It is ten years since Pope Francis arrived at the Vatican, becoming the head of the Catholic church and representing its faith worldwide.
Since 2013, social movements such as feminism and environmentalism have gathered pace, but so too have crises and catastrophes like the COVID-19 pandemic and wars – as well as the rise of far-right leaders who question human rights and civil liberties that were thought to be general consensus.
As a spiritual and moral leader to a faith with over 1.3 billion members worldwide, the first Argentine Pope’s statements on moral, ethical and spiritual issues carry global weight. During his papacy, he has made pronouncements on same-sex marriage, human rights violations in Latin America, the struggle for land and indigenous rights, and gender identity, as well as the issue of sexual abuse within his own church.
Here are some of Pope Francis’s key statements:
Women, gender and sexuality
- Pope Francis has voiced his acceptance of gay, lesbian and bisexual Catholics, or “people with homosexual tendencies”, in his words. In January, he said that he views homosexuality as a sin, but not a crime, saying: “We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are.”
- He also said that laws around the world that criminalize homosexuality are “unjust” and that bishops who support such legislation need to adapt to recognize universal human dignity.
- However, he continues to reject same-sex marriage within the church, saying in 2021: “Marriage is a sacrament. […] But if they want to spend their lives together, a homosexual couple, nations have the possibility to civilly support them, to give them safety regarding inheritance and health.”
- He said that machismo was “bad” in an Infobae interview last week. “In the Vatican, everything was really misogynist, but that’s because it was a part of the culture,” he said, speaking in the past tense. Pope Francis believes the Vatican’s culture is undergoing a renewal: he gave the example of the Economy Council, where he chose five women and a man to stand on the board.
- In 2015, three years after the Gender Identity Law was passed in Argentina, he compared “gender theory” with genetic manipulation and nuclear arms, saying it “does not recognize the order of creation.” Pope Francis continues to follow the biblical belief that humanity’s origins are in Adam and Eve. This view ignores the existence of transgender and nonbinary people.
Land rights, colonization and Indigenous peoples
- In 2020, Pope Francis published an Apostolic Exhortation underscoring the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, denouncing injustice and crime, and asking for an environmentalism that is concerned for both the biome and Amazonian peoples. He focused on the legal and illegal timber, mining and oil industries in particular, saying that businesses that fail to respect Indigenous communities’ rights to self-determination and prior informed consent were perpetrating “injustice and crime”. His exhortation can be understood to encompass lands, communities, and resource exploitation across the world.
- On globalization, migration and colonization, he said: “The globalized economy shamelessly damages human, social, and cultural richness. The disintegration of families that comes about as a result of forced migrations affects the transmission of values.”
Abuses within Church
- Pope Francis has promoted action against clerical abuse. In 2019, he issued a canon law ordering church officials to inform Vatican prosecutors about sexual abuse within the clergy. That year, he also abolished the confidentiality pact that protected priests from justice – members of the church can now provide information to the judiciary about abuses and help with investigations
- In 2021, the Pope reformed the Code of Canon Law in order to punish sexual abuse on behalf of members of the church.
- However, organizations seeking justice for church abuse survivors in Argentina have repeatedly claimed that he is ignoring their requests to meet with him.
- According to Bishop Accountability, an organization that documents abuse in the Catholic church, Pope Francis “knowingly or unwittingly slowed victims in their fight to expose and prosecute their assailants” during his years as an archbishop, between 1998 and 2013.
- In 2014, the Pope said in a meeting with the children’s rights organization Bureau International Catholique de l’Enfance that he felt that he had to “acknowledge the bad carried out by some priest, and to apologize for sexual abuse against children”. However, he has not made public statements about, nor excommunicated, priests like Father Grassi, from Argentina, condemned in 2009 to 15 years in jail for child sexual abuse. Grassi, like many others, remains a part of the church.
Human rights and war
- Pope Francis broke his silence about human rights violations in Nicaragua, calling Ortega’s government a “rude dictatorship” led by an “unbalanced” president. Dozens of religious leaders have reportedly fled the country since a brutal crackdown on protests in 2018 sparked an extreme authoritarian turn by Ortega
- The Pope has appealed to “the two governments” of Palestine and Israel to search for dialogue and, eventually, peace.
- Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he has called attention to several “empires” across the world, fuelled by “imperial interests”: “this is a very painful war, but the world has been at war since forever,” he said in Infobae. “We forget about Yemen, Myanmar, Goma, Congo, Rwanda – yes, Russia is next door to Europe, but wars have not stopped in over a century.”