A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Quick Thoughts on Pope Francis

Why Bergoglio? Obviously I wasnt in the conclave or even in Rome, but if I had to sum it up in a sentence Id say hes a Latin American Sean OMalley.Much of the boomlet for OMalley over the last couple of weeks focused on his simplicity, commitment to the poor and personal holiness. His administrative chops and seriousness on the issue of clerical sexual abuse were a clear asset, but without the former elements he wouldnt have been as compelling a candidate.As many others have observed, Bergoglio has similar qualities. He famously urged those interested in coming to his installation as archbishop to stay home and give the money to the poor. Rather than live in the archbishops mansion, he chose to live in an apartment and apparently takes public transit to work (I wonder if he realizes yet that he will never do so again). It is also reported that when he was made a cardinal, he chose to alter his predecessor's robes rather than paying for new ones. His choice of Francis as a name is, to put it mildly, extremely bold and suggests a strong identification with the poor.In the runup to the conclave, many cardinals appeared to understand that the Churchs witness is the most powerful and compelling when it is voiced from a place of simplicity and humility. It is then that the Church best conveys the simplicity and humility of Christ himself. Francis decision to ask the crowd assembled in St. Peters Square to bless him before he blessed them was a powerful symbol in that regard.Bergoglio was also, of course, from Latin America. He reportedly came in second in the 2005 conclave, suggesting a strong base of support for a candidate from the developing world. I dont know whether the cardinals from Asia or Africa put forward any favorite sons on the first ballot, but I suspect the list of non-European candidates probably winnowed to Bergoglio and Scherer rather quickly, in which case the choice of both the critics of the Curia and those favoring a Third-World pontiff was probably clear.A number of observers have described Bergoglio as a conservative, although Im not clear what criteria they are using to make that judgment. If the test is his opposition to same-sex marriage and legal abortion then the entire conclave was comprised of conservatives in which case the category is analytically useless.A more sophisticated approach to this question cites Bergoglios criticism of certain aspects of Liberation Theology. Here too, however, it is important not to oversimplify the issues. While many North American critics of Liberation Theology were defenders of neo-liberal economic policies, that was not necessarily the case for all critics. The debate in the 80s and 90s over Liberation Theology focused on a number of issues, including: 1) whether it was possible to use social analysis (usually neo-Marxist or some form of dependency theory) as a tool for interpreting the Gospel in a Latin American context (Aquinas use of Aristotle was often cited as a precedent); 2) how closely to identify political and social development with the emergence of the Kingdom of God; 3) to what extent new forms of ecclesial organization in Latin America (e.g. base communities) should be seen as a model for the universal Church; and 4) how closely to ally the Church with popular movements dedicated to radical social change.These were difficult debates within the Latin American Church, the global Church, and within Bergoglios own Jesuit order. With the benefit of hindsight, even a number of center-left observers (this author included) would not defend every position taken in the name of Liberation Theology during this period. One does not have to embrace all aspects of Liberation Theology to believe in a preferential option for the poor.It is also interesting to reflect on what the cardinals didnt get when they elected Bergoglio. While he was certainly not a candidate allied with the Curialists, there isnt a lot in his past to suggest a take charge administrator ready to clean house (I stand ready to be corrected if anyone has information to the contrary). Its also not clear that Bergoglio is the man to re-evangelize Europe and North America, although to be fair it is not clear that anyone in the conclave was well positioned to carry out that task. He may well, however, be the man to give the Church in Latin America a needed shot in the arm. For all the talk about Christianitys growth in the Third World, the recent history of the Catholic Church in Latin America has been mixed and the Church has been losing ground to Protestant denominations, mostly Evangelical and Pentecostal.Its also not clear that Bergoglio is someone who gets the clerical sexual abuse crisis in a way that many North American and European cardinals said they wanted. To be fair, unlike some other candidates, he hasnt said anything mind-numbingly stupid about it either. How he will address the issue remains to be seen.One area where I was pleasantly surprised was his strong relationship to the Jewish community in Argentina, partly arising out of his response to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish apartment complex. In a book review I did for America some years ago, I raised a concern that a pope from the Third World would not have the lived experience with Judaism that European popes like John Paul II and Benedict did. This was around the time where Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras was in hot water for suggesting that "Jewish interests" were responsible for the media focus on clerical sexual abuse in the United States. I surmised that the election of a Third World pope could mean that relations between Catholics and Jews could be in for a rough patch. Im not getting the impression that this will be as problem with our new pontiff.In all this, its important to remember that the past is not always prologue when it comes to the papacy. Giovanni Montini was the choice of many reformers in 1963, but Paul VI often disappointed them. After 2005, many conservatives were hoping that Joseph Ratzinger, Gods Rottweiler, would be the Hammer of the Heretics, but got a shy, retiring professor who shocked them with his abdication. We know a fair bit about Jorge Bergoglio. But the history of Pope Francis is just beginning.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Might the new pope turn out to be "JPII, South American-style"? Popular outside the church; autocratic on issues of "orthodoxy" within? My pessimism is showing, but I'm trying to hold it in check --- for now!

Interesting post. I think you inadvertently triggered the first controversy of his papacy. Maybe I am just being a stickler here but I think we need to arrive at a consensus around the title. Is it Pope Francis I or Pope Francis? I am leaning to Pope Francis.

Argentina is not part of the developing world.

It is the nuance that counts with pope Francis. His work with the poor and downtrodden is central to his ministry as it was central to the ministry of Jesus. His action with the lepers and actually working among the poor is telling. As his not using the wealth attributes of his office. The deeds in this case are better than the words.

I think Peter is onto something profound in his comment about Latin America and evangelicals/Pentecostals. I believe that the cardinals have chosen a profoundly missional pope who will help encourage deeper outreach by Catholic parishes and diocese in Latin America in a way that brings the Church closer to everyday people much like the evangelicals/Pentecostals do. I have compiled a brief set of excerpts from Bergoglio speeches and interviews around the missional theme:

Thanks Peter."His choice of Francis as a name is, to put it mildly, extremely bold and suggests a strong identification with the poor."Or it could be an identification with the evangelism of Francis Xavier. I hope he never specifies which Francis. Let it be a puzzle and a meditation for the Church.

The time could be ripe for another Council.

So who was the last non-European Pope and where did he come from?

Irene; Pope Francis is the first non-European pope, the first Jesuit Pope, the first latino pope, and the first pope to choose the name Francis.Tango Mass anyone?;-)

Irene, That would be Gregory lll (d. 741) (per Wikipedia)

Technical point: Until there is a Pope Francis II, there is no Francis I; it's just Francis. (cf., kings John and Stephen of England, who come unattached.)

I have no idea whether Francis (at the age of 76) will be able to do the kind of Roman housecleaning that so many have been calling for during this interregnum. I do think it important that those calling for reform during the interregnum keep insisting on a thoroughgoing and honest examination of how the Church's governance structures may have interfered with the Church's mission in such aspects as sexual abuse and indeed in evangelization in general.And all honor to those who did not wait for the interregnum to call for the obvious. PS: the first latino pope? How about all those early popes from ancient Rome, where Latin was still the living language? But of course we live in a world today such considerations no longer mean anything and where (in this country at any rate), the term "Hispanic" excludes those living in the Iberian peninsula.

If Pope Francis can get world governments to focus more on the needs of the poor: Good. If the pope can "clean house" in the Vatican: Good.This still leaves issues that aren't going away: Abortion, Contraception, Women's Ordination = Matters that primarily affect women. Plus optional celibacy.Re: intrachurch matters, more than likely we're looking at samo-samo? Sure seems like it.

In response to the folks who pointed out that adding the Roman numeral is inappropriate at this time, I have removed it.Grant, would the phrase "candidate from the Global South" be more appropriate?

I'm not sure. Argentina is very European. He is very European. He studied theology in Germany. His parents were Italian. I suppose I'd just say South America. But that's me.

I've never been to Argentina and so don't have a first-hand feel for its prosperity. This link includes three different lists/measures of per-capita income by country. In all of them, Argentina is in the top 1/3 of the world. Its per-capita income is about 1/3 of the United States'. Argentina's neighbors on these lists include Eastern European countries, some other Latin American and Caribbean countries, and not much farther down, Botswana, Gabon and Malaysia. link contains four different lists/measures of the largest economies in the world. Argentina ranks 25 or 26 on all four lists.Argentina is a member of the G20.

My apologies, here is the list that ranks national economies.

This list puts Argentina in the top 1/4 of the world in literacy. this list is not very recent (2000), the World Health Organization ranks Argentina's health system in the top 1/5 of countries.

Although this list is not very recent (2000), the World Health Organization ranks Argentinas health system in the top 1/5 of countries... and ahead of the US!

Peter:It was done in good natured kidding. I have seen it either way and I just find it an interesting bit of pope-pourri.I am very pleased with Pope Francis' demeanor and hopeful.

'Argentina is very European. He is very European..His parents were Italian"I'm sure he is proud of his Italian ancestry, but I don't think his parents' country of origin would make him any less Latin-American, if he was born and lived in Latin-America. And it might be kind of insulting to tell someone they're not really Latin-American, because their parents immigrated from someplace else.

If you go to Argentina you will be gravely disappointed. There are still the grand boulevards with 19th century fading grandeur and the cutesy colored Italian cottages. But most people live in soviet style towers with little grace and beauty, crammed onto the broad flat Plano outside the central core. Soccer is their real religion. And then there is the stroll/strut and the tango which celebrate a hard core and pornographic "look but don't touch.' Where the church really fits is really unknown. Somewhere between the superstitious devotions of the past and the dismal economy which soars and then crashes. In 2000 the Argentine peso traded on a par with the US dollar. A couple of years later, it fell completely to pieces and only the well-connected moved massive funds back to Europe for safe-keeping, starving their economy into submission. While hopes are high, keep a keen eye out for funny business and contrasting proclamations supporting and then apologizing for the poor.

Go and watch Evita again, especially the opening scenes. The plight of Eva as the bastard daughter of a rich ranchero is too typical. Her eventual seduction was her path of escape. Don't cry for Argentina, indeed!

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment