I was not born Catholic; within about a month I became Catholic because my parents baptized me. I don’t recall them seeking my input on the matter since I was most likely asleep, pooping, or trying to eat my own fingers and couldn’t be bothered with an opinion.
They sent me to Catholic school and first communion, made me an altar boy, and all that other stuff, and I was fine with it till my dad decided to go to Saturday evening services instead of Sunday morning ones -- the same time Star Trek came on. Then my dad (the Catholic) died when I was 13 and my mom decided she was going to be a Protestant again. So I went from Catholic to a Methodist, but I guess you could say I stayed “culturally Catholic”; I kept the guilt and prefer actual wine over grape juice for communion. I always will admit to a bit of Catholic bias and apology, but for the most part I don’t concern myself too much with the church.
So when Pope Francis spoke to a gay man, a victim of sex abuse, and told him, “That you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are,” I was, like many, quite happy to hear the pope make such a progressive statement. OK, progressive for the Catholic Church and its stance on LGBTQ issues.
Plenty of people were not impressed by “the cool pope” and his remarks and were still quite critical of the Catholic Church’s teachings and treatment of LGBTQ people, both currently and historically. They said it wasn’t enough, that it was cowardly not to state that publicly, and that they wouldn’t be impressed until he completely changed the church. Like I said, I admit to being a bit of an apologist for the church, so I guess it’s time for me to put on my vestments and do the Stations of the Apology.
First off, quit calling Pope Francis “cool” in either seriousness or mockingly. The pope doesn't need that extra pressure. The coolest pope is actual Stephen VI, who dug up a previous pope and dressed the corpse up in robes, put it on trial, found it guilty, cut off the fingers he used to bless people with, and tossed the body in a river. So Stephen is cool in that demented fairy-tale villain sense. But this serves a point; the papacy has always been a political role that has at times been occupied by extremely pious men, and also some of the most corrupt and immoral. To have a series of popes, no matter how problematic they might be, who are genuinely pious men like we have had in modern history is a lot less common than you might think.
Though I will give Pope Francis credit for coolness in one regard: A recent video of him having to bless a race car clearly shows a look on his face that says, "I can't believe I'm blessing a freaking race car."
Even when the papacy has been held by well-meaning, progressive, and reform-minded men, it's been damn near impossible to change the church. We are talking about an almost 2,000-year-old institution. To give you a sense of scale, the so-called first pope knew Jesus personally. Historically, though, the first true holder of the power the pope would have came to power in about 440. By two different standards. the pope holds the oldest title still intact in Europe. In fact, one of his titles, Pontifex Maximus, is older than the title of emperor of Rome.
The church, just like an old person, is set in its ways and doesn't change easily. The church didn’t officially switch away from doing masses in Latin until the 1960s. These people don’t do anything fast; even some of these things the church teaches took a while to evolve. Like the whole “excommunicate gays” thing wasn’t official until 1179 (though they weren’t exactly cool with it before). This is not exactly a “nimble” institution and could use some Lean Six-Sigma work.
In fact, early in Pope Francis's reign he took after the Curia, which is essentially the administrative arm of the church, for being a corrupt bureaucratic mess of petty politics and priests who cared more about power than people's souls. He also went after the Vatican Bank. Yeah, the Catholic Church has a bank, and it's so legendarily corrupt is was literally the plot for Godfather III. Just trust me on that or just read the wiki article if you haven't seen the film. It's terrible.
Hey, if there's any universal criticism of the church, it's that it's far too concerned about its wealth. Around this time in 2014, Francis, or "Franco" to his friends, called a gathering of bishops and cardinals to discuss his goals of his reign, which included a lot of what gets him called "the cool pope," including changing its stance and teachings on everything from divorce to the poor to same-sex marriage. In it he said that gay relationships might be morally problematic, but they still come with sacrifice for others based in love. Wow, edgy stuff, right? This caused conservative bishops and cardinals to call this take "revolutionary" and unacceptable. Yeah, these guys see simply acknowledging that gay people love each other as unacceptable.
Remember how I brought up the fact that they still did mass in Latin until the 1960s? There was a thing called the Second Vatican Council and it tried to modernize the church. It ditched Latin as mandatory, allowed nuns to quit cosplaying penguins, recentered scripture over ceremony, reorganized the hierarchy and included more lay ministry, and changed some key teachings on doctrine. It was so controversial, some conservative Catholics, including members of the clergy, called it heresy, and some even broke away from the church and crowned their own pope. That's just allowing the mass to be spoken in the local language instead of Latin and saying that Protestants aren't going to hell; imagine if Pope Franky said that gays can go back to mass and receive communion again, and that divorce and sex outside marriage aren't mortal sins. It would create a schism and not a little one; we're talking Protestant Reformation-level stuff.
If you know your history, you know that caused more than a little bit of bloodshed, and by a little I mean the Thirty Years War killed more Europeans than any war until World War I. I'm not saying it'll cause one of the worst wars in human history, but there will certainly be some harsh feelings on both sides that might get escalated.
Pope Franky clearly is one of the most reform-minded and progressive popes in modern history and arguably in all history, but he's also fighting entrenched beliefs and a system that makes our political problems seem like a fight between Harry Potter fans. Francis will ride the great Popemobile to heaven before the church fully accepts homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I'm not going to fault him for not getting the church to do a 180° on a 900-year-old doctrine that shaped Western culture with a strong sermon on an Easter weekend.
You will have Catholic clergy who tell us loudly we're going to hell for years, while other, more progressive clergy will welcome us with open arms, and it will certainly do deep damage to the unity of a faith that has 1.2 billion followers (the total of all Muslims is 1.8 billion), and no, you probably won't be satisfied and happy about the progress it's making. Francis wants to change the church without destroying it, and it will take time. So we need to accept that the Roman Catholic Church wasn't built in a day -- it will take a bit longer to have our gay interior decorator friend remodel it.