Wednesday, March 13, 2013


You may not care a bit about who's the titular head of a worldwide religion, even if it is as significant historically as Catholicism. Or you may care only in as much as you despise the ways the Catholic church has covered up sex scandals, opposed equality with women when it comes to the priesthood and other areas, and opposed same sex marriage, abortion and even contraceptives.

Or you may be a practicing Catholic who abhors a lot of the backward policies of your church but still believes in the essential teachings and purpose, which many see as easing life's struggles and promising a heavenly afterlife.

But no matter your feelings about any of this, you can't deny that today was an historically momentous day for this worldwide and still influential institution. As various news outlets have been trumpeting, this pope represents a list of precedents, starting with perhaps the most significant: he's the first non-European Pope since the one considered the first, Peter, who of course ended up in Rome but started out by the Sea of Galillee.

Though of Italian descent (which is partly why he seemed to sail through early voting from the Cardinals, because the Italians didn't block it) he grew up and lived in Argentina. Which means the continent with the largest percentage of Catholics is now represented by a homeboy, so to speak.

He's the first Jesuit pope. Though many "American" Jesuits (i.e. North Americans, which is why I always put that term in quotes when I'm referring to only one section of the Americas) are more liberal, the new pope has been a traditionalist when it comes to a lot of the issues "American" Catholics care about: abortion, contraceptives, ordaining women, priests marrying, accepting gay marriage, etc.

But he is also the first pope to choose the name Francis. Possibly the most popular saint among Catholics, and certainly my favorite, Francis was an eccentric (known as "God's Fool" by some) who represents the most stringent attempt to follow the Jesus of the Gospels by forgoing material and worldly ambition and goods, and not just living in poverty but in harmony with nature, and always serving the poorest and weakest and most vulnerable among us.

By choosing that name, most observers, including this one, feel the new pope is making a gesture to show that his intention is to identify with Saint Francis and what he stood for, which included reforming the church of its material and worldly excesses. Pope Francis demonstrated the humility that was at the root of the original Francis's charisma in some of the first words of his papacy when he asked the crowd to pray for and bless him, asking each do it in their own way silently.

That was another precedent, a pope beginning his reign calling for silence rather than pontificating. The story is that this new pope when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires refused to live in the archbishop's residency and instead lived in a small apartment where he cooked his own food, and also refused the usual limo and driver to instead get around on his own, including walking and taking the bus.

Now whether he can clean up the entrenched Vatican power structure and reform at least the material excesses and outright criminal activity of the cabal that has been running the bureaucracy there is a big question. And whether he has enough humility to listen to the people that really are the church, many of whom would like to see women ordained and priests be allowed to marry and other reforms to what the conservative cardinals call church teachings but are really just traditions started to consolidate the power of particular groups of early church leaders, is another story.

Here's hoping.  

[PS: Damn. Just read something about this guy's complicity in Argentina's "dirty war" as opposed to the small number of Catholic clergy who fought against the generals and in some cases were murdered for their efforts. Guess more will be revealed.]


tom said...

Like you I hope he can begin dealing with the enormous task of cleaning up the vatican and dealing with all of the other issues that the Church faces, including declining membership. His silence (if it was) with the atrocities of the Juntas is very troubling. But there may be more to the story and if true perhaps he has dealt with his quilt with God.

tpw said...

Be that as it may, I was hoping for Pope O'Malley, to be followed over here in a few years by President O'Malley.

Anonymous said...

this new pope is pretty-much "same-old-same-old"
Old School party politic.

an Italian who went to South America in the 70's and was a leader in the Jesuit sect and didn't lift a finger to help the "brothers" who were persecuted and tortured.

the only reason that he is the new pope,
besides the appeal to the majority of Catholics,
is that the Italian cardinals didn't vote against him because he is Italian and "one of the boys"

shame on them !

Anonymous said...

he was born to Italian immigrants in Argentina ...

a news writer failed to mention this and wrote that
"he is an Italian"

just like religions, the media sells myth as if it were truth and testimony centuries removed fro the facts as "gospel" or "law"

mix both politics and religion together and you've go BOLOGNA !

JIm said...
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JIm said...
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JIm said...
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Lally said...

So, turns out he was for civil unions for gay couples and he didn't rule out priests being able to marry. And he's already admonished the faithful to serve the poor and the environment. So far so good.