The world is paying a whole lot of attention to the Catholic Church this week, and I totally get it—the pageantry, the hats, the smoke monster jokes, the Old World charm, Tom Hanks's wig, all the hits. It's irresistible. Yes! Smash the abdicator's magic ring with your silver cudgel of justice, Brother Domenico! Picking a new pope is like the world's biggest D&D game that also happens to be a massive global child-molestation cover-up racket. Exciting! It's like electing a glamorous Prom Queen who ran on a platform of denying life-saving prophylactics to HIV-riddled continents that she previously personally colonized and plundered! Three cheers for Tiffany. Roosevelt High thanks you for the smallpox.
So, yes, we have a new pope now. He's from South America instead of Europe, which is mildly interesting, and he's a Jesuit, which is mildly encouraging. However—DOWNSIDE—he's also just another fucking pope. The Catholic Church is a multibillion-dollar international corporation, a groaning dinosaur with its claws in almost every backwards socially conservative plank out there. The individual dude who's chosen (DUDE, mind you—you can tell a business is tres modern when they don't even let women submit resumes) almost certainly matters in subtle ways that Catholicism wonks could parse for days. But in the grand scheme of things, come on. It only took Obama three years to repeal DADT, and that was with John McCain being an obstructionist old iguana for no reason. These pope dudes have had more than a millennium to fucking catch up on simple human rights issues, with the added bonus of being the infallible mouthpiece of God. So, no, I'm not holding my breath for some sudden, grand papal turnaround into progressive politics—or even basic social responsibility.
That's not to say that the Catholic Church isn't full of wonderful, caring, socially responsible human beings—of course it is (hi, Grandma Winnie!)—but the institution itself is frighteningly regressive, almost spiteful. And I have to wonder, if all of us (Catholics and lapsed Catholics and atheists and [fill-in-the-blank religious adherents] and the frantically riffing throngs of Twitter)—if we all took the level of energy and LASER FOCUS we've had for this week's goofy dog-and-popey show and turned it toward the actual heinous positions and actions of the Catholic Church, what would that church look like in five years? Ten? Twenty? The current Catholic Church (like so many other massive modern bureaucracies, but, you know, one thing at a time) is a force for stagnation, and I sincerely hope that all the smart, vibrant, caring Catholics of the world are even more dismayed by it than I am.
We're so easily delighted by some magic smoke farting out of a castle (to be fair, it's hilarious)—but why are we not more universally bothered by the fact that the man designated, via that smoke, to lead 1.2 billion people has publicly stated that allowing gay couples to adopt is "a form of discrimination against children"? Nothing like being lectured on sexual morality by the head of an institution that systematically shelters and protects pedophiles. Gay rights are human rights and, honestly, I do not have any more patience for these ancient Archie Bunker stylings in the highest echelons of global human leadership. GROW UP, BABIES.
I'm sorry, I don't really care how much time and money you invest in palliative care for AIDS patients if you're actively working against HIV prevention by trying to limit the distribution and use of condoms. (And, sorry, Benedict's kinda-sorta turnaround was still some tepid, bigoted shit.) I don't give a crap how much charitable work you do with low-income mothers if you're simultaneously doing your best to make abortion unsafe and illegal and trying to ban basic medications that would make many of those unsafe, illegal abortions unnecessary.
According to the most recent data I could find, there are 572 citizens of Vatican City. Only 32 of those are women. How can I be expected, as a woman, to trust an organization to look out for my needs—or even accurately assess what my needs are—when women aren't even allowed in the clubhouse? (Francis's Room! NO GIRLS ALLOWED.)
This is important: Women are not a niche group. The extent to which the Catholic establishment marginalizes, silences, and attempts control women is so widespread and brazen I'm almost impressed. They've certainly got moxie! When the Vatican conspires to block a global agreement on action to end gender-based violence—asserting that certain nations' religions, customs, and traditions should be valid excuses for disregarding women's basic human rights—what they are saying is, "You do not deserve human rights because you are not fully human. We own you and we will do what we want with you."
Religion is not a bad thing. Catholicism is not a bad thing. But the social and political policies of the dude supposedly in charge of Catholicism, well, that's another matter.
So yeah, seriously, fuck the pope.