“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” Pope John XXIII
History was made today as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aries Argentina was elected on the 5th ballot of the Papal Conclave. The pick surprised most Popesperts and Popenosticators around the world who assumed that an old Italian would be the next new Pope, with the church having grown tired of Central Europeans.
But those Popesperts and Popenosticators were wrong my friends, the church elected a man that hails from the South of America. This Pope was not a European, or an Italian, no he is an Italian-South American, born to Italian immigrants in Argentina. That is almost as good as being from South Philadelphia without the Rocky Balboa accent.
Personally I was hoping for a Canadian Pope who would call himself “Pope Bob” but I was disappointed as was most of Canada, especially Terrance and Phillip. But I can live with an American from a different part of America even if it is Argentina.
Now all kidding aside this was a historic occasion. First Cardinal Bergoglio is the first non-European to be elected Pope since Peter the Apostle. Second he is from the Western Hemisphere, which means that he is from our side, the American side of the world. That has never happened before. A thing is that he is a Jesuit. Once again a first, because despite their power and influence there has never been a Jesuit Pope until now and since he is Jesuit this means that he must be a Boston College fan, vice a son of Notre Dame.
Cadnal Bergoglio was not just a first but he also decided to be a first. He chose the name Pope Francis. This is the first time a Pope has chosen that name. There have been 23 Johns, though one never existed and one was an anti-Pope, which is kind of like anti-Matter and doesn’t count in the statistics weaning there were really only 21 Johns. There have been 16 Gregory’s and 16 Benedict’s, 14 Clements and 13 each of Leo and Innocent as well as a dozen named Pius. There have been 9 Stephens and 9 called Boniface, 8 each of Urban and Alexander, 6 each of Adrian and Paul and five each of Celestine and Nicholas. There were also 5 named Sixtus which I believe is a Yahtzee.
But Francis is a first, though as of yet we do not know if the new Pope Francis has taken the name of Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan who was a big fan of the poor and upsetting the rich and powerful or Francis Xavier, who was an early Jesuit missionary who died in Japan it is still quite interesting. Francis of Assisi challenged the riches of the imperial church choosing poverty and service over riches and power, though he was born into a rich family. He also stripped himself naked in a cathedral to show that he was not a fan of the rich trappings of power and money. That would not go over well in most churches today. It would be kind of interesting to see the new Pope do that but the thought of an old man stripping himself naked in church is not really appealing to me.
Now Pope Francis is an interesting choice. He is a man of outward contradictions which should drive people on both the political and religious right and left absolutely bonkers and from what I am reading and listening to here in the United States it seems that neither liberals or conservatives really understand him.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio washes the feet of drug addicts
He is a man who has lived a life that at least outwardly is one of humility and who has distanced himself from the outward trappings of clerical power. He eschews pomp and privilege and is considered by many to be kind of frumpy. He shunned the Archbishop’s palace and limo in Buenos Aries in favor of a small apartment and commuting to work on a bus. I find that refreshing.
He has also been a stalwart voice of opposition to the unrestrained economic Social Darwinism and materialism of modern Capitalism. That should piss off Paul Ryan and the Ayn Rand crowd to no end. That being said he is also a vociferous opponent of Gay rights, Gay marriage, contraception and abortion which certainly will enrage much of the political left.
He has said: “The suffering of innocent and peaceful continues to slap us, the contempt for the rights of individuals and peoples are so far away, the rule of money with his demonic effects as drugs, corruption, trafficking people, including children, along with material and moral poverty are big problems.”
Those things being a matter of record the new Pope Francis appears to have done many things to at least show the face of a man of compassion. This compassion extends to the victims of AIDS, a more human and gracious treatment of homosexuals as well as those women who have made the difficult choice of obtaining an abortion even though he opposes both. His overriding concern for the poor in the face of the rich is again part of that compassion.
Dictator General Jorge Rafael Videla and Argentine Primate Cardinal Raúl Francisco Primatesta
To further muddy the waters there are credible allegations that as a bishop under the military dictators of Argentina that he was complicit in some of their crimes against the Argentinian people and even clergy persecuted by the regime. Those who testified to this included members of his own Jesuit order who had been imprisoned by the Argentine military rulers, as well as the deaths of clergy killed by the regime including Bishop Enrique Angelelli in 1976. One of those leaders, General Jorge Rafael Videla was found guilty of killing 31 people in December. Videla has said that “the church was definitely consulted” during what is now called “The Dirty War” in which an estimated 30,000 civilians were “disappeared.” One priest, the Reverend Rubén Capitanio told a panel of judges that “The attitude of the church was scandalously close to the dictatorship to such an extent that I would say it was of a sinful degree.”
Historian Kenneth P. Serbin noted that “Patriotism came to be associated with Catholicism so it was almost natural for the Argentine clergy to come to the defense of the authoritarian regime.”
The now Pope Francis is accused of having hidden political prisoners of the Argentinian Navy from a delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on a church owned island retreat, his summer home. Others were complicit in the crimes of that regime which no senior Catholic cleric in Argentina has either admitted complicity or asked forgiveness though the church, though in 2012 the church issued a blanket apology. But again the record of Bergoglio is clouded. Some have testified that he protected them from the death squads of the period and assisted in the release of priests imprisoned by the military government.
So despite the cheering crowds in St Peter’s Square tonight and despite the uncritical acclaim being lavished on the new Pope by pundits on the right and left who assume that he is a man after their own heart, there are questions about him. Some are hopeful and some to be quite frank, are disturbing.
Now as for what I think. I don’t know yet. My first impression which came from watching how the new Pope conducted himself when he was introduced was quite positive. He does appear to be a humble man and to me that matters. I am one that actually cares for what happens in the Roman Catholic Church because at least in our Western Christian tradition it is our Mother Church, even for those of us who are not in communion with it. The Roman Catholic Church has many times been a force for good and justice, even as many times it has fallen woefully short of its heritage that was given to it by Jesus and for which many Catholics died as witnesses of over the centuries.
I hope that Pope Francis will do many good things and help reform the Church. I pray that he will lead it through the many crisis that it faces and forcefully speak for the least, the lost and the lonely and give grace to those most in need of it. I pray that he will bring about a new ecumenism which will not be based on Roman primacy, but on the openness that first came into being during Vatican II. I pray that he will show all of us that he is more than any one of us encumbered by our theology, politics or social agenda may want to imagine him to be.
Maybe that is naive on my part. But then I am not naive, I am quite a realist and sometimes quite cynical. But I also am a man how believes that none of us is simply the sum of our past and that no matter what our past successes and failures may be that we do not have to be their prisoner. I believe that Pope Francis is capable like so any other unlikely Popes can surprise all of us. I hope in my heart of hearts that this man will be like Pope John XXIII and help bring new life into a Church that is ridden by scandal and dying in much of the world.
Now I recognize that Pope Francis is a complicated and imperfect man. I do not think that he can be categorized simply as a conservative or liberal, traditionalist or progressive. If anything all of those traits probably run through his spirit. My prayer, is that he will do many good things as Pope and when he feels that it is time to retire or the time that God calls him home that the Church will be in better shape than when he became Pope Francis.
All that being said I do commit to pray for Pope Francis. I wouldn’t want his job.
I end this article praying for the new Pope and the people of God,