious attempts to modernise, these teachings will continue to become more and more irrelevant, and eventually be rendered obsolete.