Pope Fail: Francis Throws the “Nuns on the Bus” Under the Bus

I celebrated many of Pope Francis’ early acts of compassionate humility — especially his subversion of the Maundy Thursday ritual by washing the feet of youth prisoners, including two Muslim girls. I’m always grateful when I hear about prominent Christian leaders actually doing Jesus-like acts of justice and love. (For more, see “Red Shoes or Black Shoes? Does It Matter?: On the Symbolism of Pope Francis.”)

However, I was disheartened  to read this morning in The New York Times that the new pope is doubling-down on misogyny:

Pope Francis has reaffirmed the reprimand of American nuns issued by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican said that the nuns’ group was tinged with feminist influences, focused too much on ending social and economic injustice and not enough on stopping abortion, and permitted speakers at its meetings who questioned church doctrine.”

I am unswayed by critics who reprimand Protestants for complaining every time that “Catholics act like Catholics instead of like Protestants.” There is so much that I admire about Catholic Social Teachings, and I maintain my critique that the Roman Catholic Church — and all religious communities — need more (not less) feminism, more social and economic justice, and more freedom to question traditional doctrine. And long before I admired some of Pope Francis’ early decisions, I have been impressed with the radical work of many Roman Catholic nuns for social and economic justice. And I’m sorry to see Francis, so to speak, throwing the “Nuns on the Bus under the bus.

I said publicly back in late March that I see approximately zero chance that Pope Francis will change the Roman Catholic Church’s reprehensible exclusion of women from the priesthood, the bigoted stance against same-sex marriage, or the onerous requirement of priestly celibacy. But I expressed hope that maybe he would at least call off the dogs that were let loose on American nuns under Benedict. I’m saddened to see this is not the case.

For more analysis of why Francis’ foot washing, for example, troubles conservatives, but also why liberals shouldn’t get too excited about his papacy, see “Vatican defends Pope Francis’ washing of women’s feet.”


The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg)

Learn more about Unitarian Universalism:

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  • Ron

    Carl, my friend. Pope Francis just named a Franciscan priest to take over the Sister’s “Challenge” with the church. This man has not had an opportunity to get his feet wet and you are expecting the Pope to solve the problem … that’s why he named this Franciscan. The Pope is simply saying: “Hold on … take a deep breath. Let’s allow things to stand as they are now, BUT, BUT, BUT my man is coming in and then and only then will I get involved after reading his recommendations. Don’t be so quick to give up on Francis. He did exactly what I expected him or any Pope to do who is brand new in office. Ron

    • Carl Gregg

      Ron, I hope you are right, but the proof will be in the change of course (or perpetuation of current injustice) to come. In general, waiting periods favor the status quo.

  • cowalker

    When John Paul II doubled down on the issues of disallowing women priests and continuing the ban on contraception I knew the die was cast. The Catholic Church has chosen to get (much) smaller and “purer.” They tout the younger women joining more orthodox orders of nuns, but of course the numbers are never going to come close to the numbers of nuns in years past. In the meantime, the majority of American Catholics continue to lose their separate identity and parishes close due to lack of priests. The pope still serves as a mascot for “spirituality” at events like symbolic foot-washing, but nobody is actually taking his words seriously.

    There’s no graceful way now for the Church to back away from any of the positions regarding gender and sexuality. They missed that window. There isn’t enough humility on earth to enable them to acknowledge the failures that would have to be acknowledged if they had to backtrack now.

    • Frank

      Except of course their is no failure in their theology.

      • cajaquarius

        … Assuming you don’t consider the Idolatry of Human Wisdom (eg Papal Infallibility) to be a failure in Theology. Any organization or man who claims to know and flawlessly interpret the Bible or the Mind of God has to be flawless himself. One cannot pour yogurt through a funnel used to change the oil in a car and expect perfect yogurt to come out of the other side. The Pope seems a good man but he is a blasphemer, pure and simple.

  • Alan

    You really trip yourself up by using the word “bigot”. Is everyone not for gay marriage a bigot? If that is your thinking, it is you who is the bigot.

    • Carl Gregg

      Alan, we could debate nomenclature, likely to little avail. But the zeitgeist is bending swiftly toward same-sex marriage equality. And the opponents of equality are finding themselves in the same position as those of previous generations that opposed the women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and interracial marriage.

      • Alan

        Carl, that’s your rationale?
        Sounds like if your friends jumped off a bridge, you would too.
        Maybe a funny predicament, but a poor decision matrix.

    • cowalker

      Here is what makes me think that some people oppose gay marriage out of bigotry although they claim to have religious objections. Millions of people have divorced and then remarried since the middle of the 20th century. Where are the Catholic or Evangelical marriage license clerks, wedding cake bakers, wedding photographers, wedding caterers, etc. whose consciences are too tender to accept the money of people remarrying after divorce? According to the Bible, and Catholic law, these people are flagrantly committing adultery–a sin just as sinful as gay sex. The gospels specifically attribute words prohibiting divorce and remarriage to Jesus himself. But there is no outcry–and no preemptive moaning that soon, oh, soon, the jackbooted adulterers will be forcing the churches to officiate at their sinful celebrations of marriages that aren’t marriages.

      Yeah, there’s something going on with some of those opposed to same sex marriage besides pure doctrinal objections or thoughts of the children.

    • cajaquarius

      I happen to be an apostate of the church and gay myself and do agree the word bigot gets thrown around too much. I’ll give you my personal list on this so you know if you are a bigot or not:

      If you feel that homosexuality is a perversion and a sin and would advise your own friends to stay chaste of sexual activity if they were gay and asked your opinion, you are not a bigot.

      … If you feel homosexuality is a perversion and actively try to stamp it out wherever you see it out of “love”, “hatred of sin”, or any other contrived motive, you are a bigot.

      If you are okay with gay folks getting married in a federal sense or expanding civil unions to encompass the same territory as marriage but not okay with the Church doing a marriage or even with calling it a “marriage” if it is between two men or two women, personally, due to your beliefs then you are not a bigot.

      If you oppose even federal marriage and civil unions as well as church marriage you are a bigot.

      If you oppose protections from hate crimes against the LGBT community on the grounds that this would give us “super rights” when you have no problem giving the same protections to other minorities you are a bigot. If you oppose hate crime laws, generally, you are misinformed but probably still a bigot in a broader sense.

      If you insist that LGBT people aren’t the same as other minorities because nobody chooses to be black (the implication being that we choose to be gay or that being gay is an activity and not a deeply felt yearning for love), you are a bigot.

      If you attempt to schism my romantic orientation to other men from my personal being as if it were some action that doesn’t at all define me or shape who I am, you are a bigot.

      If you attempt to use pseudoscience and quackery from the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, or any other hate group (or using CDC data) to define who I am or make me out to be dangerous, you are a bigot.

      If you have a problem with me referring to myself as “gay” and feel that the word is too good for me or I ruined it and that I should be classified as “homosexual” or “homosexualist” then you are a bigot.

      If you have a problem with homosexuals who do try to stay celibate talking about it and this makes you think things like “We all have crosses to bear so why do they think theirs is special?”, “I am an alcoholic and sometimes want to cheat on my wife yet you don’t hear me talking about it all the time”, “Why do they keep throwing it in my face?”, or any variation of the type then you are a bigot.

      If you know a chaste homosexual and feel uncomfortable when he is around your kids but realize this is irrational and try not to let it rule your actions, you are not a bigot.

      If you actively impede the aforementioned chaste homosexual or act against them based off your irrational feeling you are a bigot.

      If seeing two men kiss makes you feel sick to your stomach or makes you feel generally very uncomfortable you are not a bigot.

      If seeing two men kiss makes you punch or attack them, you are a bigot.