Pope Francis’ cover story in Rolling Stone magazine and the reaction to it on my Facebook timeline, has prompted me to put down in writing what I feel about him.
Essentially, it’s the same as Cornel West, who is quoted in the Rolling Stone piece and described as “long a leading voice on the Christian left.” West says “I don’t want to fetishize the pope. He heads a deeply patriarchal and homophobic organization that I’m critical of. But I love who he is, in terms of what he says, and the impact of his words on progressive forces around the world.” Yes, that, basically.
I don’t believe homosexuality to be wrong, any more than I see heterosexuality as wrong. It’s not wrong at all, it’s just a thing that exists. A bit like some people are left handed and some people are right handed. However, Pope Francis probably does believe that homosexuality is wrong. He probably sees it as a great sin. (I say probably, because there is some doubt as to his personal views.) Yet, he still believes that gay people should not be judged but treated but with dignity and respect – which is another way of saying ‘with love’. That makes him quite a great human being in my estimation.
There are many aspects of Catholic doctrine with which I disagree (although I must confess my knowledge of it is pretty patchy), and several things that strike me as positively harmful – not least the concept of sin. I also fail to understand what the problem is with the ordination of women. And I find it quite brutal to force a woman to carry an unwanted baby to full term.
However, Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church, so it’s not surprising and probably correct that he should accept and propagate the Church’s doctrine. But what I see in him that fills me with hope and joy is that, doctrine aside, he preaches and practices the essence of Christianity. He is a very humble person who rejects the trappings of wealth and office. He listens to others and treats them with dignity and respect – i.e. love. He cares about poverty and suffering and uses his position to take action and to mobilise other people to take action. He focuses on what unites people, not what divides them, and encourages others to do the same, and in so doing he propagates peace.
These values, incidentally are the basis of all religions. Christians definitely don’t have a monopoly on love and peace. Religious people don’t have a monopoly on them either. They are human values.
I believe Pope Francis to be a very good person who manifests the fundamental goodness of humanity in how he behaves. I do also think that he harbours some ignorance (don’t we all) but maybe less ignorance than your average person. He’s the head of an organisation that I believe to be wrong about a bunch of things – important things – but nevertheless I still feel like he’s right about things that are absolutely fundamental. Things that I, in common with most people, screw up on a lot of the time.