Liberals can be a rabid lot when it comes to advocating the rights of women and homosexuals, and rightly so. In the United States, these two groups have been the erstwhile targets of a religiously-motivated faction of busybodies who regard others' private lives as worthy of public scrutiny and even legislative action. Those lobbying for the latest mandatory transvaginal ultrasound or prohibition against same-sex marriage will find themselves at the business end of liberals' tattered rhetorical whip.
Yet somehow, the most famous anti-abortion homophobe manages to escape flogging. Not only that, but he enjoys a popularity among liberals that rivals President Obama's. According to a Pew Forum poll conducted in February, the favorability rating of Pope Francis among Americans is as high as it's ever been -- 90% -- despite the fact that the public is (or at least should be) acquainted with the pontiff's socially regressive positions on issues that liberals hold near and dear.
According to Pew, an astounding 74% of liberals have a favorable view of Francis in what can most plausibly be explained as the inevitable byproduct of the charity that accompanies low expectations. As the world's preeminent institutional bastion of misogyny and homophobia for 2,000 years running, the Catholic Church has set the moral bar so low, anything that deviates from the usual condemnatory claptrap is widely seen as "progress." Hence the naive and forgiving gaze with which American liberals look at the pope, as well as the delusional starry-eyed declarations of a "revolution at the Vatican."
Of course, the pope has certainly helped his own cause by using inclusive-sounding language. Shortly after his inauguration, he was asked about the possible presence of gay clergy in the Church's ranks and famously replied, "Who am I to judge?" He also raised eyebrows early in his papacy when he seemed to suggest that atheists are allowed into heaven, an idea that was quashed by a subsequent statement from the Vatican indicating that salvation only comes through acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice.
It's tempting to be distracted by Francis' superficial niceties and ascribe to them a significance they don't actually possess given the historically hardline positions the Church has taken on social issues. To do so, however, is to ignore some unpleasantries that blow the Francis-is-a-reformer narrative to kingdom come. Regarding women's issues, Francis maintains that abortion is "a sin against god," has excommunicated a priest who advocated women's ordination, and "has repeatedly embraced the traditional Catholic view that a woman's role is in the home." In true papal fashion, he also opposes artificial birth control and has called women (and men) who choose not to have children "selfish."
As for homosexuals, despite employing some friendlier and less judgmental rhetoric than his predecessor, Francis is very much opposed to any measures that would normalize homosexuality for the plain fact that he thinks it deviant and sinful. Last year, he gave the opening statement at an anti-gay conference held by one of the church's most ultra-conservative and homophobic clergymen. Two months later, he declared, "The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life."
When these words spew forth from the mouths of Republicans -- and they surely have innumerable times -- the response from liberals is swift and unforgiving. Yet when they emanate ex cathedra, they largely go ignored thanks in some part to the reflexive reverence many have for the position he holds, and in another part to a sincere desire to believe that the most famous religious figure in the world thinks as they do.
Alas, he does not.