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The Francis Era
The "Pope Francis Effect" Strikes Again

The Catholic Church is on the verge of reversing its opposition to homosexual unions. Or so the media believes, based on a recent interview Francis gave with the Italian paper Corriere della Sera. Here’s the relevant section, quoted in a story by Catholic News Service:

“Matrimony is between a man and a woman,” the pope said, but moves to “regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care.” Asked to what extent the church could understand this trend, he replied: “It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety.”

As is common with Pope Francis, it’s not clear exactly what he is saying here. But it’s plausible that what he’s talking about is not civil unions for homosexual partnerships per se but opening up civil unions to different kinds of relationships that involve mutual care and support. Civil unions that are as open to spinster sisters seeking rights and tax advantages as they are open to homosexual couples—this has always been a compromise conservatives have been willing to support.

What this boils down to is another case in which the Pope hasn’t changed fundamental Church teaching, but the media thinks he has. This disjunction has been perhaps the main fuel behind the “Francis effect.” But a new Pew poll the suggests that effect may not be as potent as we thought, at least in America. While U.S. Catholics think Francis is “change for the better,” they are not attending mass or going to confession in any greater numbers. They may be praying and reading the Bible more, however, but it’s not clear if that’s due to Francis or not.

Francis has so far been successful in drawing the poison out of the Catholic brand. Now it remains to be seen if he can do what a Christian leader really wants to be doing: making a compelling, positive case for faith that moves people to action.

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  • free_agent

    Like the British constitution, it seems Francis changes how things really are without changing the official form. What Francis seems to be doing is handling homosexuality like other sins, it’s not denied that it is a sin, but those who habitually practice the sin aren’t cast out into the outer darkness, they just have to pray harder.

    Perhaps my shallow knowledge is showing, but it seems that the RCC has generally been tolerant of those who sin habitually (ongoing adultery seems to have been frequently tolerated, and certainly skeezy business practices have not been a problem) but has been much harder on publicly overt lifestyles based on sin. OTOH, I’ve seen statements that rank sodomy with deliberate murder (and denying the worker his just wages), so there may be a lot of tradition to swim upstream against.

    • Jim__L

      Not just tradition — Scripture. The pope simply does not have the authority to make changes like that. No one does.

      • free_agent

        In reality, theologians do… there’s a lot of ex-post-facto revision of the understanding of revelations. Even a document so fully within the historical record as the US Constitution gets reinterpreted. (The first amendment was carefully written to ensure that Massachusetts’ established church couldn’t be affected by the new federal government, but now it guarantees the complete separation of church and state.) I can assure you that if some particular dictum of the RCC becomes unpopular with 98% of Catholics, it will somehow vanish from sight.

        • Jim__L

          Sorry, not buying it.

          “So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” – John 6:67-68

          Christianity has always been able to regrow, even when 98% abandon it. And I wouldn’t really put too much stock in Catholic numbers declining, when Evangelical numbers are still on the rise, despite their having views that would make one very unpopular at NYT cocktail parties.

  • ljgude

    To channel Archie Bunker, “EEdith, you got it backwards again. it isn’t God that tells the NY times what to think.”

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