“He’s challenging everybody,” the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University John Carr told the New York Times.
Pope Francis forged one of the most progressive stances out of all of his papal predecessors making waves within both the conservative and liberal sectors of the world.
The Pope’s almost two years at the head of the Catholic Church have included him standing against the judgment of homosexuals and increased fixation on justice for the impoverished. These statements made conservatives across the globe uneasy. In the United States, members of the Republican Party find it difficult — even if they have grown accustomed to it — to align themselves with a Pope whose rhetoric slants left.
Likewise, D.C. McAllister wrote in the Federalist that the Pope necessitates Republicans to “make a choice between party and religion, between the GOP and the pope.”
At the same time, liberally minded Catholics find themselves in a similar quandary.
Even though Pope Francis seems to stand for a more moderate future for the Church, his actions speak otherwise.
James Bloodworth, the editor of the left-wing blog Left Foot Forward, posited, “under Francis little of substance has actually changed. The Catholic Church continues to vehemently discriminate against gay people and women; it’s simply sugar-coated its message with fashionable sound bytes about inequality.”
It is true that Pope Francis has played by many of the rules set out in precedent by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. He has not changed any of the doctrine that was set out years before him, neither has he rejected the teachings of his super-conservative peers.
A common communion
However, one area that Pope Francis has taken a stance on is the involvement of the Catholic Church with Evangelicals. In fact, in a meeting with Anglican bishops in Rome, Pope Francis underscored that they should not wait for theologians to find common ground in order to pray together.
“To continue to focus on differences between Christian denominations is sinning against Christ’s will, because our shared baptism is more important than our difference,” he said poignantly.
In the same meeting, the Pope warned the Evangelicals about the workings of the devil, who is “a father of lies, the father of all division, the anti-father, the devil who pushes in and divides.”
Pope Francis’s admonition may even suggest that denominational schisms were wrought originally by the devil. In this, his stance is proven to be more radical than his predecessors’.
This adds to the discomfort level in the United States. Not only does Pope Francis push the buttons of the Democrats and Republicans, but he also toys with the traditional gaps between Catholics and Evangelicals, even admitting that he desires for a shared communion between the two sects.
Pope from the eyes of Millennials
When asked for the opinion of the Pope, “an overwhelming 98 percent” of practicing Catholics had a favorable view of him, but “just 45 percent of practicing Protestants (expressed) a very or somewhat favorable opinion, and among non-mainline Protestants even fewer have a favorable view (37 percent).”
To add yet another demographic to the mix, only 41 percent of Millenials view Pope Francis favorably. The phenomenon of youth who fear undue authority seems also to have breached the walls of this cross-religious and cross-generational dilemma as well.
These statistics do raise the question why evangelicals and Millennials are uncomfortable about thinking of the Pope. Pope Francis has addressed the topic of bridging the theological gap between Evangelical and Catholic believers, something that most Evangelical Millennials cannot boast.
In fact, David Kinnaman, the president of the Barna Group, a well-respected statistic organization, reported that “while much has been made by the media of Protestants’ approval of Pope Francis, our research shows the historic schism between Catholic and Protestant traditions is alive and well in America.”
That schism may have been brought into being by the fact that many Protestants find it hard to put their trust in the pontiff when his integrity is being questioned.
Kinnaman noted that “Millennial … Catholics seem to be the most responsive, in practical terms, to the pope’s leadership. But these same generational segments outside the Catholic Church generally express greater skepticism of the pontiff than do their peers within the Catholic tradition.”
So while Pope Francis has been known for radical statements like: “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests, his stance on abortion remains unchanged from his papal predecessors’, evidenced by his outspoken support for the anti-abortion activists taking part in the March for Life.
The tension between what he hints at and where he stands seem to pull at Millennials’ minds, causing them to raise eyebrows at the trustworthiness of this Pope.
In the conclusion of his research, Kinnaman submitted, “Although some Protestants hold the … pontiff in high esteem, millions more … express deep skepticism about the pope’s integrity. This may change in the coming years, of course, but for now Protestants remain on the fence about Pope Francis’s leadership.”
Photo credits to sheedy.williams on flickr