The Catholic Church-one of the oldest modern religious institutions-has seen its fair share of controversy, and modern day is no exception. Pope Francis, the first of his name, has faced his fair share of criticism from constituents for his more open and accepting attitude regarding church doctrine, and the most recent Papal announcement has only fanned the flames higher.
The Church is Mired in Controversy
Pope Francis is far from the first pope to have controversial decisions make headlines during his time as pope. An institution as old as the Catholic church is sure to have its skeletons in the closet, and at this point, making unpopular decisions seems to be almost a rite of passage for the leader.
Unpopular papal decisions and even elections go back hundreds of years. One of the famous – or rather infamous – papacies that even the most religiously uneducated might know about is that of Pope Alexander VI, also known as Roderic de Borgia.
The Pope With Children
Alexander VI is unique among popes in that he had children that he formally recognized while he held the papacy. He was not the only pope who ever had children, but he is different in that he was the only one who recognized their existence and claimed them as his own.
Other popes that issued decisions that were ultimately deemed as highly controversial were Popes Gregory VIII and Innocent III, who both issued declarations that authorized different waves of the Crusades. The number of people who died in the Crusades made the decisions deeply unpopular even in their time, and have not been reflected favorably by history.
John Paul II: The HIV Crisis Pope
More recently, Popes have made controversial decisions and policy choices that have reflected poorly in terms of general culture. Pope John Paul II, though generally a very popular pope, had some significantly unpopular decisions regarding sex and contraception. Notably, he was vehemently opposed to the use of artificial contraception for any reason, even as a prevention method for HIV.
John Paul and his successor, Benedict XVI, were also infamously involved in the coverup of child abuse on the part of Priests in the church. The Spotlight scandal revealed the extent of the coverup on the part of the church, which was a major scandal that has overshadowed church opinion, to this day.
Pope Francis is Generally Popular
The current leader of the Catholic church, Pope Francis, is generally liked by many of his constituents. He has presented himself as a very no-nonsense type of leader, and has stated his desire to bring the Catholic church into modern day, both in policy and in practice.
He has made moves towards that personal goal with his statements and policy changes regarding contraception and homosexuals. For instance, he has maintained the traditional Catholic stance against abortion, but has also pointed out the hypocrisy of the “obsession” that some catholics have with a few issues such as abortion and contraceptives, which do not reflect the true values of Jesus Christ.
The Progressive Same-Sex Doctrine
In his journey to bring the church forward with the times and to extend the welcoming hand of God to all peoples, Francis has also recently approved a new Vatican doctrine, the Fiducia Supplicans, which gives priests permission to bless same-sex pairings – though not marriages – for the first time in church history.
This is a notable departure from previous church doctrine regarding homosexuality. However, Francis has, since being voted in as Pope, had a significantly more relaxed attitude regarding gay members of the Catholic church. Early in his papacy, when asked about his stance on homosexuality, his answer, “Who am I to judge?” went viral, painting him as an incredibly progressive Pope.
Major Pushback to the Announcement
Unfortunately, both for Francis and for gay members of the church, the decision signed by Francis has not been without pushback. All over the world, different Catholic organizations have released statements and interviews denouncing the Pope’s decision, and in America, it’s no different.
A letter, signed by more than 90 members of the Catholic church, including leaders, authors, and scholars, was published recently. It was addressed to “all Cardinals and Bishops of the Catholic Church,” and vehemently opposed the new doctrine, calling on them to denounce the blessing of same-sex couples as well.
Praised by Progressives, Condemned by Conservatives
The decision has been praised by progressives in the Catholic church and harshly condemned by conservatives, as can be seen by the letter written to Church leadership. Indeed, the Fiducia Supplicans has been so controversial that it has earned the open opposition by the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences in both Africa and Madagascar.
The reasoning behind the opposition from conservatives, in their eyes, is simple. They believe that the new doctrine openly flouts centuries of church history and church doctrine, and that it will lead to the blessing of “objectively sinful” relationships.
Urging the Ban of the Doctrine
The letter urges church leadership to not only ban the application of the new doctrine in various dioceses across both the United States and the world, but also asks them to go to the Pope directly. They believe that the Pope should urgently retract the “unfortunate document” which is in opposition to “both Scripture and…the Tradition of the Church.”
Of course, these hardliners are not reacting in an unfamiliar way. Many of the members of the church who signed onto the letter have been vehemently opposed to any sort of progress in the church for some time. One such member, Joseph Strickland, is a hardliner who was actually removed from his Diocese position in August of 2023 by Pope Francis himself.
Francis himself has released statements and had conversations regarding the strong reactions that some members have towards homosexuals. He believes that the strong reactions that many have are entirely reactionary and backwards, which explains why he continues to make such “controversial” decisions regarding church doctrine.
Whether Francis will continue along this path remains to be seen. In his decade as Pope, he has made some very progressive decisions, and some very questionable ones. His legacy as pope won’t be complete until he either resigns or passes on, and in the meantime, it’s anybody’s guess what doctrine the man will support next.