3438147741Since the election of Pope Francis last March, progressive Catholics have been on the offensive for the first time in my lifetime. Economic and social justice issues are yet again at the forefront, while more controversial social issues appear to be less important, if discussed at all.
This has given the pope more positive press in the past 11 months than Benedict XVI got in his eight years in the Vatican. Some of the attention — like Time magazine Person of the Year or the myriad of Buzzfeed articles with pope GIFs — is well deserved. Positive spin from more progressive outlets, though, like being named The Advocate’s Person of the Year, may still be premature. As someone who has sought both refuge and the occasional battle within my faith, I am less interested in how Pope Francis changes the Vatican rules than in the opportunity his papacy presents to individual progressive Catholics everywhere.

Pope Francis’ landmark statements on gay priests, communion as medicine for the weak and the past “obsession” with gay marriage and abortion have made the church agenda more about helping people than excluding people. Dogma and ideology, important as they may be, are secondary to the practical role of the church in people’s lives as a home and refuge. These themes, while not overturning the church’s position on progressive issues like abortion and homosexuality, create a gray space for those with progressive views to occupy more comfortably.

As welcome as this new space for progressive Catholics may be, it is still not enough to truly make the universal church a truly universal home.

After the Cardinal Newman Society and TFP Student Action produced a video entitled “The Smoke of Satan at Georgetown University,” I was reminded that the dogma that media coverage of the church has all but forgotten is still real to many Catholics across the country. Had I been any less confident in my sexual orientation, or had I considered TFP or the Cardinal Newman Society legitimate news sources, the video and the article that followed truly could have poisoned my relationship with the church.

Herein lays the tension that Francis’ papacy has created, but by no means has resolved. Saying that the church has a duty to be a home to progressives who want to see women as priests, abortion as safe yet rare and gay people as participants in meaningful relationships sets up a conflict between the practical purpose of the church and her thousand-year-old dogma. It’s a conflict that progressive Catholics have fought internally for years, but one in which they finally have legitimacy fighting.

As a student at Georgetown, the superior ground that more conservative voices have stood on has frustrated me. If GU Pride wants to bring someone to campus to talk about relationships, we have to be careful not to bring someone who would talk about condoms or other means of preventing the spread of life-threatening illnesses. If we had an event on faith or sexual orientation, we would always talk around the church’s position on homosexual relationships. Meanwhile, more conservative campus groups can easily bring speakers who are allowed to potentially lie to students, telling them that gay people make bad parents, or pseudoscience about condoms, all because it is in line with an outdated and disproven dogma.

Whereas liberal groups often argue that both our Catholic and university missions allow for the exploration and affirmation of all identities (I’ve used cura personalis to justify how Pride events fit in to our campus more often than I care to admit), those voices could always be trumped by conservatives citing the catechism of the church. Now, progressive voices can legitimately point out that dogma need not and should not stand in the way of bringing followers of the Catholic faith to a healthier and happier relationship with the church.

The statements of Pope Francis aren’t necessarily progressive on social issues, but they create a moment in which we more liberal Catholics can elevate our voices. The Catholic Church is an institution that is notorious for moving at a glacial pace, but if its first duty is truly to be inclusive of all who seek to love and serve Jesus Christ, then it is going to have to confront positions that undermine that first duty sooner rather than later.

Thomas Lloyd is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. QUEERA PERSONALIS
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