[The saga of our indecisive pope continues, as Pope Francis wrestles with whether he should implement instructions he received directly from God regarding women.]
Dear women –
I am writing to you today to ask for your help as I work my way through a very strange and unprecedented situation.
First, some background. As you know, I have become quite the waffler, which is rather embarrassing. My words are by definition infallible, are they not? I make pronouncements, everybody believes them.That's what they told me when I took the job.
But it turns out that even though I am the pope, I am sadly quite fallible.
You may know about my waffling from the two letters I recently published, addressed specifically to you*. Initially, I believed that God spoke to me, instructing me to apologize to women. Which I immediately did, in my first letter. And I felt really good about myself, because God had chosen me for a visitation, and I had carried out his instructions to the letter, and without delay.
My goal was to stop doing stupid things that would get me in trouble. Like apologizing to women.
But then, after I had time to think about the whole episode, I realized that maybe God hadn’t spoken to me after all. Maybe my ambition had driven me to hallucinate a visitation. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made - because God doesn’t talk to popes. We have no record of a single pope, out of all 266 of us, ever having had a chat directly with God. So it looked like I had talked myself into believing that He had spoken to me, and I had erroneously apologized to you. I undertook a rigorous program of self-mortification: I wore a hair shirt, I fasted, and I scourged myself with one of the scourges we have down in the basement of the Vatican museum (where you wouldn't believe the selection of artifacts we have). My goal was to purge myself of ambition and pride, and to force a return to humility so I would stop doing stupid things that would get me in trouble. Like apologizing to you. I then published another letter, retracting my apology.
But it turns out I was wrong to do that. Because, dear women, believe it or not God really does want that apology. He sent his messenger** to disabuse me of the notion that I was hallucinating, and to demonstrate beyond a shadow of doubt that He was not pulling my leg. And let me tell you, He is one serious guy. So now I’m back to believing the whole thing. I’m also retracting my retraction.
There’s just one tiny little problem, and this is where I hope you can help me.
God’s instructions are pretty straightforward: figure out what’s wrong with the church and come up with a plan to fix it. He doesn’t want a complete stem-to-stern examination. He didn’t say a single word about the pedophile priests or the financial scandals at the Vatican bank or a couple other issues we’re trying to keep quiet. No, He just wants me to fix the church in one particular area, and that’s the area around you women. To do this He wants me to assemble a convocation of women only, where I will sit and listen to you tell me what’s wrong and why you’re unhappy with the church.
As you know, the church has always valued women very highly. And as you know, we teach that you are completely equal to us, only you’re different. God does not like me to say equal but different. He thinks it's like separate but equal. Let me assure you, it's not the same. Personally, I love you fervently and have made all kinds of statements in support of you, around equal wages and equal opportunities, respect in the workplace, yadda yadda. So what is the problem? Why are you not happy? What is it that God wants me to fix?
I have been around enough angry women in my time to know that is not going to be a comfortable situation for me.
I’m sure I will have a better idea after the convocation, after I listen to a big roomful of you telling me about all the ways you feel the church has persecuted you and treated you unfairly. I have been around enough angry women in my time to know that is not going to be a comfortable situation for me. Honestly, I dread the experience. When you women are angry you do not summarize your point. You expound. And in this case, when God Himself recognizes that you have reasons to be angry, I fear there is going to be a lot of expounding. For days, probably. On and on and on. And on some more.
Can’t I make one of my bishops do it, and have him just send me the executive summary? No. God wants me personally to sit there and listen to you. I am God’s servant, and so I will. It won’t be very comfortable, but I’ll do it.
And then what?
This is the problem. What happens after I listen to you, when you’ve given me a historical perspective on how the church has treated you unfairly, and I sit through a philosophical discussion of equal rights, and I finally understand what is wrong with the church’s dogma and I develop a plan to update it and fix the problem? How is the church supposed to change what we tell people to believe about women after we’ve spent two thousand years reinforcing what we currently teach people about you?
The result would be chaos. I can give you a tiny little hint of how this might go by showing you some of the Facebook comments my two letters received (from both men and women, by the way):
- What in the world?!?!
- I do not believe Pope Francis wrote this letter.
- I think this is a hoax.
- The dude is a moron.
- It must be fake.
- Another publicity stunt.
- This pope is crazy as a loon. Even if it is a fake he's still crazy.
- This is not real. Totally fake. Not even written like the Pope would speak.
- I smell horseshit.
- Is this for real???
This is just a very small sampling of some of the milder comments. The harsher ones are so ugly I do not even want to reprint them. But you get the gist. Change is hard for people, and big change is so hard that many just can’t do it. They push back, sometimes with violence. Do you remember the Protestant Reformation? Of course you don’t, because it started in 1517. But the church remembers. We remember how it led to the Thirty Years War, the ugliest war Europe has ever seen, and how during that war eight million people died.
Is this what you want?
Is this what God wants?
Dear women, what am I to do? Listen to God and risk causing another religious war? Or keep the church intact, imperfect as it may be, by pretending that He’s a figment of my imagination, and hope He gets tired of telling me what to do and stops visiting me?
Or is there a compromise in there somewhere, a compromise that will achieve His goals without doing too much damage?
I don’t know. I just don’t know. And so I would appreciate your insight. According to God Himself you are the aggrieved party in all this, and so maybe you can see a way out. Because I can’t.
Your confused and struggling servant
**And who was this messenger, you might ask? It’s a very interesting story, too long to go into here, but I can tell you it was the archangel Gabriel in a form that was instantly recognizable to me. And Gabriel’s instructions were to stop with the self-mortification already, and to get a grip because God isn’t joking. Apparently, God doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. Which is funny when you think about it, in light of creatures like duck-billed platypuses. And blobfish. And star-nose moles.