From his beginnings as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine archbishop now known as Pope Francis has come a long way. Known by many nicknames—among them the People’s Pope, Twitter Pope, the Great Reformer—all emphasize his public displays of compassion for the Catholic devout and non-believers alike.
In his five years as Pope, his statements have been reported as signs of radical reform, it’s important to distinguish his views from the Vatican. Some of his stances contradict Catholic doctrine, while certain calls to action from the papal office may not be enforced. All of this is apart from what many hope the Pope takes harder stances on, like accountability for sex abuse allegations and the role of women in the church.
Although there’s much to do before words become realities, here are the pope’s most promising ideas.
1. LGBTQ views: With the Catholic Church historically a staunch opponent of homosexuality, it came as a surprise when Pope Francis made lenient remarks towards gay priests. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” he told the Italian press in 2013. He went further, referencing the Catechism as proof that gay individuals should “not be marginalized … they must be integrated into society.” In spite of his open-mindedness, gay men are still banned from joining the priesthood.
2. Refugee advocacy: Since taking office, the Pope has appealed against growing anti-migrant attitudes in Europe, from delivering a sermon honouring North African migrants who died en route to calling for an end to the Syrian civil war.
Persecuted Rohingya Muslims were directly named by Pope Francis on the Bangladeshi stop of his 2017 Asia tour. “The presence of God today is also called Rohingya … in the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, those who hurt you, and especially of the world's indifference, I ask for your forgiveness. Forgive us,'” he said, after meeting 12 Rohingya refugees at an interfaith meeting.
Calling the Muslim minority population by name was considered a big deal, following criticism that he failed to directly name Rohingya when describing ethnic persecution during his earlier stop in Myanmar. The omission was seen as an effort to dissuade political and military backlash for Christians living in the country.
3. Divorced Catholics: Ushered with less shock and awe than past proclamations, the Pope’s relaxing of communion rules still unleashed waves of heated religious debate within the Catholic Church.
In late 2017, Pope Francis endorsed a document by Argentine bishops that interpreted his previous missive as suggesting sacramental rites be opened for divorced couples. The Vatican calls divorce “a grave offense against the natural law,” with traditionalists stating that legal split-ups don’t count in the eyes of God. That makes any subsequent sex an act of adultery; considered a mortal sin, this interpretation prevents a remarried or divorced Catholic from receiving communion.
Although this hasn’t caused widespread restructuring, turned away or stigmatized devotees can now receive the sacrament knowing they have the Pope’s approval.
4. Climate change: Taken as a subtle jab at U.S. president Donald Trump’s denial of global warming, the Pope strongly criticized climate change skeptics in a dramatic news conference in September. “If someone is doubtful that [climate change] is true, they should ask scientists," he said. "These are not opinions made on the fly. They are very clear. Then each person can decide and history will judge the decisions."
Months earlier the Pope gifted Trump “Laudato Si,” his essay covering the human cost of environmental devastation.
5. The poor: His name alone signifies his focus. Chosen to honour St. Francis of Assisi, reputed for caretaking the poor and needy, much ado about the Vatican’s figurehead has been about how he embodies the virtue of modesty. From his small guesthouse and downsized popemobile, the pontiff has done good by his name so far. Last November he introduced the Catholic Church’s first National Day of the Poor, with a catered meal and special mass for over 7,000 homeless and unemployed people.
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