Pope Francis: You Can Not Be a True Champion of Economic Justice If You Oppose Social Justice
Many in the mainstream media and blogosphere have dubbed Pope Francis the “liberal pope” (because his views on several issues are more progressive than his predecessor). However, the pope has taken flak from activists more than once due to some conservative and even regressive statements he’s made in opposition to LGBT and women’s rights. The most recent example of this are his remarks that the growing acceptance of trans people is “terrible.”
Following the Vatican’s release of the transcript earlier today, my Facebook feed has been flooded with articles about Pope Francis’s statement. Many friends of mine who were singing the pope’s praises only the day before are outraged by these words. But can we please stop pretending that we are at all surprised by these comments? This is one more in a career-long series of anti-LGBT comments made by Pope Francis, who does after all represent the Catholic Church (hardly a bastion of LGBT rights activism).
The reason, of course, that so many people choose to see Pope Francis as a champion of progress is his outspoken criticisms of greed and unchecked capitalism – in short, his apparent concern for the poor. However, while this pope’s rhetoric sounds more socialistic than his predecessor’s, expressions of concern for the poor are nothing new to Catholicism. Calls for generosity, charity, and compassion toward the poor have been around from the church’s beginnings. Unfortunately, so too has their outspoken opposition to social progress regarding LGBT and women’s rights.
I’d like to take a step back and look at this problem in context. Can a person, a pope, or a church truly champion economic justice when they are simultaneously opposed to social justice? I say the answer is no. And it is time for well meaning Catholics to call upon their pope and their church to reform the profound problems at the heart of this contradiction.
As I said, this conflict between compassion for the poor and opposition to human rights is nothing new for the church – it’s buried deep in some of its foundational doctrines. The late journalist Christopher Hitchens put it in characteristically contrarian terms in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice:
“Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock form of compulsory reproduction.”
At the heart of Hitchens’s criticism is this clash of concerns within the church. If Pope Francis wants to eradicate poverty, he should not oppose equality of the sexes, nor should he oppose equal rights for LGBT people. Allow me to illustrate the point with some specific examples as they relate to current Catholic doctrine:
Contraception and Women’s Rights: Studies have shown that access to proper sex education about, among other things, contraception (as well as access to contraception itself) results in fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer teen pregnancies, better family planning, higher education of women (and everyone), better health outcomes for women and their children, better earnings for families, etc. By opposing sane sex education and the use of contraception, Pope Francis and his church are opposing one of the best ways for people to rise out of poverty: family planning.
When women are denied the right (or the opportunity) to make choices regarding their own bodies, sex lives, and health, it handicaps them unfairly in a society where women already face so many economic roadblocks. Women are not truly equal unless they have control over their own bodies. This means access to sex ed, contraception, and safe legal abortions – yes. But it also means having the right to marry (or not marry) the person of their choice, to wait to have children (or to not have them at all), to get a divorce if the marriage isn’t making them happy, etc. Pope Francis and his church are opposing all of these women’s rights issues in one way or another, which keeps women down and perpetuates a cycle of poverty within many of their families.
LGBTQ Rights: Although Pope Francis has made more conciliatory statements reaching out to the LGBTQ population, there is still a fundamental break between his statements and actual acceptance. His approach comes down to a love the sinner; hate the sin mentality, which still maintains homosexuality is fundamentally sinful. In fact, the church continues to maintain that all non-reproductive sex is fundamentally sinful. So although he may encourage parents to love their LGBTQ children, he does not support the right of those children to find love or raise families. Is a parent truly behaving in a loving way toward their children if they are indoctrinating them into believing that something as fundamental as their sexuality is inherently “sinful?” It is hardly surprising under these circumstances that both suicide and homeless rates are disproportionately high among LGBTQ youth.
This obviously hurts those who do not fall into the very narrow range of acceptable sexualities. Beyond the immediate poverty of homelessness and the long term consequences of it for the individual, this also creates a substantial societal cost. On top of this, we are actually discouraging potentially loving and wonderful families from ever forming and raising children.
Gender Roles: In a church that bases so much of its doctrine upon dividing humanity up into separate gender roles, those of us who don’t conform 100% with stereotypes of masculinity and femininity are surely seen as rocking the boat. By opposing moral progress around gender equality, Pope Francis and his church are handicapping everyone who isn’t 100% on board with conservative attitudes regarding gender. And when their opposition to women’s rights and contraception comes into play, it’s easy to see how this is a perfect storm of opposition to the kind of freedom people need to succeed and thrive.
So, all in all, the bottom line is this: you cannot be a champion of economic justice if you are opposed to social justice. As much as we may respect Pope Francis for the statements he makes in support of the poor, there’s no escaping this fact. Studies show the best predictor of a child’s future success is the mother’s level of education. Women need the freedom to control their own bodies, families, and lives in order to help us raise the next generation. And so do LGBTQ people. And since many (most even) of children are women and/or LGBTQ, it doesn’t serve any of us to oppose equality. Let’s give future generations a chance: let’s embrace human rights as the cornerstone of economic freedom that it so obviously is.