I know, I know. He was elected last week, I’m behind, I get it… BUT, the new Pontiff was only inaugurated today so technically, I’m still with the times.
‘My name is Francesco and I come from far away.’
With the ever-growing multitude of problems facing the Catholic Church, a vast majority of her 1.1 billion members need to know whether Pope Francis will really bring about the progress that his initial actions seem to represent, or will the Church continue to be dogged by conservatism and the anti-modernism that has caused so many youths to defect from her teachings. In this, a slightly more serious than usual post, I will attempt to dissect the man formerly known as Jorge Bergoglio, in terms of his policies, his stances on traditional issues, and most importantly: what he will bring to Catholicism.
A New World Pope: We tend to forget that the Catholic Church was actually founded in the heart of the Middle-East. We have a tendency to casually gloss over the fact that our first Pope, St Peter (one of the twelve disciples) was actually a fisherman from the village of Bethsaida in modern-day Israel. Francis, of Italian descent but Argentinian birth, is the first Pontiff from the Americas, a place that is largely considered in Catholic fundamentalist terms to be ‘the New World’. In fact, Francis is the eleventh non-European to be raised to the Papacy by the College of Cardinals. In saying that, he is the first from the Americas AND the first non-European since 741 AD. There’s no doubt that his appointment represents a serious break from tradition in the Vatican.
Social Justice: No more ridiculously-pointy, golden-topped Pope hats with golden chains and staffs so finely-crafted they would make Gandalf himself jealous. No more fancy crosses and shiny black limousines that take you from one side of St Peter’s square to the other. Bergoglio is said to be a simple man. When he was made a Cardinal, he refused the palatial Vatican apartment that was offered to him and instead opted to stay in his own modest accommodation. He also took public transportation and reportedly cooked his own meals. No-one wants a Pope who can’t cook the bread he blesses, right? Seriously though, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and later as a Cardinal, Bergoglio advocated a policy of social equality. He has made it his primary concern to shift Vatican concern from amassing fortunes in secret Swiss vaults, to helping out the needy. Francis has already stated his desire to create a ‘Church of the Poor’. He marked his intent to do this on his first official reception, where he presented Argentina’s president Christina Fernandez with books on the Church’s social doctrine.
Humility: There is no doubting that Francis is a modest man. Pictured is the then Bergoglio in 2008, when he visited the Hogar de Christo centre for drug users in Buenos Aires. Here, he washed and kissed the feet of 12 reformed users during a Holy Thursday mass. He did the same in 2001 when he visited 12 HIV-AIDS sufferers in an Argentinian hospice. Francis has made helping the lowly and most down-trodden of Catholics his top priority, which is surely in keeping with the spirit upon which the church was founded.
One can’t help but feel a certain change within the Church. Benedict retired until suspicious circumstances, which could be taken to mean that there is disquiet in the Vatican, something that has been hinted at since the Reformation. In spite of that, there are so many ways in which Francis’s appointment appeases the anti-modernist factions within the church. He is considered to be a traditionalist on issues such as the position of women in the church, contraception, homosexuality and celibacy. He once famously stated that gay adoption was ‘cruelty against children’.
Whether Francesco’s liberal half will be enough to make modernist Catholics disregard the dogmatist side of his persona, has yet to be seen. For now though, we can all be happy that Darth Benedictus is no longer at the helm of the Vatican Empire!