Pope Francis: web reaction roundup
There’s no shortage of reaction and analysis on the first full day of the papacy of Francis. With some five thousand journalists reporting from Rome, and innumerable others commenting from all corners, what else could we expect? The general press continues to key in on the simplicity-and-humility theme, as unflinchingly expressed in the headline of this AP story: “Pope Francis is Known for Simplicity and Humility” (which is nevertheless a bit more helpful than this CNN flash: “Pope Francis succeeds Benedict, who retired”). If you’ve already absorbed those details, here are some of the items we thought worth sharing today.
Greg Metzger, at Faith and the Common Good, highlights speeches and articles that he thinks demonstrate the “profound desire” of Cardinal Bergoglio “to see the gospel unleashed as Good News for all, and a willingness to stand in prophetic word and action to bring that Gospel to all.” Then-Cardinal Bergoglio as quoted in a 2012 interview with Vatican Insider:
We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one.…
Brian Lehrer of WNYC radio (New York) hosted Peter Steinfels this morning, where the discussion touched on the significance of a Jesuit as pope, among other things; you can listen to their whole conversation here.
Erik Kain, writing at Mother Jones, says it’s unhelpful to focus on Pope Francis’s “social conservatism” and consider how this papacy “could be defined by economic issues”:
In an era defined by economic hardship and collapse in which the fires of austerity have burned their way across Europe, it might be a very good thing—not only for the world’s poorest nations—to have a pope who, at least at first blush, appears to be an opponent of the politics of austerity.
Concerning questions about Bergoglio’s response to the military junta during Argentina’s “dirty war,” biographer Sergio Rubin argues it was a failure of the Roman Catholic Church in general, and that it’s unfair to pin on Bergoglio the collective guilt that many Argentines of his generation still deal with. According to the Washington Post, some leading Argentine human rights activists agree that
Bergoglio doesn’t deserve to be lumped together with other church figures who were closely aligned with the dictatorship.
“Perhaps he didn’t have the courage of other priests, but he never collaborated with the dictatorship,” Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for documenting the junta’s atrocities, said Thursday. “Bergoglio was no accomplice of the dictatorship. He can’t be accused of that,” Perez Esquivel told Radio de la Red in Buenos Aires.
Meanwhile, in the New Republic, Michael Sean Winters discusses Bergoglio’s response to the rise of liberation theology in Latin America:
[T]he liberation theologians strangely mimicked the neo-con capitalists they criticized, exercising an economic reductionism that equated the achievement of social progress with salvation. The neo-cons suggest the market will heal human ills, and the liberation theologians thought Marxist analysis would achieve the same end. Both ended up diminishing the most obvious Christian doctrine—original sin—and collapsing their hopes for the end time into a political program. Liberation theologians and neo-con American Catholics are loathe to admit it, but both committed the same mistake, reducing the mystery of man to a manageable problem capable of either Marxist or market manipulations. They approached the problem of the poor from different directions, but their relationship is strangely symbiotic.
Bergoglio was never seduced by the promises of the liberation theologians. For Christians, salvation comes from Christ, not from re-arranging social structures, and it must conquer death, not merely debt. Christians are called to love the poor, and to learn from the poor. Bergoglio and the other bishops in Latin America have been relentless in questioning and criticizing those who exercise power in ways that marginalize the poor. The criticism of capitalism is trenchant: He called the IMF’s efforts to squeeze interest payments out of a struggling Argentine economy “immoral.” Here, Bergoglio stands in continuity with Benedict whose criticism of modern capitalism never made headlines but was there for anyone who cared to look. Catholicism does not propose any specific economic or political systems, but it must always criticize whatever systems insult human dignity.
But Michael Brendan Dougherty at Slate sees in Francis a “Catholic nightmare.”
[The] other way to look at the dawn of this papacy is that it is one more in the pile of recent Catholic novelties and mediocrities. …
Besides his lack of knowledge of the ins and outs of the Vatican, there is almost no evidence of him taking a tough line with anyone in his own diocese. Are we to believe that Buenos Aires has been spared the moral rot and corruption found almost everywhere else in the Catholic clergy? Or, more likely, do we have another Cardinal who looked the other way, and studiously avoided confrontation with the “filth” in the church, no matter the danger to children or to the cause of the church? Presumption and detraction are sins, but Catholics should gird themselves; the sudden spotlight on his reign may reveal scandal and negligence.
Liturgical traditionalists (myself included) can only be depressed by this election–it is almost the worst result possible for those of us who think the new liturgy lost the theological profundity and ritual beauty of the Tridentine Mass. Benedict’s liberation of the traditional Latin Mass and revisions to the new vernacular Mass have not been implemented at all in Cardinal Bergoglio’s own diocese. Already some of the small breaks with liturgical tradition at the announcement of his election are being interpreted as a move toward the grand, unruly, and improvisational style of John Paul II; an implicit rebuke of Benedict.
Argentina’s Muslims, meanwhile, are welcoming the election of Bergoglio, according to the Buenos Aires Herald:
Sumer Noufouri, secretary general of the Islamic Center of the Republic of Argentina (CIRA), described ties “between the CIRA and now Pope Francis excellent,” explaining that their one-decade relationship “has helped to build Christian-Muslim dialogue,” something “really significant in the history of monotheistic relations in Argentina. … Mario Jorge Bergoglio is a respectful, pro-dialogue person who knows Islam.”
Vice President Joseph Biden is traveling to Rome for the installation of Francis; House Speaker John Boehner, though invited, is not.
Even while world leaders extend congratulations, the message from China—where there are twelve million Catholics divided between a state-supervised church that has appointed bishops without papal approval and an “underground” wing that resists government ties—comes with a warning.
Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that Beijing hoped the pope … would work with Chinese officials on improving relations. But, she said, the Vatican “must stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, including in the name of religion.”
She also said the Vatican must sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan before ties with Beijing improve. China considers Taiwan a renegade province that is part of its territory.
Even if [Bergoglio] was a compromise choice of some sort, his fellow electors were clearly quite happy to make it. If the new pope makes bold moves, and especially moves that ruffle feathers in the Roman court, it will reflect his confidence in that support. On the other hand, if he does prove more of a caretaker figure, it will be a sign that a supermajority of his fellow cardinals had much less interest in institutional change than the pre-conclave press accounts suggested.
Charles Pierce definitely sees a caretaker. More entertainingly:
OK, so he’s the first pope from Latin America, and the first Francis, which ties him with Hilarius and a few dozen others for last place in the papal names rankings. He’s also a member of The Society — A Jesuit pope, the first one, which means Dan Brown gets five more novels. (Strangely enough, the Jesuits, in their Fourth Vow, take a special vow of obedience to…wait for it…the pope. This is going to make for an interesting internal monologue for the new fella, I’m thinking.)
If you’re still wondering why Pope Francis has just the one lung, here are some possible explanations.
Finally, the choice of Bergoglio must come as a relief to Eleonore Schoenborn, the ninety-two-year-old mother of one-time candidate Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn: In the run-up to the conclave she publicly worried that her son “would not be up to the bitchiness in the Vatican.”