Pope Francis certainly speaks and acts differently than his predecessors, but writing in The New Republic, Damon Linker offers a probing assessment of the likely limits of the new pope’s interest in reforming the teachings of the church.
The fact is that the Vatican has no equivalent to the “Washington outsider.” To climb all the way to the top of the Church hierarchy, especially in an era dominated by Popes as stringent as John Paul and Benedict, a priest needs to exhibit more than a minor tendency toward conformism. ….
When Bergoglio broached Church policy on sexual and gender issues, his positions did not challenge Catholic orthodoxy—and in some instances he staunchly defended it. In 2007, after the Argentine government issued a waiver to allow a handicapped woman who had been raped to receive an abortion, he denounced the move in inflammatory terms, asserting that, “In Argentina, we have the death penalty: A child conceived by the rape of a mentally ill or retarded woman can be condemned to death.” In 2010, he described a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the country as “the total rejection of God’s law engraved on our hearts” and prayed for “St. Joseph, Mary, and the Child” to “support, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.” Then, amid the public outcry sparked by his strident opposition, he moderated his stance, suggesting that the Argentine Church might be willing to back compromise legislation that would create civil unions—about which Catholic doctrine is helpfully silent.
Unlike his predecessors, Francis holds an apparently sincere belief in dialogue, bridge-building, conciliation, and the adjudication of differences. It seems important to him to appear cheery, tolerant, cosmopolitan. He has made respectful, open-minded statements about the members and beliefs of other Christian churches, as well as about Jews, Muslims, and even atheists. But in every case where Francis has reached out to those who disagree with him, he has done so while indicating that his own beliefs grow out of Catholic bedrock. In the same airborne news conference during which he made headlines for seeming to counsel against damning gay priests, he responded dismissively to a question about women’s ordination, stating bluntly, “That door is closed.”