Controversy has come to surround the Vatican again. Pope Francis recently decided to officiate the weddings of twenty couples at the Vatican, including some who have been divorced and one mother with a child out of wedlock. The stir around this ceremony centers around the fact that divorce and premarital sex are considered sins in the traditional doctrine of the Catholic Church. Also, the Pope doesn’t regularly officiate weddings the last one was in 2000, which makes these more than just routine marriages.
This isn’t the first time Francis has made headlines for his trailblazing. Pope Francis has made some major overhauls in the Catholic Church, as well as small, symbolic changes.
He chooses simple vestments and a quiet residence, he takes a tougher stance on sexual abuse in the church and has even extended the Christian ritual of washing others’ feet to non-Christians. More notably, he has offered confession rather than receiving it himself the opposite of what past popes have done and now he has chosen to marry multiple couples “living in sin.”
It is true that breaking tradition and changing the tone of the Catholic Church could understandably upset more traditional Catholics who would prefer that the Church remain stable and unchanging. However, Pope Francis’ move to a more open and forgiving Church is incredibly important if the Catholic Church wants to thrive in the modern age. These changes do not necessarily lead to compromising all of the Church’s ideas and values; rather, the Pope is preserving those values while also offering the reality of a more accepting and inclusive Church.
The Catholic Church currently faces some serious demographic challenges in the United States.
According to a Pew Research survey conducted in 2007, while 31 percent of Americans identified themselves as having received a Catholic upbringing, only 24 percent describe themselves as Catholics. These trends are reflected in Western Europe as well, where church attendance has also suffered.
While the United States and Western Europe aren’t the only places where Catholicism is a main religion, these regions are nonetheless significant. Through his progressive leadership, Pope Francis may be trying to reverse some of these losses in membership in the last few decades.
Despite all of this progressiveness, Francis does maintain the Catholic views on cohabitation before marriage, premarital sex, divorce and the use of artificial contraception as sinful.
However, he contends that the Catholic Church should be forgiving of this behavior instead of exclusionary and judgmental. Indeed, the Church’s traditional response to violation of doctrine based on contraception, cohabitation and premarital sex seems untenable in today’s Western society and worthy of reevaluation, which Pope Francis seems to be doing.
Although tradition and adherence to a faith are admirable, wouldn’t the Church undercut its leadership in the global spiritual community by living in the 10th century?
Pope Francis has made major strides in improving the perception of the papacy. According to a CBS poll in March of 2014, Pope Francis had an approval rate of 68%. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, only received 40% approval among that same population. This popularity is partially due to the modernization and accessibility of the Catholic Church that Pope Francis has espoused.
So, while some of the specific traditions that the Catholic Church has upheld may be compromised, its core values remain intact.
After all, the final message the Pope hopes to convey through these marriages is the importance of family, which remains a traditional Catholic value. Francis is simply bringing the Church into modern society, which is where it needs to be in order to stay relevant.
Scott Johnson ’18 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Gladstone, Missouri. He majors in History.