Pope Francis is not only a good pontiff as pastor, he is also a good pontiff as church politician.
In canonizing two popes—Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II—who each represent the progressive and conservative wings, respectively, of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has shrewdly bridged the church’s theological schism.
But in his effort to move the church forward, Francis has overlooked women in his calculus. And one person who was ahead of Pope John Paul II in the queue for canonization was Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
In October 2003, Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa. Her legacy reveals not only an untold number of awards received during her lifetime—like the 1971 Pope John XXIII Peace and Nehru Prizes, to name a few—but it also reveals that in addition to the Catholics who revere her there are untold number of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu grass-roots devotees.
“Her life of loving service to the poor has inspired many to follow the same path. Her witness and message are cherished by those of every religion as a sign that ‘God still loves the world today,” members of the Missionaries of Charity told the press after Mother Teresa’s beatification was announced.
The Missionaries of Charity is the religious order Mother Teresa founded. These nuns, I imagine, like her devotees, are disappointed that Mother Teresa’s canonization is being delayed if not dismissed.
The underlying issue (which no one’s talking about openly and forcefully enough) is that Pope Francis has a problem with women.
Its root cause is either personal or ecclesiastical. Or both.
We do know, however, that Pope Francis doesn’t have an issue with gay men. His views on gay priests, while not quite in lockstep with its Catholic LGBTQ parishioners and allies, have, nonetheless, moved the farthest of any pontiff in history.
It must be noted that while some LGBTQ Catholics applaud Pope Francis’ queer-friendly remarks, there are many others who are suspect of them and don’t feel the Pontiff’s pronouncements are inclusive.
“The Pope was not speaking of all homosexuals, only to those of the cloth,” Amber XIII commented on The New Yorker blog. And Amber XIII might be right.
Gay men of the cloth in the Vatican are nothing new for the Pontiff.
As a matter of fact, the homosocial and homosexual milieux of gay priests have always been part and parcel of the life and operations of the Vatican as well as the Catholic Church for centuries. Their strength to come out now as a formidable force within the hallowed walls of the Vatican is laudable on the one hand and a liability on the other hand—especially in terms of casting a gay suspicion on all priests as well as the potential to expose those priests who want to remain in the closet.
Pope Francis continues to send seismic shock waves across the globe with his liberal-leaning pronouncements. And they are the most affirmative remarks the world has ever heard on the dicey subjects of abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage.
The Pontiff aptly stated in a December 2013 interview with 16 Jesuit magazines that “the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards” should the Catholic Church, in this 21st Century, continue on its anti-modernity trek like his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
While it might be argued that the Pope Francis’s understanding about human sexual orientation, especially LGBTQ’s is expanding, and his concern for the dignity and humanity of LGBTQ people is genuinely shown, the pontiff is still a doctrinal conservative when it comes to women.
“I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo,” Francis stated in his interview.
This pope, like the previous one, is using his papal authority to hold back the tides against modernity when it comes to women—he’s just doing it with a more friendlier and pastoral facade.
In keeping in lockstep with the church’s patriarchal stronghold, women, under Francis’s papacy, will not be clericalized. This means women will not ascend within the hierarchy to the offices of priest, cardinals, and pope.
Sadly, Francis’s views on women’s roles within the Catholic Church hierarchy are not only retro but also spiritually abusive.
“All the questions about, ‘How long should I wait to have the next kid?’ or ‘How many hours are too many hours at work?’ or ‘What roles of authority are okay in the church and what are not?’ are shots in the dark without a more profound and synthesized philosophy of woman that takes modernity into account and comes from the highest level of church authority, Ashley E. McGuire, Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association and the editor of Altcatholicah is quoted in PolicyMic.com.
In moving the Catholic Church forward, Pope Francis embraces an acceptance of gay priests and wants the church too as well. But he must also extend his embrace to women, lauding their indefatigable service to God and the church. And there is no better way for Pope Francis to begin than with the canonization of Mother Teresa.
Rev. Irene Monroe