Not only can't he change Church doctrine, he doesn't want to
It’s no secret that liberals adore Pope Francis. The more secular the “progressive,” the greater the reverence for the new man in the Vatican. Liberals — which includes liberal Catholics and Protestants as well as secularists — see the pontiff as the long-awaited liberator of the reactionary Roman Catholic Church.
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.
But more to the point of Francis and the issue of marriage: if one actually pauses and does a little careful research, examining each and every one of Pope Francis’ comments on marriage, one finds an obvious consistency that has never wavered from Church teaching. Yes, his choice of language and rhetoric opposing same-sex marriage isn’t as strong or (if you will) incendiary as it was when he was a cardinal in Argentina, where he declared same-sex marriage a diabolical effort of “the Father of Lies” to “destroy God’s plan… and deceive the children of God.” He said then — only four years ago — that gay marriage discriminates against children “in advance,” depriving them of “their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God.”
What prompted the cardinal was a 2010 bill in Argentina that proposed giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children. Jorge Mario Bergoglio saw this as outrageous. At stake, said the cardinal, was “the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts” and the very survival of the human family, with Satan at work.
And what about that devil?
Since becoming pope, Francis’ statements on the devil have been even more pronounced. He talks about the Devil constantly, more than any figure other than Christ. He has blessed and welcomed exorcists unlike any pope. If he suddenly now accepts the anti-God “plan” of “the Father of Lies” for marriage, and pushes it through Christ’s Church, then Francis, by his own formulation, would be literally doing the work of Satan. If he does that, then he and the Church have some far graver concerns on their hands than gay marriage. There would be — by Francis’ own reckoning — hell to pay.
Does Pope Francis suddenly think that God now agrees with the Father of Lies on same-sex marriage? Does he now conclude that the two — God and Satan — are working in tandem to advance this new form of marriage, with Francis as their earthly handmaiden in the chair of Saint Peter leading the cause? Have all three — God, Satan, and Bergoglio —now changed their mind on the subject?
Since taking the helm at the Vatican, Francis has defended the family and marriage and decried how it is under unprecedented assault. I could give several examples, but very recently, in widely unreported remarks just after the synod, Francis remonstrated “that the family is hit, that the family is knocked and that the family is debased.[…] Can everything be called a family? How many families are divided, how many marriages are broken, how much relativism there is in the concept of the Sacrament of Marriage! At present, from a sociological point of view and from the point of view of human values, as well as, in fact, of the Catholic Sacrament, of the Christian Sacrament, there is a crisis of the family, a crisis because it is hit from all sides and left very wounded!”
He complained that the “Sacrament of Marriage” is “devalued,” turned into instead “a social event.” “What they are proposing is not marriage, it is an association, but it is not marriage! It is necessary to say things very clearly and we must say this!” The Holy Father condemned the “new forms, totally destructive” of marriage.
Needless to say, this is passionate language. Note that he did not specifically use the words “gay marriage.” But only a fool would think he wasn’t including same-sex marriage among the new, destructive, relativistic, non-sacramental, non-Christian forms suddenly being hit, knocked, devalued, debased, and creating wounds and a crisis in marriage and family. If not same-sex marriage, then what in the world was he referring to? The widespread matrimony between people and giraffes suddenly engulfing the Western world?
And now again, just last weekend, in an address to the “Humanum” conference, an ecumenical-interfaith colloquium held at the Vatican, Francis was equally adamant. In a short address, he several times emphasized the “complementarity between man and woman in marriage” and “the union of man and woman in marriage” as “natural” and “fundamental” and “beautiful.” He affirmed that “family is a family,” and that such is an “anthropological fact” that “can’t be qualified by ideological notions.” He lamented that the “culture of the temporary” and “revolution in manners and morals,” which flies “the flag of freedom,” has “brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings” and has put marriage and the family in a state of “crisis.”
Francis urged all Christians everywhere to commit themselves to the world’s youth, so that millennials “do not give themselves over to the poisonous environment of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern. Do not fall into the trap of being swayed by political notion.” He closed by urging prayer for those “who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, communities, and whole societies.” That statement came just last weekend.
This has been and remains Pope Francis’ position on marriage and the family. So, why would the liberal world conclude anything else?
The answer is, in part, the result of Francis’ public tone on homosexuality, which has been very welcoming and merciful. He has never been condemnatory. Moreover, he doesn’t speak with the intellectual gravitas and precision of Pope Benedict XVI, leading many in the secular world to misunderstand his positions and intentions and to exploit his often imprecise statements to their own purposes. And yet, nonetheless, he has not changed the Church’s teaching on marriage. He will not change it. He won’t because he can’t and because — from all indications I can discern — he doesn’t want to change it. He doesn’t want to do what is (again, by his own definition) the work of the devil.
The new tone is intended to reach out not only to gays but to the far larger numbers of people who call for tolerance of gays and for acceptance of gay marriage. Francis apparently wants these folks in the Church, where they can at least come closer to God and ultimately (his intention, I assume) perhaps come closer to accepting the totality of the Church’s teachings, including on sex, gender, marriage, family, and morality. Francis apparently thinks those people are better within the Church than without, and why feel otherwise? It’s a risk and a major assumption, but is there any better option?
All of which prompts this thought, which, admittedly, should make many of these liberals-progressives (religious or not) quite uncomfortable and even troubled and possibly embarrassed, namely: Are they being duped by Pope Francis? Has this new pope that they love duped them?
I could choose any number of gazillions of examples, but I’ll give you the case of Elton John. At a recent AIDS event, John, a gay man married to his gay lover, called Pope Francis his “hero.” To rare raucous applause for a pope from a group of New York liberals, Elton John asserted: “Make this man a saint now, okay?” He said of Francis: “He is a compassionate, loving man who wants everybody to be included in the love of God. It is formidable what he is trying to do against many, many people in the Church.”
Well, I’m pleased that Elton John likes the new pope. But why does he truly like him? Does he really know?
Sure, this is a mere singer-celebrity I’m quoting. It isn’t Socrates. Elton John probably couldn’t spell “Magisterium” let alone know what it teaches on sexuality. I could cite a more intellectual source. But there are millions of modern minds appraising Pope Francis just as Elton John is. Far more modern Westerners listen to the words of Elton John than the Bishop of Rome. And the reality is, many to most of these people like Pope Francis because they think that he’s carefully bringing around the entire Church to a position of pro-gay and pro-gay marriage. They’re taken entirely by his tone. They’re not looking to have their minds changed; they’re looking to change the mind of the Church, and they believe Francis is the vehicle to make that happen. His new tone is misleading them into expecting a new position on sexuality and marriage. And yet, if they’d look very carefully — which they’re obviously not — nothing that Pope Francis or Cardinal Bergoglio has said consistently over time should lead them to that quixotic conclusion.
And so, I again posit an unsettling question: Are they being duped by Pope Francis? Misled? Suckered? Fooled? And, if so, is that a charitable way for a pope to proceed? Is this Argentinian hoodwinking a large element of people in the modern culture?
I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I know this process quite well. I wrote a lengthy book called Dupes. I hold the rather odd distinction of being an expert on the mechanics of being duped. I’ve studied how this is done. Oddly, it’s usually done by the far (communist) left toward the softer progressive-liberal left. I’ve typically chronicled how the atheist-Marxist left has duped the Religious Left and progressive-liberal left generally.
Is it now being done yet again to the progressive-liberal left, but this time by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church?
Conservatives, ironically, fear that Pope Francis is misleading the Catholic Church in the wrong direction on sacred-sacramental issues such as marriage. Some of them fear they may have been duped. In truth, however, it may be the liberals-progressives who are being misled —a word that I’d prefer never to use in reference to a pope.
Indeed, then, perhaps it’s not that Francis is misleading liberals, even as he’s not as forcefully clarifying things for them as he probably should. He hasn’t changed any doctrine or teaching, only tone. What’s really happening is that liberals-progressives are misleading themselves, deluding themselves, naively setting up themselves for a big and severely disappointing surprise and sense of grave betrayal. And when it becomes painfully clear to them that Francis isn’t what they expect, he shouldn’t expect much charity from them. He should not expect the folks at Time and the Advocate, who christened him their man of the year, to be so merciful.
All hell could be about to break loose.
Liberals are dictated by emotion and the way they want things to be. It’s endemic to their psyche and what makes them liberals. Despite their prideful claims of high-mindedness and intellectual sophistication, in truth they don’t do much nuance. Their mental make-up can’t even allow for one to be tolerant of homosexuals on one hand and at the same time not endorse gay marriage. For the liberal, A must lead to B. And one who doesn’t go all the way to B without having accepted A is an incomprehensible and irredeemable bigot. So, when they see that Francis is at point A — and that’s all they really hear and see from their media — then they’re certain he must be with them on B and (by further extension) pretty much the whole gay-left agenda. Thus, Francis is a product of their own making and faulty manipulation and thinking.
And so, if they’re dupes — even, if you will, dupes to Pope Francis — then they’re dupes of their own doing. To be duped is to be fooled. Francis isn’t duping or fooling people on gay marriage in so much as he’s dealing with people easily prone to being duping and fooled.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. This article originally appeared in the American Spectator and is reprinted here with permission.