Not only can’t he change Church doctrine, he doesn’t want to
And yet, if you think about it, there aren’t many things they actually want from Francis. What kind of wish-list do they have in mind as they celebrate his arrival? Francis is not calling for women priests, for abortion-on-demand, or for clowns dancing at the altar during consecration of the Eucharist. Sure, they relish his comments on the environment, on the poor, on “trickle-down” policies, and other things reported or misreported or questionably translated or not articulated by Francis with great exactness. What they most love about Pope Francis is gay stuff.
Specifically, it’s their overwhelming conviction that the new pope is not just pro-gay but soon will be recognizing gay marriage and (who knows) maybe even gay priests. For the modern liberal, with gaze fixed below the waist, there is literally nothing of higher importance for Francis and the life of the planet. Other than perhaps race, nothing transfixes the modern progressive mind quite like gay sex; it’s the new alpha and omega. In turn, Francis’ stance on gay matters greatly concerns many conservatives (Catholic and non-Catholic). It worries many faithful, orthodox Roman Catholics, especially after the blow-up at the recent Vatican synod on the family, where a sloppily crafted and released interim “relatio” (report) created confusion and consternation over the Church’s position on homosexuality.
But should conservatives and orthodox Roman Catholics be alarmed? Is Francis poised to change the Church’s ancient position not just on homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage but on the very essence of natural-Biblical-traditional sexuality and marriage? No, he’s not, and for a number of reasons.
First of all, Pope Francis can’t do that. The Catholic Church’s understanding of sexuality and marriage is based not only on longtime immutable and undeniable truths but is embedded and integrated within the very fiber and fabric of its understanding of human relations and spiritual relations. That understanding has not only been consistent for 2,000 years but was advanced even further and deeper in recent decades by Pope John Paul II’s profound theology of the body. There’s not only a deeper biology undergirding the Church’s position on marriage but an extraordinarily rich theology that those ignorant of Church teaching could scarcely begin to imagine. If they could find a moment to look farther than the waist, beyond the emotional and physical gratification of the moment, they might be shocked by what they discover in the Church’s teachings; what they will find is far more thoughtful and systematic than current cultural whims and fancies.
To borrow from G.K. Chesterton, the Catholic Church is the one thing that stops a man from being a child of his age. The Church does not suddenly change a two-millennial-old position merely because Obama and the Democrats have.
And indeed, Francis sees his role as a shepherd who serves the Church, not as a dictator or fundamental transformer. In his excellent closing statement at the same synod that issued the sloppy relatio, he said that the role of the pope “is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant… the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim.” Here he was citing Canon law.
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