St Peters Square March 2013
St. Peter's Square, Rome. Reuters

The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis had the world abuzz Wednesday with talk of a more progressive future for the Roman Catholic Church, but is it all just a lot of chimney smoke and mirrors? Some members of the secular world think so.

A prominent humanist group on Thursday wrote off the world’s first South American pope as representing more of the same archaic thinking that permeates the centuries-old organization -- and serves as an insidious social impediment for the world’s 1.2 billion practicing Catholics. The American Humanist Association, a Washington-based advocacy group that promotes nontheistic views, said Pope Francis brings to the papacy decidedly outmoded opinions on reproductive rights, access to birth control, LGBT equality and the role of women in the church.

In a statement, AHA’s executive director, Roy Speckhardt, said he expected the new pontiff to do little to advance any of the abovementioned social causes. “The election of Pope Francis only means the church’s unacceptable policies of the past will be endorsed with a new signet ring,” Speckhardt said. “The church’s stances on women, same-sex relationships, and access to birth control are centuries out of date and lack compassion.”

Within hours of the pope’s election on Wednesday, Bergoglio’s past views on a variety of hot-button issues were scrutinized by news outlets around the world. In 2010, he spoke out against a proposed measure to legalize same-sex marriage in Argentina, where he served as cardinal. As the New York Times reported then, Bergoglio called it a “destructive attack on God’s plan.” The measure was ultimately approved. Bergoglio has also referred to gay adoption as “discrimination against children,” according to the National Catholic Reporter.

The AHA has rallied against intolerance toward nonbelievers in the past. Last year, as Catholic Online reported, it set up a scholarship fund for Jessica Ahlquist, an atheistic student who says she was targeted with online threats after she fought to have a religious banner removed from her Rhode Island high school.

Speckhardt concluded his statement with what the AHA described as a “silver lining” in Wednesday’s election of Pope Francis. “The Catholic Church’s inability to modernize contributes to the growth of the religiously unaffiliated,” he said. “With a new Pope reinforcing Catholicism’s outdated way of thinking, we humanists and atheists will only increase in numbers.”

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