Pope Francis gave a wonderfully crafted speech to assembled Congressional members and guests yesterday. The Pope spoke broadly yet delivered targeted messages on individual freedoms and collective responsibility, especially those towards leaving the next generation with a livable planet.
Speaking passionately about the dignity of all men and the importance of family (clearly including women), the Pope was silent on the GLBT community. For sure, his measure of human respect seemed applicable to all including GLBT. He just didn’t call them by name. What was missing was recognition that GLBT humans were fully worthy of an unencumbered and respectful place within the Catholic Church. In other words, the Pope neither stated openly nor inferred any change in Catholic dogma which considers the GLBT community as engaging in aberrant behavior.
The Pope also spoke to the sanctity of life. He made a passionate reference urging Congress to those seeking a new home (immigrants) and called for law makers to respect life at all stages of development.
Pro-lifers cheered interpreting the Pope’s comments as an anti-abortion position. The Pope most likely did mean this but also said all countries should end the death penalty which most hard right legislators do not accept.
At the most optimistic perspective, the Pope’s speech was a signal that church dogma would relook at the extremes of “respecting all humans” and the “sanctity of life”.
Homosexuality has been long a taboo within the Catholic Church dogma. “Unnatural” is often used to describe homosexuality and “traditional” family is the code for man-woman family units. With scientific studies showing homosexuality as well as gender assignments being matters of nature and not the result of nurture, it becomes more difficult every day for Catholics to accept Church teaching on homosexuality and for clergy to maintain intellectual honesty claiming something which is quite normal to not be. How can the church preach the need for mankind to respect each other (and not make war or abandon the poor) while at the same time singling out that some are different that the rest?
The Pope also has his work cut out to examine the extremes of “sanctity of life”. At the older end of life, “death with dignity” is a growing preference for many. Church teachings absolutely ban such actions in which someone voluntarily ends ones life.
Someone choosing suicide at age 25 simply because they were despondent seems unwarranted and should not be accepted by society. But what about someone who has lived a full life and is suffering from some terminal disease? Is keeping someone alive when they are heavily medicated and incapable of making any life decisions humane?
The Pope singled out the “death penalty” as a practice society should end. This seems a reasonable wish since the death penalty has never been shown to be a deterrent to crime. But let’s not stop there. What about war? What about the protection of the civilian, noncombatant population?
The opposite extreme of life is pregnancy, birth, and early life. The church has made clear its positions that sexual intercourse has purpose only in creating life. Accordingly, sex for the pleasure of sex is not recognized by the Church. And should an unwanted pregnancy occur, this pregnancy must be seen through to birth no matter what. Hmmm.
The modern church regrettably has knowledge of contraception and how it can be successfully used in family planning. In the case of an unwanted pregnancy, there also exists safe methods to end the pregnancy and still hold open the option for children later in life.
The “pro-choice” and “pro-life” groups differ mostly around when life begins. Pro-choice advocates emphasize “viability”, that is the fetus can survive if taken from the womb. Pro-life advocates cite “conception” as the beginning of life regardless that there are estimates that more than half of all conceptions are naturally aborted. This is when an abortion is not an abortion.
More troubling abortions occur when fetuses are genetically damaged or physically deformed. Is it ethical or morally correct to abort these fetuses. The Catholic Church is clear, no way, no how. Hmmm. Who should care for these poor souls, if they survive birth and the mother is unable?
So the Pope’s homework with respect to sanctity of life and dignity of man demands a relook at contraception and homosexuality. Contraception brings the means of preventing unwanted pregnancies. Homosexuality and gender identity appear now to be based upon nature and no acquired preference. With the modern world more aware of what’s going on around them, these church dogmas which diverts markedly from reality (take what they say on faith), may lead the masses to not hear the Pope’s other important messages.
Pope Francis’s Congressional speech was a message Congress badly needed to hear. While the speech may have fallen upon deaf ears, the message was also appropriate for his clergy and the population at large.
The speech will live on as a great speech should the Pope find a way to address the gapping gaps in logic surrounding contraception and homosexuality.