Beware of the two faces of Pope Francis: he ain't no liberal

Pope Francis has a serious blind spot and it's beginning to show. Badly. Jemima Thackray reports

By Jemima Thackray, www.telegraph.co.uk

11:21AM GMT 22 Jan 2015

Since entering the Vatican in 2013, Pope Francis has become something of a media darling, charming even the most secular journalists with his unfussy style and acts of humility (choosing, for example, to live in the Papal guest house rather than the palace).

His commitment to the poor and condemnation of exploitative economic systems, as well as his willingness to learn from other faith traditions, have made him so popular that he was even named Time magazine’s person of the year.

However, it seems that His Holiness has experienced a rather dramatic fall from media grace in recent weeks.

His comments following the Charlie Hebdo attack suggesting there should be limits to freedom of speech were disconcerting for some Francis fans. This week he has disappointed many women by staunchly defending the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which sets out the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial birth control.

If some people had been fooled into thinking Pope Francis is the person sent to revolutionise the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage and the family, they have now been emphatically disillusioned.

In the same address to journalists, he railed against what he called the “ideological colonisation" of the developing world, the imposition of Western values on traditional cultures.

Indeed, his words have a sinister context in that some African bishops have apparently complained about the coercive approach to birth control adopted by some institutions, which insist on the use of contraception in exchange for receiving aid.

However, for Pope to go to the other extreme and shut down the conversation about birth control is more than unhelpful – it is irresponsible.

He did offer one concession: that Catholics can use other less invasive methods of family planning such as monitoring the woman’s menstrual cycle and avoiding sex during ovulation.

To be a good Catholic, he said: “We do not need to breed like rabbits.” This casual, almost jocular turn of phrase is typical of Pope Francis; ever the shrewd politician, he knows how to use humour to lighten the mood around difficult questions.

He did it again when asked about the Islamist reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks: “If my friend says a curse word against my mother,” he joked, “he can expect a punch!”

And then again when a female journalist asked him about misogyny in the church. The Pope is reported to have said while laughing: "The fact is that the woman was taken from a rib. I'm joking. That was a joke.”

Yes indeed, a rather sexist one. Could it be that, as Jon O’Brien, head of Catholics for Choice, has observed: “When it comes to women, this pope, like past popes, has a blind spot?”

Many would argue that female empowerment is unlikely to be high on his list of priorities.

Pope Francis is a man of the people whose main concern is to represent the poor. The Catholic Church’s growth is coming from non-European countries where the so-called ‘liberal’ issues of sexual equality are considered less important.

He has just returned from the Philippines which is 80 per cent Catholic; during his final papal address to six million people, he was joined on stage by a young homeless girl who asked him why God allows young people to fall into drugs and prostitution. Pope Francis gave the crying child and enormous hug – but it was her poverty, not the curse of her gender, that would have moved the crowd.

And yet what Pope Francis has failed to see is that this little girl’s sex is hugely relevant in the battle against her exploitation.

The call to elevate women’s issues has nothing to do with being a bra-burning liberal feminist, or with imposing Western values, but everything to do with helping the poor and oppressed people he claims to champion.

So, when it comes to birth control, research has shown that when mothers have access to contraception and are educated to make responsible choices, their employment, income and education levels rise, as do their children’s.

Maternal mortality is reduced as women have fewer unassisted labours and backstreet abortions, and, depending on the method of contraception, life-limiting sexually transmitted diseases are contained.

Birth control is not the only solution, it is just one tool among many for improving women’s lives, so for the Pope to close down all conversation about it seems small-minded and very unlike the discursive, non-dogmatic approach he has taken in other doctrinal areas.

Perhaps he would want to focus instead on educational initiatives, for research shows that female education is one of the most vital interventions in lifting whole families and communities out of poverty. But until the Pontiff starts taking seriously the idea of women in church leadership, these initiatives will always be less effective than they could be, for the very practical reason that in many Catholic countries the poverty and exploitation of women is rooted in their second-class religious status.

Once again, this is not about having a Western liberal agenda for equality for its own sake, but about acknowledging that in allowing women into positions of influences in the church, this would raise their general status, reducing their vulnerability and poverty. Perhaps it would also help shake up some of the closed male-dominated systems which have caused some of the other worst abuses by the Catholic Church.

But instead the Pope has made it clear that there will be no further discussion of women priests. Speaking to reporters, Francis upheld the decision of his predecessors saying: "The Church has spoken and says no - that door is closed." Indeed, far from seeing the leadership qualities in women, the Pope seems to lack the empathy and understanding which seems to characterise most of his other interactions with people, tending to focus almost entirely on the role of motherhood.

One nun, Sister Joan Chittister, described hearing a papal address in which he “concentrated almost entirely on women’s maternity, which occupies - at best - about 20 years of a woman’s life. And after that? What is her role then? Is maternity her only value, her perpetual definition? What does she do now with her personal talents, her insights, her gifts that, they tell us, are given for the sake of the world?”.

This is a disappointing assessment indeed; Pope Francis may be bringing a new spirit of openness, humility and compassion to the Catholic Church, but so far only half of his followers are benefitting. 



Chrysoprase • 5 hours ago

Beware? BEWARE? What's to beware - as if it was a hidden bear-trap in the woods? Two faces means deceitful. What is deceitful about a pope who teaches what the Church has always taught? (But uses less formal language than you might expect from a Bishop of Rome?)

Oh, I see, the headline REALLY means: " Watch out! If you are a modern western liberal you might have thought that Pope Francis was easy-going enough to sideline Catholic Moral Theology as traditionally taught by the Church in order to remain cuddly and everybody's favourite uncle. You'd be wrong there."


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    fiction Chrysoprase • 22 minutes ago

    "What's to beware"

    Well the fact that behind his smiley media friendly soundbites he is just as much a reactionary as his predecessors for one.

    Beware not to be fooled by smiling faces. 
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art • 11 hours ago

This is a biased blog. I made a perfectly legitimate criticism of this article, and it has been deleted. Politically correct journalism is no true journalism at all! The Telegraph is obviously a sub-standard tabloid.


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Chrysoprase • 2 days ago

Whoever is pope at a given moment, what the Church teaches doesn't change:
(a) Sex is for marriage.
(b) It is the Will of God that the marital act should be open to conception. When a human person comes into existence it is because God wanted that person to live a life on this earth (for 90 seconds, for 90 years or whatever). In prayer - especially in the prayer taught to us by the Lord Jesus, Son of God, Redeemer of the World (The Lord's Prayer, remember?) we say to God our Creator: "Thy will be done". Naturally, we are supposed to mean it.


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    JeanneVermette1 Chrysoprase • a day ago

    Well said! Thank you! Too much is taken out of context by writers like Ms Thackray above who is only spouting her ideology not the teaching of the Church. Feminism is alive and well and causing too much disruptions in our World. If a woman does not want children then stay single or use the proper methods approved by her Catholic religion in a legal marriage between a man and a woman. Everyone one wants to make what they profess as right regardless of God's commandments. Sex before marriage, babies born w/out marriage, etc. are not looked upon these days as wrong but look art the rate of children being raised in one partner families and causing the fall of family life today. I say" Read articles like above and make the right choice....don't let a writer convince you that they have all the answers to Life..you are likely smarter than they. God bless those who continue to believe and obey the 10 Commandments of God...Their Creator. Thank God for Pope Francis who is following the truths given by Jesus Christ.
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        fiction JeanneVermette1 • 19 minutes ago

        "Sex before marriage, babies born w/out marriage, etc. are not looked upon these days as wrong"

        Quite so, the Catholic Church has turned a blind eye to all that and been more obsessed with secular same sex marriage which is nothing to do with them.

        Perhaps if they sorted their priorities out people might take them more seriously. 
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    Matt Bowyer Chrysoprase • a day ago

    Of course it can change, everything is open to interpretation.

    If sex outside of marriage is bad in the church's eyes, then whether or not that fornication should produce a child (or spread HIV) is open to significant interpretation - certainly one may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb whilst avoiding one of the worst diseases known to mankind. 
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        Chrysoprase Matt Bowyer • 8 hours ago

        What ARE you talking about? Situation Ethics is unacceptable to a Church which claims authority to teach. If the Church teaches in the light of Christ's claim to BE Truth, it's not going to duck and weave just to get along with today's fashionable thinking.
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            fiction Chrysoprase • 17 minutes ago

            "it's not going to duck and weave just to get along with today's fashionable thinking."

            However it had no issue in shielding criminals in it's ranks. So much for 'truth' and 'moral authority'.
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            Matt Bowyer Chrysoprase • 7 hours ago

            It already picks and chooses, why do you think Christians aren't out stoning adulterers or burning heretics (in most of the World, anyway).
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    fiction Chrysoprase • 2 days ago

    (a) is wrong, sex is for procreation only according to them. 
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        Chrysoprase fiction • 5 hours ago

        Absolutely not true. Sex is for procreation and the good of the couple. Don't put stuff into the Church's teaching that isn't there. That's the trouble with erratic forums like this.
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        BridgetOlver fiction • 2 days ago

        (a) is right, according to the Church. Sex is for marriage only, for closeness and unity between spouses, and also for procreation, but not only for procreation; if a baby isn't conceived, that's fine, just that conception must not be prevented by unnatural means.
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            fiction BridgetOlver • an hour ago

            "if a baby isn't conceived, that's fine, just that conception must not be prevented by unnatural means"

            What nonsense is this? Sex without contraception runs a very high risk of conception so it's obviously only for procreation.

            That kind of cognitive dissonance might work with you, but not with me.
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Alex • 3 days ago

THE RISE AND FALL OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION

On May 21, 2013, the New York Times published an op-ed by Mia Jian, entitled "China’s Brutal One-Child Policy." It was the death knell for an ancient and venerable civilization: that of China.

When Deng Xiaoping and his fellow economic reformers introduced the one-child policy in 1979, they were perhaps consigning that great country to the ash heap of history. After first learning of China’s one-child policy thirty years ago and visiting it several times since then, I came to the grim conclusion that China would inevitably become an extinct civilization. I was convinced the one-child policy was a demographic time-bomb.

According to Mi Jian, the birthrate in China "is now officially 1.8, or nearer 1.2 according to independent demographic experts like Yi Fuxian — much lower than the necessary 2.1 population replacement level. Mr. Yi and others have warned of China’s impending demographic disaster: a rapidly aging nation that a dwindling work force will be unable to support." If a country needs 2.1 for simple population replacement, I doubt the Chinese population trajectory can be turned around at this late hour, because — population-wise — the Chinese have eaten into their seed stock [their youth], so to speak, and there’s not enough left for the future.

That means that one child (usually a male) will have a father and mother, two grandfathers and grandmothers, and (hopefully) a wife, and (again, hopefully) one child: all told, nine people, whom he must support. Is he able and willing to do so, by himself? and for how long?

Again, because of the one-child policy, most Chinese have no idea what it means to have brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, because they don’t exist in Chinese society, or very few, to say the least. The have lost the national and cultural memory of these beautiful and precious relationships. In fact, some Chinese parents send their one child (whom the Chinese often refer to as "the Little Emperor" of the family) to socializing camps, where these "singletons" learn the social and family skills most of us learn at home.

Thirty-six years later, despite mounting criticism, the Party still clings to it.

Alas, this ancient and glorious civilization may well become extinct. The same thing will happen to Italy, Spain, Japan, Russia and other countries of the world, with population replacement rates even lower than China’s. Pope Paul was a prophet and a martyr.


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    Joey Feliney Alex • a day ago

    the problem with chinas one child policy is not the one child its the obession with wantign boys and arranged marriages
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kag1982 • 3 days ago

One of the more disconcerting things about Pope Francis is the fact that he only seems to view women through the prism of motherhood rather than in any other ways.


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    Chrysoprase kag1982 • 2 days ago

    Don't you hate being disconcerted?
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        Vex Chrysoprase • 2 days ago

        No, we just hate being viewed as kitchen appliances that serve only cook, clean and make babies.
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            fiction Vex • 12 minutes ago

            It's to be expected from a bronze-age patriarchal cult though, at the time it was invented the world was all about the quasi-cavemen attitude of 'might makes right'.

            Women were not considered equals because nothing other than physical strength ever came into it. As Russell quoted, 'there is not one word in the gospels in praise of intelligence'.
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philip • 3 days ago

ms. author... are you aware that the catholic teaching about sex is sacred? and should be done only by the married couple... what wrong about that teaching?.... therefore sex is not just for pleasure but for making love, in which making love means you should be responsible, responsible also means respect and chastity. And therefore the church will never recommend the use of artificial contraceptives because it will not promote responsibility, why? because you can sex anytime with no worry because the egg cells will not meet,... no waiting, no self control, no respect!. but for me as human mind: you must use contraceptives if you will going to sex with a desease, you must wear condoms so the teenage girl will not be pregnant...


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    Joey Feliney philip • a day ago

    quote
    ms. author... are you aware that the catholic teaching about sex is
    sacred? and should be done only by the married couple... what wrong
    about that teaching?.... therefore sex is not just for pleasure but for
    making love, in which making love means you should be responsible,
    responsible also means respect and chastity.

    Whats wrong is its saying females are walking baby factories to be married and impregnated at 13-14 as soon as they go hormone active and thus end schooling with no qualifications, no university, imprisoned in home town, with no power or life of their own.

    When you have artificial contraception and no more marriage need it means girls dont get pregnant with sex, have no need for husbands or control, they can run their own lives get an education, build a career, travel around the world, be more economically independent, choose partners for companionship with no parental involvement. Thus we advanced cinisation Use of contraception is responsibility
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    fiction philip • 3 days ago

    That is the most prudish and unreasonable definition of what sex is for. Why shouldn't a couple in love enjoy a sex life?

    It's nonsense of the highest order spouted by elderly virgins in the Vatican who have absolutely no knowledge or experience in this area.

    The Vatican's opinions on sex are about as relevant as a remote African tribe's opinions on theoretical physics.
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        philip fiction • 2 days ago

        @fiction.... i am very aware that more than majority or almost all catholic experience sex without marriage, and me too I experience it.... but I believe the church should never change the ideal teaching because it was trending.... people should be encourage for 
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            Joey Feliney philip • a day ago

            whats ideal about marriage? loom at the reality of domestic violence, unloving marriages, dovorce, affairs,a dn of course arranged marriage rape
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        philip fiction • 2 days ago

        its your choice fiction but the catholic teaching is for married couple ONLY... your saying remote??? yeah like animals in the wild of africa enjoying unlimited sex... Men we are civilized, rules are rules... if you had own rules respect other rules... peace fiction... 
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            fiction philip • 2 days ago

            What are you talking about?
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        printinotept fiction • 3 days ago

        "That is the most prudish and unreasonable definition of what sex is for. Why shouldn't a couple in love enjoy a sex life?"

        Why don't you ask an imam? You might get the answer you are looking for. And more. 
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            fiction printinotept • 3 days ago

            Ah, the old "look over there, they are worse than us" deflection.
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Bubby Ray • 3 days ago

It only shows that you cannot please everybody. Even Jesus have many haters like you.


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rhonda • 4 days ago

As a catholic I totally agree with Pope Francis's comments the limits of free speech should never be boundless... in a tolerant society acceptance of differences should be the goal as opposed to expecting others to adopt the norms, beliefs and mores of the dominant society. Likewise the commodification of children encourages the exploitation of women and children in developing countries (baby farming and foreign adoptions) and in western industrialised nations places an enormous burden on the health care system. Delaying having children is an individual choice and the cost to remedy infertility should be borne by the individual not the public health care system.


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    MickyRoss rhonda • 4 days ago

    "commodification of children"

    Selling children proved to be very lucrative for Irish nuns. Spanish nuns, too.
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                fiction printinotept • 3 days ago

                The BBC sold children?
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    fiction rhonda • 4 days ago

    Yet he sees no issue in insulting women and gays with impunity. Hypocrite.
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        printinotept fiction • 3 days ago

        What about Islam? It sees no issue in oppressing women and gays with impunity.

        Is Islam liberal?
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            Madeleine Vaden printinotept • 20 hours ago

            Print a thought... islam and christinity both bad get rid of both
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            fiction printinotept • 3 days ago

            Ah, the old "look over there, they are worse than us" deflection.
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Sir Vagabond • 4 days ago

The truths of Catholic Christian Teaching is summarized in the Catechism and it is not changed every time there is a new Pope.


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    Joey Feliney Sir Vagabond • 4 days ago

    Yup somethgin is only true if it can be proven on the mythbusters show or similar
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    fiction Sir Vagabond • 4 days ago

    There are no truths in religion, only claims. Truth requires proof.
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        Edden fiction • 4 days ago

        When have you ever said anything that is true? You have no more truth than your user name. You do not believe proof when it is given to you and are too down right unintelligent to try and back what you say yourself with evidence. Stop filling up these blogs with your cheap worthless little remarks and hiding behind silence when confronted..
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            Joey Feliney Edden • a day ago

            Edden truth... Is pointed to you all the time... ie the bible is wrogn saying the planet is only a few thousand years old... any carbon datign and geology points out differently
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                Edden Joey Feliney • a day ago

                What is "wrogn" and "datign"?
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                    Joey Feliney Edden • a day ago

                    If I can see the words

                    "wrogn" and "datign"?

                    and in less than a second work out they were typos for wrong and dating and you cannot what a moron you must be
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            fiction Edden • 4 days ago

            I don't believe you because you have never once provided proof.
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                Edden fiction • 4 days ago

                Not so. Deceit and denial is your only refuge and its a very easy one for you because you don't have the brains to defend yourself with a defence. You are just and unbeliever with no answer at all thus all you can do is offer cheap comments.
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                    Joey Feliney Edden • a day ago

                    yes we unbelievers in smurfs, lebrechaun, your god, Voldemault, hogworts, vampires, warewolves, santa claus and flying raindeerm
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                    fiction Edden • 4 days ago

                    Blah, blah, Eddense still deflects onto everyone else thinking people are fooled by it.

                    Provide proof and you can shut me up.