Much of the media has been eager to see Pope Francis as a beacon of hope, a man who might actually change the hidebound Catholic Church and make it less oppressive on women and gay people across the globe. That hope got a little bit of juice Wednesday with the announcement that the pope is calling a Vatican meeting with clerics to debate the issues of gay rights, birth control, and divorce. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Contraception, cohabitation, divorce, remarriage and same-sex unions: They're issues that pain and puzzle Roman Catholics who want to be true to both their church and themselves.
Now those issues are about to be put up for debate by their leader, a man who appears determined to push boundaries and effect change.
On Pope Francis' orders, the Vatican will convene an urgent meeting of senior clerics this fall to reexamine church teachings that touch the most intimate aspects of people's lives. Billed as an "extraordinary" assembly of bishops, the gathering could herald a new approach by the church to the sensitive topics.
The pope instructed every diocese in the world to canvass its members on their attitudes about family planning and other matters, which of course will return results that show that premarital sex and contraception are widespread among Catholics, despite the rules. So does that mean that we can expect a Vatican III of sorts, with the pope emerging with the exciting announcement that the church is going to stop forbidding contraception, stop bullying divorced people, and accept that gay people deserve full human rights? Sadly, no:
Hardly anyone expects the pope to propose sweeping changes to Catholic doctrine at the synod in October despite widespread criticism that the modern world has left the church behind. Indeed, Francis has unequivocally upheld heterosexual marriage and procreation as God's established, sanctified ideal.
However, there is an expectation that, while the church will continue to officially deny Communion to people who divorce and remarry, Pope Francis "could offer local priests a work-around" of sorts.
I hate to be cynical, but it seems like this meeting will help Pope Francis shore up his image as a compassionate, empathetic pope by appearing to listen to people's concerns, all while not budging an inch on the long-standing traditions that harm women and gay people by denying them full human rights. But, hey, I hope the pope proves me wrong.