Wednesday, March 13, 2013



That sure was a shocker.

The Cardinals have selected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, as our new pope. Cardinal Bergoglio is now Pope Francis.

At mass Monday morning, the pastor of one of the churches we attend in Naperville said in his homily that we can’t predict who will be pope. I agreed with that, though I took issue with the examples he used. He said that no one could have predicted that either the Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla nor the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would have been selected by the papal conclave. Wrong. Cardinal Ratzinger was the heavy favorite going into the 2005 conclave that selected him, a near shoo-in. Cardinal Wojtyla, though not known much outside Church circles in Europe, was one of the contenders at the 1978 conclave at which John Paul I was chosen. Wojtyla was a favorite, or near favorite, entering the conclave only weeks later that selected him to succeed John Paul I. Anyone could have predicted Ratzinger, and most people, at least inside the conclave, could have predicted Wojtyla.

But just about no one would have predicted Bergoglio, even though he was supposedly the runner-up eight years ago when Benedict XVI was chosen. He was considered, by 2013, too old and having had his chance. He was mentioned almost only in passing as being among the papabile. I was teaching when the announcement was made and, heading home and listening to CNN on satellite radio (Satellite radio is one of the world’s great inventions, but I digress.), I thought someone had made a mistake and meant Scherer of Brazil, not Bergoglio of Argentina, of whom I knew nearly nothing.

This is a terrific selection. A Jesuit (Ad majorem Dei gloriam, to be sure!) of any stripe would delight the Jesuit educated yours truly and ought to delight any Catholic; after being God’s paratroopers since the Reformation, the Jebs deserve to have one of their own in charge. A Latin American is only logical and long overdue. Someone from outside the Curia was necessary with the problems that permeate that organization; selecting someone on the inside would indicate that the Church would be trying to avoid a thorough housecleaning in favor of more sweeping of nastiness under the rug.

Beyond the demographics and relationship to the Curia, it is Francis’s personal traits that make him such a wonderful selection. He apparently eschews, to the extent he can, the pomp and circumstance (Some, including yours truly, would use the term “pompousness.”) that seems to permeate the mindset of elements of the clergy and hierarchy. One wonders what the reaction of the world, both Catholic and non-Catholic, was to the Cardinals’ parading around for the past week or so in expensive, elaborate, and ornate robes among the gold and glitter of the Vatican, being chauffeured around and generally kowtowed to. Such showiness and outright silliness stuck in this Catholic’s craw; it seemed as if they were parodying themselves, and the Church, and not being sharp enough to realize it.

It is utterly amazing that a Church that increasingly seems to thrive on its showier aspects has selected such a seemingly humble man to lead it. The signs are all there: He cooks his own meals and takes the bus to work. His crucifix was utterly simple. His bow to the people as he asked for their prayers as the new pope was extraordinary. His call for fraternity, charity, and simple kindness say much about the man. And his appeal to men AND WOMEN of goodwill? Wow!

At least as important, the new Pope seems to be nearly fixated on serving the poor and the sick. His work among AIDS patients is legendary in Argentina. His upbraiding of Argentinean priests for refusing to baptize the babies of single mothers for “turning away our own” is a great sign, if indeed that story is not apocryphal. Priests couldn’t deny baptism to babies of unwed mothers…can they? Maybe I’m being na├»ve here.

I, and many of you, would have liked someone less conservative, more likely to make some major changes in the Church regarding the role of women and married people in its structure and hierarchy. But, as I said in 2/12/13 post THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU, POPE BENEDICT, we weren’t going to get a progressive out of this conclave, in which every participant was selected by John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Yes, Francis is pretty much a down the line conservative in matters of doctrine, but his personal humility and sense of perspective and mission still make him stand out among his brother Cardinals who share his innate conservatism.

Like many observers, I am reminded, when I consider Francis, of no one more than John XXIII, the greatest pope of my lifetime. John was 77 when he was selected; Francis is 76. John was, and Francis is, expected to be a caretaker, to not make any waves and keep the seat warm for the next guy. It didn’t work that way for John; in his own words, he threw “open the windows of the Church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through” by convening Vatican II and changing the Church forever. It seemed at times as if John’s successors were working to render Vatican II irrelevant, and it more than seems that of late many elements of the Church of consider Vatican II to be an obstacle that must be worked around or eradicated, like the mustard seed that sprouts, grows wild, and makes life problematical for those who must contend with its voracious growth. But, like that bothersome mustard seed, Vatican II lives on as a testimony to John XXIII who also was a humble man who came to the Chair of St. Peter with few expectations.

It looks as if, besides being a man of the poor and servant of Christ, Pope Francis is a reformer. That reform may not take the direction that more progressive elements of the Church might like. But, in many ways, there is nothing inconsistent with theological and doctrinal conservatism and a spirit of reform. And God knows our Church needs reform. Pope Francis may be the man to achieve it.

Please join me in saying a prayer for our new Papa and heeding his call for fraternity, charity, and kindness.


Anonymous said...

A step in the right direction. Good post.


Mighty Quinn said...

Thanks, Don, for reading and commenting.

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