Not being a Catholic, it was with mild interest that I began to watch and read about the election of a new Pope. Being a cleric myself there was a kind of professional interest in any and all things religious both inside and outside institutions. I must admit the endless coverage in the press soon began to wear thin with me. I was relieved when finally a puff of white smoke indicated that the end was near. A new Pope had been selected.
I must admit I was a little excited at the unexpected selection of Cardinal Jorges Mario Bergoglio of Argentina (of all places) far from the center of Catholic power and church politics. He chose the name of Francis for himself in honour of St. Francis of Assisi, everyone favourite Saint. This Pope was different, an outsider perhaps who lived "humbly and walked with his God" among and for the poor. He certainly has a style about him that differentiated him from the other "Princes of the Church". Perhaps, with this conclave of of conservative establishment Cardinals, the Holy Spirit may have worked in mysterious ways. Here perhaps was a Pope who could bring change to an institution which once promised change with Vatican II and has ever since retrenched restoring much of pre-Vatican II views and values.
My opinion of Jorges Mario Bergoglio during the rule of the Junta in Argentina is that he supported the establishment, as evil as it was. Like all of the Catholic leadership at that time he" went along to get along." This is the history of establishment churches. when faced with great political and secular evil. Perhaps, we should not have expected more from him.
For those who are not familiar with the dirty war of Argentina is was a period of their history when a group of right wing military generals took over and ruled the country in a cruel and dictatorial way. It was all part of Operation Condor
, which the United States backed. Any opposition was viciously attacked and punished. People were taken into custody imprisoned, tortured and murdered. Some were even thrown alive out of airplanes into the ocean. Women prisoners who were pregnant had their babies taken away and given to government people to raise as their own. The mothers were then murdered. Years later some people came to learn that their "adoptive" parents were among the very people who murdered their biological parents. This was a style at the time of right wing military government in several South and Central American countries. North Americans may be more familiar with Chile and El Salvador at this time.
Father Bergoglio has this stain on his record. I like to think he is troubled by his failure of faith, which will motivate him.
I would like to point out. in stature, Pope Francis is no Archbishop Oscar Romero
who openly opposed the similar right wing government of El Salvador and died at the hands of a death squad as he raised the chalise at the end of the Eurcharist in his church. The leader of that death squad, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson,
like so many of the military leaders in South and Central America was trained in part at the School of the Americas,
a US military institution that trained officers in counter revolutionary tactics, including torture. It continues to do so today, in spite of regular protests calling for it's closure. Father Romero is considered one of the great Spiritual leaders of the 20th Century, along with Princess Elizabeth of Hesse
, ( a granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Martin Luther King, Jr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer
. In Westminster Abbey in London there is a gallery of sculptures of 20th Century Martyrs
which includes these four who confronted evil directly.
Pope Francis is a theological conservative like most of the other Cardinals. Those who are progressives never get to be invited to join this club. I would be interested if the Pope ever considered Liberation Theology which was very popular in South and Latin America among front time priests who were working with the poor. Archbishop Romero was an advocate of Liberation Theology.
" It was a moved movement that saw the role of religion was to transform society to change the lives of the poor. It was a left wing movement and made the hierarchy of the church and the political elites nervous for what it shared with Marxist social thinkers. The Catholic church eventually purged its clergy of this radical theology largely through the efforts of that Vatican Institution " Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
" which was once in a previous form the institution that brought about the Inquisition.. Pope Benedict, when he was Father Ratzinger was involved with this institution that protected the purity of the Faith. Without a form of Liberation Theology I wonder if Pope Francis can bring about improvements among the poor.
It seems to me Pope Francis concern for the poor , while it is sincere, springs out of a personal sense of piety. He has taken as his style life and religiosity that of humility, simple living and genuine love and empathy for others.. This is fine as far as it goes but does not go far enough, unless he by example and instruction can cause others to join him in a more charitable way of treating the poor. He seems to have made a virtue of being poor as he lives a poor style of life and associates with the poor. But being poor is no virtue. It is a cruel and humanity sapping existence in which people cannot realize their full life possibilities. To bring about change for the poor requires efforts to make them the "not poor" eventually. This requires systemic change. Society must be challenge to change in such ways as to improve the lot of the poor. Being charitable is not enough.. Systemic change is not well received. We need only learn about Venezuela to know this. Hugo Chavez made systemic change in Venezuela and reduced the number of poor and saw that the poor got important services
to improve their lives. The Catholic Church in Venezuela even today after years of progressive social change sides with the rich and privileged. Hugo Chavez efforts are so under appreciated by the world that other leaders and governments won't even give him any credit suggesting Venezuela was better off before his government and will be even better off now his is dead. The Prime Minister of Canada certainly was one of these. He was either insincere or ignorant of the facts. probably both.
The problem facing Pope Francis is how he will intervene on behalf of the poor. Is he willing to go far enough to challenge the powerful and support revolutionary ways of bringing about change. He needs to take of the mission, once seen as the role of the media, "of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable". I would hope he will succeed but I fear he may be merely a Pope with a different style and no real systemic change among the poor.
It is hard to imagine his conservative theology will make it possible to speak to the changes many Catholics are looking for: married priest, women priest, gay marriage, abortion and contraception reform. With out theological changes in these areas I do not see Catholics moving back into the institutional church.
His Holiness has many and great challenges ahead. One can only wish him well. Watching his papacy will make for interesting times.