Know Your New Pope: A Feminist Guide

We know he’s the first pope from Latin America, the first Jesuit pope and the first pope (probably) with only one lung. But where does newly elected Pope Francis stand on the issues feminists care about? The Catholic Church is not just a religious entity but also a political one, and often uses its social and economic power to push an anti-gay, anti-abortion and anti-women agenda.

For example, last election cycle the Catholic Church donated almost $2 million to anti-LGBT efforts. In December, former Pope Benedict XVI demanded that Catholic charities cease activity that “offends Catholic teaching”–such as advocating the use of condoms for safe sex and the practice of other forms of birth control.

So how does the new Pope Francis stack up?

He’s Anti-Marriage Equality
Despite visiting a hospice to wash the feet of AIDS patients, Pope Francis has asserted that gay marriage isof the devil.” In a letter to the monasteries of Buenos Aires, he wrote, “Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God.” In 2010, he was a strong advocate against an Argentinian bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and gay adoption (which he believes to be a form of discrimination against children).

He’s No Friend To Women
The new pope may have been deemed a “breath of fresh air” by certain women’s religious groups, but his record on women’s issues is  pretty abysmal. As a conservative, it’s no surprise that he is both anti-abortion (describing the pro-choice movement as a “culture of death“)  and anti-contraception (he opposed Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s efforts to distribute free contraceptives). Bridget Mary Meehan of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) hopes that Pope Francis will take care of “the elephant in the church’s living room” and “recognize women and men as equal partners in the Gospel” by allowing women to occupy top jobs in the Curia (the central governing body of the Catholic Church). But despite protests, the Vatican does not recognize the priesthood of the women of ARCWP or the validity of the women’s priesthood movement.

His Human Rights Record May Be Iffy
Pope Francis was a priest in Argentina during the “Dirty War,” a time of military unrest and guerrilla warfare in the ’70s and ’80s. As many as 30,000 people died or disappeared, and Pope Francis has been accused of not doing enough to help, as well as failing to protect two Jesuit priests who were challenging Argentina’s regime. Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi defended Pope Francis, saying “nothing concrete or credible” had ever been brought against him and that the accusations were promoted by a “publication which specializes in campaigns which are sometimes slanderous and defamatory.”

Pope Francis is now the most powerful man in the Catholic Church, in charge of leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. He may be a “man of the people” who took the bus to work every day and refused to stand taller than the cardinals around him during his first address, but he has yet to enact any real policies. Let’s hope his track record so far isn’t indicative of his new reign.

Image via Flickr user Catholicism under Creative Commons 2.0