Thursday, March 14, 2013

The First American Pope

(or, simply, Pope Francis--we don't know if there will ever be a second Francis...)

As y'all are surely aware, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have elected a new pope--Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit priest from Argentina, who will go  by the regnal name of Francis.  Now, as a programming note, I do have a follow-up post to Tuesday's discussion on the local controversy over Christian invocations at our city council meetings, but that will likely have to wait for next week.  This is, as Joe Biden might say, a BFD.

I call Francis the first American pope in the title of this post because he hails from the Americas--as opposed to simply the United States.  It is important for me to remember as an "American" that my neighbors belong to the same hemisphere I do, and that my name is theirs' as well.

But that symbolism aside, I am very much heartened by Francis's election.  He looks to be as doctrinaire as Benedict XVI was on matters of sexual morality and family values, and it is true that I will not always agree with him on all of those things.

But holy cow, what a change in the tone of ministry!

Benedict--who I have criticized at times here on this blog for being out-of-touch--was in many ways a theologian first and a pastor second.  That isn't a bad thing at all, if you're a university professor or a researcher or anything of the sort.  But it did make it difficult for me (and many others, I suspect) to hear and listen to Benedict, especially in comparison to his genial predecessor, John Paul II.  I don't say this to be anti-intellectual--I say this as someone who is reasonably intelligent (all things considered!) himself who had to realize as a teenager that he couldn't just skate through life on smarts alone.

Francis, on the other hand, as this Washington Post article puts it so well, "represents a flashback to an old-school view of the Catholic leaders as humble, soft-spoken clerics who walked among their flock and led by example."

For all of Benedict's intellectual strengths, he never came across as the type to walk among his flock.  He was set apart, first as prefect of the watchdog Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then as pope.  The stories that are emerging of Francis as a down-to-earth, modest fellow who takes public transit, wears second-hand clothes, and forgoes official bishopric residences, strikes a very different--and, I think, necessary--tenor to the papacy.

I haven't mentioned yet the colossal sex abuse scandal and how Francis might approach it, but I do hope--similarly to other things I have noted here already--that he would prove to be less tone-deaf than Benedict in enforcing a very strict zero-tolerance policy, as opposed to taking the route of Benedict (and John Paul II before him) of giving pedophile-protecting prelates like Bernard Cardinal Law a plum retirement in Rome, far away from the law enforcement of the United States.  More than anything else, Francis cannot be seen as anything but uncompromisingly dedicated to ridding the Catholic church and its hierarchy of pedophiles and those who shield them from legal consequences.

Finally, I must confess that I take great optimism in the name that Francis chose for himself.  The Vatican confirmed that Francis did so in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, himself an extremely humble and pious champion of the poor and the outcast.  Again, Benedict--for all his strengths--never measured up the way I truly wished he would in this regard: he always came across as more concerned with enforcing doctrine than with championing the least among us.  Which is very much understandable when you consider Benedict's previous gig as prefect of the CDF.  But being prefect of the CDF is very different from being pope, and relishing the doctrine rather than the people is not very pastoral in mine eyes.

These are all just a jumble of thoughts that I have had over the past 24 hours since Francis was elected.  My prayers are with him and with his entire flock.  May he serve the cause of Christ well and faithfully, with love and and compassion for his followers and non-followers alike.

Yours in Christ,

No comments:

Post a Comment