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What Exactly Is Cool About the Cool Pope?

As far as progressive allies go, Pope Francis is exhaustingly useless

Pope Francis, the cool pontiff everybody adores, says abortion is like Nazi eugenics, only “with white gloves,” and that only straight parents can have a family. It’s lovely, isn’t it, to be reminded by this sort of outlandish, irresponsible comment how even the kindly face of a “progressive” theological rebrand subscribes to the regressive hate that has been the Roman Catholic Church’s trademark for more than a millennium.

Every time Francis racks up cred for saying that evolution is real (very brave) or gracing the cover of Rolling Stone (very countercultural), it should be noted that as far as woke allies go, he has roughly the same effect as that Saint Christopher statue on your dashboard.

He’s an advertisement. A nice hologram.

As a lapsed Catholic, I loved the prestige HBO drama The Young Pope because it gave us an intimate, surrealist portrait of a reactionary, dogmatic weirdo in charge of the Holy See. What I don’t love is a real-life old pope, leader of a spiritual community 1.3 billion strong, who never misses a chance to utter something revoltingly homophobic, transphobic or plain cruel toward women seeking a promotion within his spooky religion.

This behatted virgin needs to shut the hell up on the subjects of overpopulation and HIV/AIDS if he can’t find the guts to overturn the Vatican’s archaic stance on contraceptives (or expects us to take his vaguest statements on the matter as tacit approval for condom use). His policies are killing the people he purports to care about. The headline “Pope Francis Reminds the World to Care About Poverty” is as perfect a distillation of this figurehead’s brand of lip-service as I can possibly offer.

But yay, awesome, he’s “a liberal.” He promised to baptize aliens! He grants us the occasional amusing shitpost on Twitter. And he’s not, of course, a recovering Nazi. Still, you may have noticed it took him five years on the throne to do jack shit in terms of addressing a global epidemic of clerical sexual abuse, undoubtedly the single most appalling internal crisis Catholicism has faced in the past 40 years. He’s willing to criticize Trump in the broadest terms, for example over migrant family separation — the lowest of bars to clear — but agreed to a photo-op with the president, presumably because he knew his passive-aggressive body language would make for some killer memes. Just the sort of moral ambiguity he excels at.

It’s a little bit [thinking face emoji] that Pope Francis likes to confusingly criticize “populism” when he’s “been accused of a complicit silence and worse during the ‘dirty war’ of murders and abductions carried out by the junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983,” as the Guardian put it. What sort of role did he play in that era’s anti-communist terror? We don’t know! (Man, that guy and his secrets.) Also, when he comes up against controversy — his decision to canonize an 18th-century missionary imperialist who forced Christianity on Native Americans in California comes to mind — he has a habit of completely ignoring a marginalized community. Then he turns back around and says the rest of us have forgotten those people.

Even with an arch-conservative cabal plotting his downfall — and fascism resurgent globally, not to mention in his backyard — the Bishop of Rome stops at condemning war crimes and authoritarianism in the blandest way, and he won’t lift a finger to rid the church of its toxic far-right goblins. It’s not a great look considering he heads an institution long criticized for its policy of “strict neutrality” throughout World War II and the Holocaust. Nevertheless, we endure profiles of him as an “anti-strongman” who can change the course of our dystopia as he meditates in his personal museum of Renaissance art. Can that… please… stop?

Besides running air cover for his ancient regime of barbarity, this guy is exhaustingly useless. Catch me not going to confession for saying so.