Just yesterday, Pope Francis began a love affair with nearly every demographic of Americans previously alienated by the Catholic church when he asked for the religious right to step off a bit from their focus on abortion, homosexuality, and contraception. But on Friday, the Pope may have confused some of his new admirers by condemning, of all things, abortion, in a series of unambiguous remarks. Here's what he said to an audience of Catholic gynecologists, according to the Associated Press:
Francis denounced today's "throw-away culture" that justifies disposing of lives, and said doctors in particular had been forced into situations where they are called to "not respect life."
"Every child that isn't born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord," he said. He urged the gynecologists to abide by their consciences and help bring lives into the world. "Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things," he said.
Breaking news, everyone: pro-choice activists still disagree with the Pope's stance on abortion, even if he decries an emphasis on it. His stance on homosexuality hasn't changed, either, even if he's won some fans for criticizing the church's habit of "condemning" gay people. In a statement released shortly after the Pope's interview was published on Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign said that the Pope "has pressed the reset button on the Roman Catholic Church's treatment of LGBT people." And while that might be true rhetorically, that doesn't translate to a doctrinal change for the church. It might not even result in a backing off of the Bishops who answer to the Pope on these issues. In a press release on Friday, for instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement from its Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage praising a new bill in the House that would legalize discrimination against LGBT people on religious grounds. That sort of action, presumably, was the sort of thing the Pope condemned yesterday as "small-minded rules" driving away would-be adherents.
Francis seems to have a strong diastase for the conservative, authoritarian approach to these issues taken by the religious right, including his Bishops, and that's a huge change for the Vatican, one worth noting. The new Pope, to be sure, is kind of rad. He takes selfies. His focus on poverty is winning him some wide-ranging admirers. His message on homosexuality takes a big step away from condemning individuals. And if the American church leadership — to whom his message on emphasis was clearly directed — takes it to heart, it could help to open up some real space for a more productive rhetoric on the social issues the church is more and more involved in fighting. So go ahead, it's OK to love what the Pope's done with the place — he's done some remarkable things already. But for the American liberals currently praising his manner, it might be premature to think about moving in.