Comment

Memo to the Guardian: Pope Francis is not ageist or sexist

Pope Francis greets some women as he arrives to celebrate a Mass for peace and for the reconciliation of North and South Korea (CNS)

Is Pope Francis an ageist sexist? This article by Joanna Moorhead for Guardian Comment is Free might make one think so.

Moorhead announces “the love-in with Pope Francis is over; or at least it is as far as this Catholic feminist is concerned.”

While the Pope is trying to come to terms with this devastating news I feel compelled to defend his record so far.

First of all what did he say to MEPs yesterday? He said: “In recent years, as the European Union has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful. In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother’, no longer fertile and vibrant.”

The term grandmother generally refers to someone who is of a certain age and therefore she can no longer conceive children. To quibble with this fact is not even annoying it’s just plain tedious. To then take this innocuous reference-which was merely used in the wider context of a plea for Europe to rediscover its “youthfulness of spirit which has made this continent fruitful and great” – as a declaration of war on grandmothers, especially in light of Francis’s track record, is absurd.

For example, only two days after being elected Pope, the time when the media takes most note of what a Pope is saying, Francis told the college of cardinals that young people need the wisdom and knowledge of older people whose insight is like “fine wine that gets better with age.”

Later that year the Pontiff denounced a culutural tendency to “discard the elderly” adding “Grandparents are a treasure,” he said. “Often old age isn’t pretty, right? There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance.”

Finally in September of this year the Pope met 50,00 grandparents and grandchildren in St Peter’s Square telling them: “A people that doesn’t take care of its grandparents and treat them well is a people with no future.”

Moorhead also laments on the basis of yesterday’s remarks that Francis’s “negative labelling of older women suggests that underneath all the warm displays of touchy-feely understanding… Pope Francis is not so very different from the other male-centric leaders of the Catholic church.”

I think most people would think that his telephone call to a victim of rape, to tell her she is not alone, is indicative that he is concerned about the welfare of women. In the same month that Francis celebrated grandparents he also appointed five new women to the International Theological Commission significantly increasing female presence in the Church’s area of theological research.

Although Moorhead is an arch defender of the older woman, the irony is that she concludes her article with a phrase that I suspect might have been inspired by a teenager’s diary complaining about their form teacher: “He might want to spend a bit of time listening to that smart woman’s views about the real lives of real women, particularly older ones, in the real world.” Yeah, like totally?

If Moorhead needs reassuring about Francis’s willingness to listen to the problems of the “real world” I have two words for her: ‘Family Synod.’ Google it.