Image above by Giulio Napolitano, courtesy of

It would be bad form to criticize someone on their birthday. Or even take a pop at their nearest and dearest. But now that we’re basking in the afterglow of the traditional consumerist celebrations for the Messiah’s birthday, maybe we could safely take a peek at Time magazine’s Person of the Year, Pope Francis?

If recent adulation is anything to go by, he’s doing well in his first year. As well as the Time award, apparently Esquire put him in their list of best-dressed men – utter nonsense obviously, not least because the Pope doesn’t really get to choose his uniform; any color so long as it’s white – but it is a sign of a broader and more secular approval.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis. Image by Giulio Napolitano, courtesy of

Fran is also getting points in the media for his humility. When asked about gay Catholics, his response was famously, “Who am I to judge?” Well, you’re the Pope for a start and that would have been excuse enough for plenty of your predecessors. But fair enough, perhaps that’s the sort of response a Pope should give. Francis may be the most Christian Pope in quite a while. You can almost smell the relief from the pro-Church commentators: at least this one isn’t an ex-Nazi and hasn’t (so far as we know) been involved in protecting priests from accusations of interfering with the choirboys. Add to this the traditional pontificating on world peace in his Christmas address and Pope Francis is well on his way to becoming everybody’s darling.

But. But, but, but… It’s hard to forget that he’s head of a global organization that while espousing values such as fighting poverty, showing charity and practicing humility has traditionally sought to acquire wealth, control the masses (pun intended) and generally just rule the world. Unless some of that changes, whoever wears the robes remains a kind of religious Ernst Stavro Blofeld. How saintly can a man be if he’s running an outfit bent on world domination?

In fact, look a little closer and the “humility” could also just be a simple refusal to be drawn. Somebody mentions abortion and if the current CEO of Catholicism refrains from scowling and muttering about hellfire then he’s going to look like a saintly liberal despite the fact his corporate policy is pretty much what it’s always been. Similarly, he may be refusing to go on record as judging homosexuality but he’s still anti-gay marriage. And let’s not forget, this is a concept that even the state of Utah has embraced. In fact, Pope Francis has gone on record as saying that adoption by a same-sex couple constitutes discrimination against the child. Not much progress on the Church’s definition of “family” there.

What’s more, during a mass reported by Vatican Radio, Francis explicitly said that the spirit of curiosity is “contrary to the wisdom of God.” Think about that for a second: being curious is incompatible with being Catholic. So, that’s no science and no progress. That’s taking the enquiry out of education (what about all those Catholic and Jesuit schools and universities – what do their curriculums look like?) and pretty much taking all the wonder out of life. Now we’re on more familiar territory for a Pope.

So… not really that liberal on homosexuality, unlikely to be allowing women priests anytime soon and no sign of distributing any of that renowned Vatican wealth to tackle the poverty he’s so worried about… It might well be that Francis’ big Papal change is only to Catholicism’s PR management strategy.

Comments are closed.