Who Is Pope Francis & What Does He Stand For?

Pope Francis

The election of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, marks a historic shift for the Catholic Church. But exactly how much can we expect to change? After all, modernization of the institution isn't exactly what you'd call fast-paced—it's the exact opposite.

On topics from abortion and same sex marriage to premarital sex and birth control, the Catholic Church's stance has been constant. So reliabe, in fact, that even as society evolves and some view the conservative opinions of the Church to be stale, the institution refuses to waver. John Paul II (Pope from 1978 to 2005) made it abundantly clear that, unlike many state governments, the Catholic Church is not a democracy and wouldn't sway simply as the congregation becomes more progressive. So how does the first Argentinean Pope's views line up with those of the Church over which he know presides?

Same-Sex Marriage
While nine states (so far) have legalized same-sex marriage, and President Obama doesn't believe moral opposition to the idea is reason enough to justify unequal treatment, Catholics shouldn't expect the new pontiff to change the views of the Church as he remains squarely anti-gay marriage. Francis voiced his opinions on the subject when the Argentinean president successfully legalized same-sex marriage in 2010 stating, "This is no mere legislative bill. It is a move by the father of lies to confuse and deceive the children of God."

Same-Sex Couples Adopting
Since Francis is stringently anti-gay, it would be a radical shift in ideology for him not to also refute same-sex couples adopting children. Suffice it to say he also shares the conservative belief by the Catholic Church that gay couples should not be allowed to adopt children. In 2010, Francis wrote to the four monasteries in Argentina: "At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God," and called into concern the survival of family when same-sex couples adopt children.

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It's no secret that the Catholic Church is strongly opposed to abortion in all forms and cases—a stance Francis also takes, having equated it to the death sentence in a 2007 speech, saying that although Argentina doesn't have a death penalty, "a child conceived by the rape of a mentally ill or retarded woman can be condemned to death.”

Birth Control and Pre-Marital Sex
If there's a topic Francis is malleable on, it's contraception. A recent Gallup poll found 82 percent of American Catholics view contraceptive use "morally acceptable," while the new pontiff (along with the Church) believes the use of condoms is permissible in preventing diseases like HIV. However, since he doesn't support the use of contraceptives as forms of birth control—only in prevention of disease—and publicly opposed free distribution of them in Argentina, it's not likely the Church's opinion on the subject will change while he holds papal office. And, although Francis agrees with social doctrine regarding condoms, his stance on premarital sex is very much aligned with that of the Catholic Church, so it'll likely still be strictly verboten.

As far as divorce is concerned, well, the Catholic Church would rather you stay married. You did, after all, accept each other for better or for worse and so on and so forth. They will, however, give annulments, and that's probably how it will remain while Francis is pope.

So where might we see change if not on the social issues that receive increasingly progressive opinions from Catholics today? The fact that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pontiff would seem like a step toward papal reform since the Jesuit order is seen as particularly liberal among Catholics. And while Francis shunned vanity in favor of celebrating Mass with the poor (he famously washed and kissed the feet of AIDS patients in Argentina), he comes from the same conservative tradition as the last two popes.