In an interview with an Italian atheist, Pope Francis said “proselytism is solemn nonsense” and that we should listen to and get to know each other, expand our circle of ideas, and improve our knowledge of the world. He added that we should encourage people to move toward what they think is Good (he did not say God!). Pope Francis referred to heads of the Church as “narcissists,” and that he will do everything he can to change a Vatican-centric view that neglects the world around us. He even called himself “anti-clerical,” and said “clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity.” This sounds as if he might be encouraging people to question Church dogma and then do what they think is right. That really is an atheist thing to do.
In a recent piece, I said “Pope Francis may be as good as it gets, but the Catholic Church just doesn’t allow popes to get that good.” I hope I was wrong. Perhaps Pope Francis will have the freedom and desire to make not just stylistic and rhetorical changes, but substantive changes as well.
For instance, this human-centered pope had the courage to alienate those in the Church hierarchy as well as other conservative Christians who value belief over behavior. Because the Pope’s priorities include alleviating poverty and treating women with respect, perhaps the Church will come to trust people to make contraceptive decisions based on their personal circumstances, instead of being pressured by its hierarchy of celibate old men who declare contraception sinful under all circumstances. In an overpopulated world with millions of undereducated and vulnerable women, that change alone would diminish suffering and reduce the spread of sexual diseases. A Pope who values human expressions of love might even someday “bless” same-sex couples who want to love each other in a committed relationship. There are a lot more changes I’d like to see, but these would be a much-needed start.