The new Pope just can't stop taking his trusty broom to the anachronistic cobwebs lurking in every corner of the Vatican. This time it's women.
As everyone knows, women are considered not ready for prime time in the Roman Catholic Church (as in the orthodox version of many other religions, but that's another issue). Francis showed his revolutionary limits back in November when he reaffirmed the ban against the ordination of women as priests. I confess the rationale here has always escaped me. It's apparently because Jesus and his apostles were all men. I get that. But weren't they all also Jewish? And from around Jerusalem to boot? So shouldn't all priests and the Pope himself be Jews from the Middle East? But that's another issue.
In any event, a couple of weeks ago Francis, so the media reported, pointedly celebrated "the indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition towards the other, the weak and the unprotected." Surely women's libbers and bra-burners everywhere are jumping with hysterical joy as feminism triumphs in Vatican City. Finally, it's recognized: Women are like Canada before Stephen Harper – caring and sharing. It's just that these characteristics are wrong for ruling the Church. That's a tough job, one that demands those who are not sensitive and don't tend the weak.
It's really a heavenly division of labour, when you think of it. Those who run things – we can call them "Men"– are consumed with stuff like denying birth control and abortions (for women) and human rights for gays and covering up child rape among their peers. The rest – "Women" – can be comforting those (women) who've had too many children or botched back-lane abortions or are broken-hearted because they can't marry their same-sex sweethearts or whose lives have been shattered by priest-rape.
The entire world is of course aware that Francis is in some ways a new kind of Pope. Not since John XXIII has a pontiff been so human, so close to his flock. Francis is almost ostentatiously humble and modest, eschewing the bling that usually goes with his position.
But he goes much, much further. Francis calls on the world's political and business leaders to adopt his views. His advocacy on behalf of the poor, his frontal attacks on neoliberalism and trickledown economics, make him, without question, the most prominent leftist in the world today.
And the most ignored.
Just take a look at the latest mind-boggling Oxfam stats showing that 85 men now own as much wealth – $1.7-trillion!–– as the world's poorest 3.5 billion people – fully half the world's population. I'm guessing at least some of the 85 are Catholic. Or check out the economic programs of just about every government on earth, privileging the rich over the poor. Francis' attacks on inequality may draw lots of attention, but in real life they're far more spurned than heeded.
So here's the arrangement. Where Francis has no clout, as in the economic sphere, he is courageous and outspoken. Where he's the top banana, as in determining Catholic attitudes towards, let's say, birth control, abortion or gay rights, he is rather less so. You might even say he's pretty conservative.
So single-minded, however, was the church's fixation on these issues that Francis' modest early statements were deemed revolutionary. What did he say? That the Church must not "obsess" about birth control, abortion and gay rights. What did he not say? That the Church had made an historic error in opposing all three and was relenting. In fact, he reassured his anxious priests, he considered abortion to be "horrific."
So priests and bishops still oppose what they've always opposed, still with undiminished obsessiveness. Where he counts, Francis has changed little. Just look at the zealous role of the church hierarchy in the United States, where dozens of Republican-controlled state governments are obsessively pressing to end abortions, even for rape victims, and to make gay marriage illegal.
And then there's the matter of pedophile priests, the Church's most egregious mortal sin if you ignore two millennia of anti-Semitism. This is by no means ancient history, as a UN report this week sadly reminded us. And just the other day the Vatican acknowledged that it still doesn't force priests to report child sex crimes to the authorities; some do, some don't. So it's good that 400 priests were defrocked in 2011 and 2012. But often no one outside the Church knows who they are, where they are, or their precise crimes. They're defrocked but free, doing who-knows-what with their liberty? For all his humanity, Pope Francis follows a long ignoble tradition of doing nothing to help officials track down these criminals.
Now if only Francis' successor could be one of those sensitive, caring women he admires so greatly. She'd know what to do. Gee, I bet there's a nice Jewish girl waiting around Jerusalem right now for the white smoke to rise.