It is too early to know much about the new pope. The white smoke has barely cleared the sky over the Vatican. I have just read this morning’s New York Times article on him, and have a few thoughts on the challenges already lying before this new pope.
The selection of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio appears to have been a brilliant political choice. He comes from the Western hemisphere, which might shore up the growing rift between the Eurocentric Vatican and a restless Catholic Church in the Americas. He is a theological and social conservative, which means he has the approval of more traditional Catholics. He is also very smart, and is said to be fascinated with science.
His personal story is truly inspiring. When he became a Cardinal, he refused the rich lodgings offered to him, and lived in a small house where he cooked for himself and even took public transportation. There are St. Francis like stories of him kissing the feet of AIDS patients and of criticizing priests who refused to baptize children born out of wedlock.
But pity is not the same things as respect, and charity is not the same thing as justice. The new pope is on record saying that gay marriage and adoption are, “a maneuver by the devil” and “a war against God. His views have been described as “medieval” by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner .
The Catholic Church has a history of being of two minds in South America. The nuns and priests stood with the people, but too often the Vatican has condemned liberation movements in South America. There are times when, if the church does not speak out for the weak, it has sided with the powerful. The question waiting to be answered is whether this new pope will stand for justice, or mere charity.
There is little question that the new pope is sincere. As a person, he may be a modern day St. Francis, but the challenges that confront our world will need something more from Pope Francis than pity for the poor, it will require solidarity with them as well. And that could mean standing up to some of the people who give vast sums of money to the church.
It may be a good thing to adopt a lifestyle of voluntary poverty, but where people still feed and clothe you. It is a better thing to protect the involuntary poor from predation by the rich.
It may be a good thing to study science, but it is a better thing to honestly face what science actually says about human sexuality.
It may be a good thing kiss the feet of AIDS patients, but it is a better thing to respect the person who has the disease, even if they are gay; and not to demonize such persons and their families.
It may be a good thing to baptize children born out of wedlock, it is a better thing not to stigmatize them in the first place by condemning all sex outside of marriage as evil.