I read this report in Rappler. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said a journalist once asked him point-blank if Pope Francis is conservative or progressive (or liberal).
Tagle responded: “He is what he is.”
Tagle explained how it is hard to simply put anyone, much more the pope, into either one of the two categories.
“This is my personal view. I just don’t want to classify anyone as conservative, as progressive, because a person goes beyond those labels, especially a person who works in the area of faith and pastoral life,” Tagle said.
“When you have a religion of Catholicism, you receive a lot. A Pope has no liberty to invent his own teaching so there’s an element of receiving from the past,” he said.
“But he is attentive to society, he has a desire to see how the tradition of the faith can be further explored. In the process, I don’t see that as an activity of a liberal or a conservative,” he added.
This question, of course, initially came up when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was just about to assume the papacy. And it is a question that was also asked of his recent predecessors.
It came up again during his visit to the Philippines because Pope Francis repeatedly stressed the sanctity of family and criticized “growing efforts” to redefine the institution of marriage in his speeches to Filipinos, which was understood by some as a reference against same-sex marriage.
But Pope Francis is also well known for taking a non-judgmental tone toward homosexuals, in comments that many took as a sign of his being a “progressive” pope.
Indeed, in the recent Catholic church synod he was trying to persuade Church leaders to support his more merciful attitudes towards gay and divorced people.
(Although he was, in the end, rebuffed going by the documents that came out after.)
Tagle is right. It is hard to be Pope of a church that is much too steeped in tradition and dogma. And it is hard to say, and even wrong to categorize the pope as simply conservative or liberal. Are we all simply black or white, good or bad?
The last pope with a truly liberal reform agenda was probably Pope John XXIII, who in 1959 called for what became the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II.
Vatican II produced 16 documents that somewhat modernized or updated the Catholic church to more or less how we know it today, though there have been criticisms and even moves to curtail and even roll back its reforms.
Even with Vatican II though, the reality is that Pope Francis pretty much leads a staunchly traditional and conservative Catholic church. Is he expected to veer away from tradition?
Personally, I expect no major upheavals in the Catholic Church’s doctrine regarding contraception, the clergy’s celibacy and same-sex marriage.
Much has been reported about Pope Francis’s precedent-setting ascension as the first Jesuit and Latin American to become pope. The Jesuit order after all was home to independent-minded and left-leaning intellectuals that once riled and clashed with the Vatican. And Latin America is the birthplace of liberation theology.
We have seen how this pope is very much different from his predecessors.
Pope Francis ended 2014 with a scathing critique of the church’s highest-ranking officials. He named 15 “ailments” that he said plagued the Vatican’s power-hungry bureaucracy.
Pope Francis used a traditional Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See to portray a church hierarchy that had lost its humanity at times, a body consumed by narcissism and excessive activity, where men who are meant to serve God with optimism instead presented a hardened, sterile face to the world.
Recently, he also fired conservative U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke (who has long been vocal about denying communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion) as head of the Holy See’s highest court and gave him the post of Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a largely ceremonial job overseeing charity to seniors.
Pope Francis has often pushed for a more flexible–okay let’s call it progressive–posture of the Vatican on major social issues.
Pope Francis said in a lengthy interview that was published by several Jesuit publications including La Civiltà Cattolica, Thinking Faith, and America that the catechism, or the Roman Catholic Church’s official doctrine book, condemns homosexual acts, but he called on the Church to love gays and lesbians, who “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
In a much quoted sentence from the interview, he said, “Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”
The Pope’s remarks was interpreted by some gay activists as setting forth a new more gay-friendly agenda for the Catholic Church.
Conservative or liberal, it doesn’t matter.
This is a pope who is willing to listen more than antagonize. And because of this, Pope Francis could truly lead the Catholic Church to be a more accepting, transparent and less tarnished institution.