‘Father, forgive us’
It is a sad fact that the Catholic Church has never been progressive in its treatment of women and still remains mired in archaic and oppressive tradition.
Yet Pope Francis is widely portrayed a ‘progressive’ figurehead as a result of several controversial statements he has made since becoming Pope, most recently when he put a much needed dent in the Church’s long held policy against abortion.
Should we be running into the streets rejoicing? I say no.
This certainly isn’t the first time that the pontiff has (marginally) tried to make the Catholic Church’s policies more compatible with secular democracy. Although he in no way made any effort to reverse the Church’s moral position on homosexuality, his famous “who am I to judge?” seemed a fair step towards reducing hostility within the Church without isolating its more conservative followers.
His call for Catholics to take climate change seriously can hardly be considered objectionable by anyone. Whilst Francis’s personal assurance that atheists can be good people and wind up in heaven means relatively little to me and those like me, it again seems to be part of some effort to bridge the gulf between primitive and sacrosanct tradition and 21st century morality.
So how are we to take the glorious pontiff’s most recent concession?
I have no doubt that his holiness sincerely means to improve the quality of lives of those who find his words important, but I suggest that we hold off on the exultation at present. Whilst it is tempting to see this as the Catholic Church rushing to catch up with the modern world, it is still it centuries behind the empirical, reasoning and questioning approach we take to ethics today.
The Pope’s statement does not make it clear that women have choices regarding their reproductive rights, nor does it have much to do with making life easier for the minority of Catholics who do live their lives by his “divine” command.
If this man wants to allow humans to make their own decisions about contraception, he could merely say so.
Despite the Pope’s position that “humans do not have to breed like rabbits” the fact remains that the Catholic Church still insists that “every sperm is sacred” – indeed more sacred than the free will of adults to have sex safely.
What we see is him permitting is:
All priests for the Jubilee Year to absolve of the sin of abortion those who procure it and who also seek forgiveness.
What I believe is happening here is this: his first requirement is that we accept that the most powerful and wise being in the universe speaks directly through him and his organisation. Should we accept this, we must also accept that, as this decision is privately revealed to him and him alone, it is in fact correct.
However, had he decided (through revelation) to say nothing, that also would be correct irrespective of the suffering incurred.
His special offer for a one-year and one-year-only window of forgiveness applies to women who acknowledge that their bodies are “leased” to them by a divine father and that they must follow a set of rules dictated by the Pope. To regain the approval of the Pope and his minions they must apologise for acting in their own best interest.
He is telling us that women who do not want to carry a zygote to term, no matter how much they want not to (for any reason) ought to. They are acting immorally by choosing not to and should feel guilty.
In spite of all medical evidence to the contrary, a pregnant woman, according to Catholic dogma, must believe that life begins at conception and must place this belief over her own needs. Failure to comply with this rule requires forgiveness, which he is now graciously willing to allow.
The fact that major news outlets such as the BBC are reporting on this development within an organisation that previously threated women, women even the Pope acknowledges are facing “an existential and moral ordeal” with social and political isolation via automatic excommunication, is little better than a travesty.
I know that abortion is a topic that can divide secular thinkers when issues such as methodology and time limits are discussed, and I am certain that the Pope has similar qualms.
With abortion, he has an especially difficult battle ahead of him because the Catholic Church is a hard place to be both powerful and progressive. Relatively, Francis is a breath of fresh air. However, with access to the education, medical technology and insights into human needs and well-being that we have today, that air still remains stale and outdated and is certainly not progressive.
• Dale Claridge is a chemistry student at the University of Nottingham. As well as being an editor for the student paper Impact he is also enthusiastic member of University of Nottingham Agnostic, Humanist secularist society having debated publicly on their behalf multiples times. He is also an avid supporter of the British Humanist association.