Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has been elected the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church by the Conclave of Cardinals in Rome. Bergoglio, 76, has chosen the name Francis, thus becoming the first pope to use this name. He is also the first pope from the Americas, first Jesuit in the papacy, and first pope from a Latin American country. The choice seems to be groundbreaking; after all, this is the first non-European pope in 1,200 years; however, Bergoglio is a traditionalist in every sense of the word, much like his predecessor Benedict XVI.
I suppose this is a case of be careful what you wish for. Many of us had called for the selection of a pope from outside of Europe; we also made clear we wanted a younger man who would be open to taking the Church in a new direction. Unfortunately, this is a case of “Meet the new boss; the same as the old boss!” Also, Bergoglio is yet again an older fellow who has some health issues, so it goes without saying this appointment could be seen as a short-term one by the Cardinals who chose him.
As Francis I addressed the crowd in Rome which chanted “Viva il Papa!” he did so with humility in Italian, “Thank you for your embrace.” Bergoglio is known for living a humble life and working to help the poor people of Argentina. Though he is the first pope elected from Latin America, he is of Italian descent (his parents were Italian immigrants) and he was raised in relative austerity in Buenos Aires. While he has clashed with the Argentinian government over the years, it seems that at times this was because he saw actions taken as “a war against God.” These clashes were most notably about things like state sanctioned marriage and adoption by couples of the same gender.
The selection of Bergoglio, while at first seemingly out-or-the-box thinking for an institution seeped in keeping its old ways, is actually a soft choice – and the safest one possible. The Cardinals make it appear as if they are reaching out to what seems to be the future of the Church, the Third World and its non-European majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but in actuality the man is entrenched in keeping things status quo and is not a minority. It is a calculated and yet brilliant selection on the surface; however, Catholics should not be looking for the change they seek anytime soon.
Francis I inherits many difficult things from Benedict, including the priest child abuse and banking scandals, as well as a Church that seems to be losing influence and members worldwide. There is also the issue of how the Vatican deals with people of other faiths and those within the faith whose lifestyles are sometimes radically varied and beyond the influence of Rome. Francis will face tough questions about women in the priesthood, releasing religious from the vow of celibacy, and bringing the laity into more meaningful roles within the Church.
Of course, Bergoglio may surprise us during his tenure. One has to like a man who cooks for himself, takes the train to work, and sells off the diocese’s mansion to live in a simple apartment. Obviously, Bergoglio made himself a citizen Cardinal in Buenos Aires, and any man who has that affinity for the poor has to be someone thinking in the way of Jesus, who said that it was harder for a rich man to get into heaven than it was for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
The world’s Catholics rejoice today as the election of the new Pope radiates feelings of good hope right before the celebration of their most solemn and joyous time of the year: Easter. Only time will tell what kind of Pope Francis I will be; however, some of us are applauding from the sidelines with apprehension, knowing the wait for major change in policy is likely to continue until the next time puffs of white smoke appear above the roof of the Sistine Chapel.
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