What People Get Wrong — And Right — About Pope Francis


Friday marks two years to the day since the world was introduced to Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio. On March 13, 2013, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires was chosen by the Vatican to assume the papacy after Pope Benedict XVI resigned, and in a puff of cottony white smoke, Bergoglio became known as Pope Francis. 

With his Latin American and Jesuit background, working-class upbringing and no-bells-and-whistles approach to his position, Bergolio had initially led some to declare his candidacy a long shot, but he quickly found his footing. He has since established himself as one of the most popular popes in modern history.

Pope Francis has also adopted certain issues — economic inequality, environmental protection, inclusion and tolerance — and put them at the forefront of his papal platform. His relatively forward-thinking tendencies, which are particularly notable compared to his predecessor's, have upped his proverbial street cred considerably. Time declared him as 2013's Person of the Year, describing him as "the people's pope," and noted following his selection that he would "deliver much-needed oxygen to parts of the Catholic empire." 

But while some of his progressive positions deserve the unbridled praise they receive, others are less laudable. Thus, in honor of Pope Francis' two year pope-iversary, we've put together a list of truths — and lies — about the Vicar of Rome: 

1. He's on a crusade against economic inequality and poverty.

Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Verdict: True.

Pope Francis has long asserted that economic inequality is a scourge in need of snuffing out. In 2007, he said of Latin America, "The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers." 

In November 2013, he called capitalism "a new tyranny," adding, "In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule."

He also has plans to build showers for the homeless population in St. Peter's Square. 

2. He's all about the environment.


Verdict: True. 

In 2014, he called environmental destruction a sin. "When I look at America, also my own homeland, so many forests, all cut, that have become land ... that can longer give life. This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to her give us what she has within her," he said, according to Reuters.

The Guardian reports that the pontiff will issue an encyclical on climate change in March, "urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific ground."

3. He's adopted a groundbreaking stance on homosexuality.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Verdict: Not so much.

Despite a few sort-of, kind-of lukewarm statements about the gay community, the pope's positions aren't actually all that exciting. 

As Mic's Scott Bixby wrote in December 2014: 

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a summary of official doctrine published in 1992, states that gays 'must be accepted' with respect, compassion and sensitivity,' and that 'every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.' Put in that 22-year-old context, Francis' declaration that parents shouldn't kick their gay or lesbian children out of the house doesn't seem all that revolutionary. While the style of communication has changed, the substance of the doctrine is functionally identical."

Compared to his predecessor, who once called gay marriage a threat to "the future of humanity itself," Pope Francis has been pretty chill about the LGBT community — but that's not saying a whole lot. After all, he recently gave his support for a Slovakian referendum that barred same-sex couples from getting married and adopting children.

4. He's cool with women.

Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Verdict: Not really.

Despite telling an Italian women's organization that he wanted to bolster the position of women in the church — while also highlighting their "indispensable role" in society — Pope Francis has an unfortunate history of brushing women to the side. 

Besides making it clear that women won't be ordained under his leadership, he has also used the female form to cast aspersions. In November 2014, he referred to Europe as a "grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant." As Candida Moss and Joel Baden at the Los Angeles Times rightfully argued, "At 77 years old, presumably Francis still thinks himself relatively vibrant and useful to society. Women of his age, however, have apparently outlived their utility."

5. He comes bearing words of religious tolerance.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Verdict: True.

The pontiff has repeatedly called for religious tolerance. During a visit to Turkey in November, he asked followers of all faiths to respect for life and religious freedom, CNN reported. "Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers," he added.

In an address to Sri Lanka in January, he highlighted the work of Saint Joseph, saying, he "shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace." 

While the pope has historically suffered from low levels of popularity in the Middle East, Pope Francis' numbers are evenly split: A recent Pew survey found that 25% of Middle Eastern respondents viewed him favorably and 25% viewed him unfavorably.

6. He's more progressive on contraception and abortion.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Verdict: The jury's still out. 

The official church policy on contraception is very clear: "It is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence." 

Pope Francis has been a little more ambiguous: He once came out in favor of Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter "Humanae Vitae," which reaffirmed the church's dismissal of contraception. But he also recently implored Catholics to refrain from reproducing "like rabbits," a difficult proposition indeed if one is regularly sexually active and not using contraception. 

On abortion, however, his stance is predictably militant: "It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day," he said in 2014.

7. He doesn't want to rule for the rest of his life  


Verdict: True.

In a interview with Mexican media company Televisa published Friday, Pope Francis said he didn't want to be pope forever.

"I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief — four or five years, even two or three. Two have already passed. It's a somewhat strange sensation," the Daily News reported a Vatican translation stated. Instead, he said he hoped he would one day be able to go out for pizza in Rome without being inundated with attention. 

We feel the same way, Pope Francis.