Two new blogs from the Lion:
As a guest of the federal government, the last question you would expect from numerous people is what I think about the new Pope. You would be wrong. I have been asked this question everywhere I walked over the last few days by both fellow guests and those who represent the powers that be. My answer is a mix of hope and pragmatism along with a dash of cynicism.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Gorgoglio is an Italian born in Argentina. The most consistent theme about him in news reports is his humility and simple life style. As cardinal of Buenos Aires, he refused to live in the archbishop's mansion, cooked his own meals, rode the subway and didn't like the title "your Excellency". His first day as Pope, he took a shuttle bus back to his residence and paid his hotel bill and asked the throng in St. Peter's Square to pray for him. He also chose the name Francis. (which should really tweak the Franciscans to see a Jesuit taking on the name of their founder) It is not clear yet whether the name is in honor of Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of San Francisco) or St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary. All of the above is good. The new Pope won't be seen wearing any red Prada booties and is alleged to have a sympathy and empathy towards the poor.
The fact he is a humble man who cares about the poor and isn't interested in a lavish lifestyle is not the reason he was elected. Pope Francis was runner-up to Pope Benedict in the last papal election. (an election in search of a successor similar toJohn Paul II) Pope Francis has worked in the Curia (the bureaucracy which runs the church) so he isn't about to radically alter its operations and was a top leader of the Jesuit order. The quick election means the cardinals were comfortable with him...expect him to maintain the current status quo...believe he is a continuation of the policies and direction of his two predecessors...not a threat to established power structures. If a consensus candidate had not been found...if there was a real desire on some cardinal's part to elect someone more progressive or willing to clean house...it would have taken 4 or 5 days of votes to convince the regressives they didn't have enough to elect their guy and support coalesced behind someone else. Pope Francis is a straight company man.
At 76, with only one lung, it would also seem the cardinals did not want to elect someone who would be around too long, like John Paul II, and whose stamp on the Church will be limited at best. Since almost all of the cardinals were appointed by John Paul II or Benedict, to expect something different is to show an ignorance of both human nature and power structures.
Pope Francis will continue to insists on priestly celibacy. He is opposed to a married clergy and sees no way women can be ordained priests...thus effectively shutting out over 50% of the Church's members from the levers of power and policy. He will promulgate the Church's opposition to abortion and the use of contraceptives and he will proclaim homosexuality a "disordered" condition. As Cardinal of Buenos Aires, he stated allowing homosexuals to adopt children discriminated against the children. Perhaps most troubling are the reports on his actions, or lack thereof, during the "dirty war" in Argentina when tens of thousands of citizens "disappeared" never to be heard from again because of their political views and opposition to the military junta running the government. Pope Francis was essentially silent during this time. While there are stories of him assisting a few individuals avoid being captured by the government, there is also at least one incidence of him turning someone over to them and the impression. consistent with Church support for the Nazi's in Austria, Hungary, Poland and other nations, based on the idea the government was fighting against Marxism, Marxists and atheists and the Church was not going to get in their way. The new Pope opposes liberation theology, the belief the Church's first fundamental option should be to the poor, because many of its proponents used Marxist terms and analysis in their preaching.
The election of the new Pope is trumpeted as an example the Church understands its interests are far less in Europe and far more in a part of the world, Latin America, where over 40% of the world's Catholics live. He will help to slow defections from the Church to evangelical Protestant denominations in Latin America and will better relate to Catholics in Africa and Asia. None of this is particularly attractive or spiritual to me.
I am glad he is humble, rides on buses and in subways, cooks his own meals and isn't caught up in the lavishness available to him as a cardinal or Pope. However, a Latin America Pope, who continues the Church down its current path, is not an occasion for celebration. He has little to say to the generation of American Catholics represented by my children. He will not reverse the trend of a dying priesthood in this country. He will continue to persecute American nuns for concentrating too much on social justice and the poor and not enough on the moral prohibitions of the Church and he will be seen as a another in a long line of church officials trying to reverse the spirit and policies of the Second Vatican Council.
This Pope has had his moment of conscience and appears to have failed. The bishops of Argentina, the new Pope included, have issued a public apology for their lack of action during the "dirty war". I have no expectation he will suddenly grow a conscience when it comes to women in the Church (sexism is a sin) or the Church's dependence on rich, regressive Catholics, or when it comes to taking on the godless march of international corporatism. He seems like a nice man, who chose a nice name and who, when all is said and done, will leave the Church exactly where is was on the day he was elected. I hope I'm wrong.