I get the enthusiasm for “cool” Pope Francis, I really do. The idea that there could be a pope who is not clinging to a harshly medieval point of view but ready to move into the modern world is so appealing that of course we’re going to grasp onto any evidence, no matter how tenuous, that suggests that Pope Francis might be the one. Unfortunately, we’re kidding ourselves.
This weekend, Anthony Faiola reported in the Washington Post about Francis throwing his support behind exorcists, saying they are “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.” According to Faiola, some in the church are concerned that Francis “has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces of evil at his beck and call.”
That’s not all. Despite the fact that Pope Francis received many accolades for taking a position against traditional authoritarianism and for criticizing the church for obsessing over birth control and homosexuality at the expense of more important issues, such as economic justice, Francis is now pushing back on the nuns who do just that. I’m talking about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that represents 80 percent of American nuns and is focused on social justice. In the past, the Vatican has gone after LCWR for focusing on economic inequality rather than bashing contraception and homosexuality. Despite what appears to be common ground between the nuns and the pope, it seems that Francis is not changing that tune.
Barbie Latza Nadeau of the Daily Beast reports that under Pope Francis, the Vatican shows no sign of laying off the crackdown on American nuns who Pope Benedict claimed were “pushing radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Saying he has the full support of Pope Francis, Cardinal Gerhard Müller recently attacked the LCWR for deciding to honor Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian at Fordham University who writes reinterpretations of Catholic theology that emphasize a “living” God that is evolving and who incorporates feminism, environmentalism, and liberation theology into her work. Honoring Johnson “will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the doctrinal assessment,” said Müller. “Müller then went on to inform the LCWR that it will be required to get approval from Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, whom Benedict assigned to guide the group through reforms, for almost everything it does that concerns the public,” writes Nadeau.
The thing is that the LCWR is not advocating for gay marriage or birth control. They simply don’t discuss issues of contraception and homosexuality, preferring instead to focus on issues like climate change, immigration, and assisting refugees in need of aid. Despite doing what Pope Francis supposedly wants his flock to do, however, the nuns continue to be punished and castigated by the Vatican, suggesting that the new pope is the same as the old.