Although Pope Francis made global headlines last month by appearing to accept that some priests might have same-sex attractions, it’s easy to forget that the comments, which came at a press conference on his flight back to the Vatican, capped the new pope’s first trip abroad to Brazil, which neighbors former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s native Argentina.
Francis’s comments touched on a wide range of issues, including the role of women in the Catholic Church, but his remarks risk overshadowing that the pontiff’s visit to Brazil, where Francis delivered a mass to three million Brazilians on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, had already been viewed as a massive success, and showcased that Francis is determined to lead a global Church.
What does all of this have to do with Latin American politics?
First, after the perceived hardline doctrinal conservatism of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, the new pope is certainly more media-savvy about communicating that the Catholic Church will be more open than it’s been perceived in previous years. Francis may not necessarily be any more doctrinally liberal about social issues like homosexuality, abortion or birth control, but his tone, warm and unjudging, is much different. The fine print may not even matter if Francis downplays more contentious doctrine in favor of issues of more relevance to economic policymaking. Even though one of Benedict XVI’s three encyclicals covered the topic of the virtue of social justice and the dangers of global development (Caritas in Veritate — ‘Charity in Truth’), published in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, it is instead Francis who has been credited as the pope willing to take the Church’s teachings into the most dangerous corners of the world and to the poorest in society. Francis has spoken out against poverty repeatedly since his election as pope earlier this year and while in Brazil, he toured Varginha, one of Rio’s most notoriously poor and violent favelas.
Secondly, the Catholic Church, which has long been a global church (one out of two Catholics worldwide now lives in the Americas, and three-fourths of the world’s Catholics live outside Europe), now has a truly global leader. Continue reading Pope-acabana: How the Catholic Church and the Latin American middle class could forge a symbiotic electoral majority