Commentary Religion

Contradictions and Conservatism Muddle Hopes for Change Under Jesuit Pope

Bridgette Dunlap

Bergoglio's past statements show a lack of understanding of how fundamental reproductive autonomy is to economic justice.

In the social circles I run in, progressive, moderate, and former Catholics alike were taken aback yesterday by the news that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio will be pope. This is primarily because … he’s a Jesuit! The Jesuits are an order with a reputation for being intellectuals, committed to the poor, suspicious of hierarchy, and regularly in trouble with the Vatican. They are known for founding some of the world’s premiere Catholic-affiliated educational institutions and not generally found in high positions at the Vatican. I do not follow papal politics and didn’t think I had a horse in this race, but I was swept up in the moment of glee, thinking that maybe, somehow, they’d installed one of those rebellious-type Jesuits.

A cursory Google search brought me back to reality. Cardinal Bergoglio, who will be known as Pope Francis, is a vociferous opponent of marriage equality (“a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God”), has claimed permitting gay couples to adopt is discrimination against children, and believes the law should force a rape survivor to carry a pregnancy to term against her will (limited access to abortion in Argentina is “the death penalty”). He is credited with neutralizing the threat of Jesuit liberalism, while praised for maintaining an austere lifestyle associated with the order. He either turned two fellow Jesuit priests over to the Argentine junta or saved them from execution through behind-the-scenes dealing. Or maybe both.

His silence during Argentina’s dictatorship of the late seventies and early eighties, known as the Dirty War, and his alleged assistance to the murderous regime, caused some commentators to decry as a shame upon the Church his nearly successful candidacy for pope the last time around. In 2012, his bishops issued an apology for the failures to protect the people; some saw it as equivocal, but it was still an apology—acknowledgments of guilt are not what Catholic clerics are known for.

There is little cause for optimism in his record on reproductive justice or the rights of sexual minorities.  He is a hardliner on contraception, but has said the use of condoms can be permissible in some circumstances to prevent infection. It’s unclear to me whether his position differs from  Pope Benedict XVI’s, who made a comment to the press suggesting a possible deviation from the accepted orthodoxy, but did nothing in the way of changing course on the church’s influential work to block access to condoms globally.

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Though belied by his position on marriage equality, Bergoglio attests to the dignity of gay people. It is possible he isn’t as extreme as the U.S. bishops who claim to hold the same belief, yet the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently opposed the Violence Against Women Act because it includes explicit protections for people regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. And yet, the position that LGBTQ persons should not even be mentioned in the legislation is a symptom of the kind of hatred that makes people targets of violence. Perhaps Bergoglio believes it is permissible for the democratic state to recognize that people of various gender identities and sexual orientations exist and protect them. More basically, one can hope that he will refrain from legitimizing supporters of the death penalty for gay people as Benedict did.

Bergoglio hails from the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage. So far as I can tell, he was an outspoken critic of the bill, but has not claimed, á la the American bishops, that the adoption of a policy he disagrees with through the political process constitutes a violation of his own religious freedom.

Cardinal Bergoglio endorsed the view that those opposed to the criminalization of abortion should not take communion. He has been more forgiving regarding other sacraments, however. In criticizing priests who refuse to baptize the children of single mothers conceived outside “the sanctity of marriage,” Bergoglio said:

These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized.

Though problematic, this statement contains an unusual recognition of a woman’s autonomy. It acknowledges that a woman chooses whether or to not carry a pregnancy to term. I hope this is because he recognizes a woman’s moral agency and bodily autonomy; at the very least it exhibits an acceptance that a woman has some rights under the law.

On the whole though, Bergoglio’s views on issues of sexuality and reproduction are orthodox and oppressive. I can only hope that in keeping with Jesuit tradition, he will tolerate disagreement and dissent. This would be a major reversal from what observers have called an inquisition under the rule of Joseph Ratzinger as the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog and then pope.

I hope Bergogolio is a man of the people rejecting the trappings of power and dedicated to the poor as portrayed. Still, there is no indication he understands that reproductive autonomy is fundamental to economic justice, but perhaps his stated commitment to alleviating poverty, which is radical by U.S. standards, is genuine and will leave too little time for undermining access to reproductive health care. It takes real work, for instance, to deprive low-income women of contraception as successfully as the Church in the Philippines did. Perhaps Pope Francis will be too busy giving the assets of the Vatican to the poor in the style of his papal namesake St. Francis of Assisi and lobbying for wealth redistribution worldwide for such efforts.

Gary Wills has explained that popes are monarchs in an age of democratic values. The pope is selected by cardinals who were appointed precisely because of their loyalty to orthodoxies long rejected by the laity, particularly regarding the equality of women. In the modern era, Church officials cannot impose their will through force of law as they once did. This allows moderate U.S. Catholics to think of the pope as largely irrelevant and the bishops as out of touch but harmless. That, however, is a luxury of the privileged.

A North American “cafeteria Catholic,” especially an affluent one, is free to disregard the Catholic teachings she finds archaic or unjust and continue to enjoy and support the Church for the value she finds in it. Others, however, who lack resources or the protections of a government that separates church from state can’t just look away. The Catholic Church is an extremely powerful influence on the policies and conditions that determine whether a person who is marginalized can access reproductive healthcare, afford contraception, enjoy legal equality, or seek redress for sexual abuse.

My fear is that the good will moderate and liberal Catholics feel towards Jesuits, and Bergoglio’s forceful advocacy for the poor will put a pleasing face on an institution that must be held accountable by its members. Catholics legitimize and fund the Church and they have some responsibility to those it harms.  It is not enough for cafeteria Catholics to say they don’t agree with everything the Church does.

As critics are regularly told, the Church is not a democracy. I accept that and have exercised my right of exit, but I admire the internal dissenters who stay and seek to reform the church, both for their commitment to their own beliefs and the importance of reform to those who cannot exit as easily as I did. I believe more cafeteria Catholics need to join the Catholic reformers. One thing we can all learn from the accusations against Cardinal Bergoglio regarding his conduct during the Dirty War is that the silence of the privileged can look a lot like complicity.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

Commentary Sexuality

Auntie Conversations: Black Women Talk Sex, Self-Care, and Illness

Charmaine Lang

These auntie conversations were just as much about me as they were about my aunts and mama. I really want to know what to expect, what to anticipate, and perhaps, even, what not to do as I age and grow in relationships so that I, too, can have a fulfilling and healthy partnership.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

“You’re just being nosy,” one of my aunts said, after I asked her if she enjoyed having sex with her husband. I assured her this was all part of a research project on the intimate lives of Black women. She relented a bit, but still gave me the side-eye.

I’ve been engaged in archival research for the last year. While the personal letters of Black women writer-activists and the newspapers of the Third World Women’s Alliance are remarkable and informative, they provide little insight into the intimate lives and sexual desires of Black women. After all, sex improves our mood and alleviates stress: That immediate gratification of pleasure and release is a way to practice self-care.

So on a recent trip home to Los Angeles, I asked my aunties to share their stories with me at a little gathering they threw in my honor.

And they did.

I asked them: “What’s your sex life like?” “Do you want to have sex?” “Are you and your husband intimate?” “You know … does he kiss you and hold your hand?” And I learned that contrary to tropes that present us as either asexual mammies or hypersexual jezebels, the Black women in my life are vulnerable and wanting love and loving partners, at all stages of life.

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Between 1952 and 1969, my maternal grandmother had six daughters and one son. All of them grew up in South Central Los Angeles, witnessing white flight, the Watts riot of 1965, and the crack epidemic. At the same time, the women have kept the family intact. They are the ones who always plan big dinners for the holidays and organize food drives for their churches. And they arranged care of their mother toward the end of her life. I’ve always wondered how they were able to prioritize family and their own desires for intimacy.

So I asked.

My 57-year-old aunt who is a retired customer service representative living in Pomona, California, told me: “My lifetime of sex consisted of first starting off with getting to know the person, communicating, establishing companionship. Once that was done, the sex and intimacy followed. When you’re younger, you have no frets. You experiment all the time.”

I wanted to know more.

“You’re not just trying to get in our business? You’re actually going to write something, right?” was my mother’s response.

When asked about the state of her sex life, my 59-year-old aunt, a social worker, said: “I am a married woman without a physical sex life with my husband. His illness has a lot to do with this, along with the aging process.”

My Pomona aunt went into more detail about how as we get older our ability and desire changes.

“You try to keep pace with pleasing your partner, and he tries to please you. But it is hard when you are a full-time worker, wife, and mother, and you commute to work. You’re tired. Hear me: You’re tired; they are not. You grow older, gain weight, and get sicker. You start to take medicine, and all that affects your ability and desire to perform.”

“For me, in a nutshell, [sexual activity] feels like work: I don’t feel excited. When it happens, it happens,” she said.

I learned the combination of energy spent on wage work, domestic labor, and mothering is draining, dissipating the mood for sex or intimacy. A husband who does not have the same domestic responsibilities has more energy for sex. The unbalanced load equates to differences in desire.

I wondered: Did my aunts talk to their partners about this?

Illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer, can cause anxiety, depression, and fatigue, which interrupt lovemaking. Talking to a partner can help to create a new normal in the relationship.

However, as my social worker aunt made clear, “It takes two to talk openly and honestly, which I find very difficult most of the time.”

“To be vulnerable is hard because I do not want to get hurt emotionally, so I protect my heart from harm,” she explained. “[My husband and I] can be harsh and curt to each other at times, which leads to me shutting down and not expressing my true feelings. My husband can be prideful and unwilling to admit there are issues within the relationship.”

Aunt April, a 47-year-old Los Angeles teacher, had some things to share too. “My love life is complicated. After suffering an overwhelming and devastating loss in 2011 of my husband and mate of nearly 20 years, I’m very hesitant to fully try again.”

She hasn’t dated since 1991. After much counseling, grieving, and encouragement from her 12-year-old daughter, she decided to give it a try.

“I have been seeing someone, but I have a lot of fear that if I relinquish my heart to him, he will die. So, I think about sabotaging the relationship so that I don’t have to get to know him and start worrying about his well-being and wondering if he feels the same way I do. In my mind, it’s easier to be casual and not give too much of my heart,” she said.

Intimacy, then, is also about being vulnerable in communicating how one feels—and open to all possibilities, even hurt.

As a 34-year-old queer Black woman figuring out my dating life, my aunt’s words about communication struck me. At times I can be guarded, too, fearful of letting someone get close. I started to ask myself: “What’s my sex life like?” and “What role does intimacy play in my life as I juggle a job and doctoral studies?”

These auntie conversations were just as much about me as they were about my aunts and mama. I really want to know what to expect, what to anticipate, and perhaps, even, what not to do as I age and grow in relationships so that I, too, can have a fulfilling and healthy partnership.

“I enjoy sex more now then I did before,” my mama, Jackie, said. Now 55, she remarried in 2013. She lives in Gilbert, Arizona, and works in the accounting and human resource field. “My husband loves me unconditionally; with him, I’m more comfortable. It’s more relaxing.”

My mama expressed her ability to enjoy herself with her husband because of the work she put into loving herself and prioritizing her needs.

I always talk to my mama about my dating life: heartbreaks and goals. She always says, “Learn to love yourself first.” It really isn’t what I want to hear, but it’s the truth. Self-love is important and central to the success of any relationship, especially the one with ourselves. My social worker aunt often takes trips to the spa and movies, and my aunt April is an avid concertgoer. They have found ways to have intimacy in their lives that is not informed by their relationship status.

The journey to self-love can be arduous at times as we discover parts of ourselves that we don’t like and want to transform. But with much compassion and patience, we can learn to be generous with the deepest parts of ourselves and each other. And isn’t that a necessary part of intimacy and sex?

The stories shared by my womenfolk reveal a side of Black women not often seen in pop culture. That is, Black women older than 45 learning how to date after the loss of a partner, and finding love and being intimate after 50. Neither mammies nor jezebels, these Black women, much like the Black women activists of the 1960s and 1970s I study, desire full lives, tenderness, and love. My aunts’ stories reassure me that Black women activists from decades past and present have intimate relationships, even if not explicit in the body of literature about them.

The stories of everyday Black women are essential in disrupting dehumanizing stereotypes so that we can begin to see representations of Black women that truly reflect our experiences and dynamic being.