Pope Francis Should Not Be Applauded for Inching Towards Inclusion

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Pope Francis recently released a 256-page “apostolic exhortation” titled Amoris Laetita (“The Joy of Love”). Among a host of issues related to love and family, Francis addressed the matter of communion for the remarried (or lack thereof) and “all but explicitly” said “yes they can.” The pope considerately “left room for priests to interpret his words as they see fit since he wrote about it in a rather roundabout way.” Such deference to moral ambiguity seems peculiar, particularly coming from a man who has warned that moral relativism represents “the spiritual poverty of our time.”

When it came to homosexuality, however, Francis ditched his lack of decisiveness. This is what he had to say on the subject of gay marriage:

There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.

The pope’s comments are terribly upsetting, but not at all surprising. Having said that, the media’s fawning appraisal of Francis’ document has been bizarre, primarily because it’s appearing from what we would normally call “liberal” sources. For example, here’s what the Washington Post had to say about the document’s overall message:

Francis rejected outright the notion of same-sex marriage. But he laid out the church’s warmest welcome in modern times to divorced and remarried couples, saying they should not be judged, discriminated against or excluded from church life. And he encouraged their priests to be merciful in considering whether such Catholics can receive Communion.

I love how the authors quickly skip over his unequivocal dismissal of same-sex couples. Sure, Francis is continuing to perpetuate centuries worth of exclusion, but come on — he’s the head of a slow-moving church. What is he supposed to do — provide moral guidance?

Even the inclusive-minded EJ Dionne lapped up the pope’s document. He actually praised Francis for “lifting up what can be called social justice Christianity.” Come again? Just a couple of weeks ago Dionne lambasted Donald Trump for being a “clownish peddler of racial and religious stereotypes.” Why didn’t he similarly call out the pope for being nothing more than a “clownish peddler of homophobia”?

Jonathan Capehart, another prominent liberal writer, claimed to have “mad love” for Pope Francis’ proclamations:

…ever since Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis I in 2013, the credo of his papacy has been inclusion, dignity and respect for people whose lives find them outside of the strict tenets of the church.

Capehart goes on to praise Francis for nudging “the church away from its mien of judgmental scold.” He even pats the pope on the back for not using the word “‘sin’ in relation to homosexuals or homosexuality.”

This is desperate praise. It’s not good enough to release an ameliorative document which slowly marches the church “toward an increased level of inclusiveness.” If the Catholic Church doesn’t already embody the perfect example of human morality, then what is it for? You’d hope that inclusion, mercy, and love would be at the heart of any worthwhile credo from the beginning.

As we’ve seen with North Carolina’s recent flexing of bigotry, exclusion is not a viable prescription for society. Prosperity, on an economic and social level, comes about when we readily incorporate everyone and don’t ask them to hide their true nature. The US owes much of its success to this inclusive formula. As Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue in Why Nations Fail:

Countries such as Great Britain and the United States became rich because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed, where the government was accountable and responsive to citizens, and where the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunities.

Nations and religions can either emphasize parts of their traditions which promote loathing, suspicion, and exclusion or they can embrace reality — that is, they celebrate our inevitable differences and empathize with our dissimilarities. No, “empathy” is not “the latest code word for liberal activism,” as Karl Rove likes to think. Inclusion and empathy are, in fact, the basis of human morality and key ingredients to ensuring a thriving nation.

That’s ultimately why we shouldn’t applaud an institution for gradually moving towards these self-evident moral truths. The time for inclusion is now, not later.

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Nick Cassella
Nick Cassella graduated from the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2014. After graduating, he worked on the Initiative 594 campaign before joining Civic Ventures, where he now manages Civic Skunk Works' social media presence.