Thursday, 14 March 2013

Some thoughts on the new Pope

It's been a big day.  We awoke to the news that the Cardinals (not the baseball team, but the senior archbishops) have not only chosen a new pope, but chosen:
  • the first Latin American pope,
  • the first pope to be a member of the Jesuit order,
  • and the first pope to take the name Francis.
There are a number of signs of hope here.
  • The new pope seems to have a genuine concern for social justice and an advocacy for the poor.
  • He seems to have a warm personality, and is said to have a lively spirituality.
  • They say he has a genuine concern for relations between Christians and member of other faiths.
The information that he takes public transport a lot, cooks most of his own meals, and lives in a small apartment (rather than a palatial archbishop's residence) all indicates a commitment to a servant style of ministry.  (I imagine that his minders at the Vatican won't let him continue in this way of life, but I hope he'll at least be allowed to make his own breakfast ... even if just occasionally.)

He's said to be pretty conservative on issues relating to gender, sex, and bioethics.  Still, we can say essentially the same thing about any of the cardinals in this conclave (all of whom were appointed by either John Paul II or by Benedict XVI).  His conservatism, however, seems to be tempered by pastoral compassion (and common sense) in a number of ways, however:
  • He has been quoted as advocating that condoms should be allowed for the sake of preventing sexually-transmitted diseases.
  • He has been an advocate of far greater compassion for people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • He has criticised priests who refuse to baptise the children of unmarried mothers.
I'm sure he won't please everyone all the time.
  • Some of the more liberal or middle-of-the road Catholics will wish he was a bit more flexible on issues of gender, sex, or bioethics.
  • Some of the more religiously conservative Catholics will wish he was a bit less pastoral (and a bit less compassionate) in his conservatism on issues of gender, sex, or bioethics.
  • Some of the more politically conservative Catholics will be annoyed that he wasn't as flexible as they'd like on issues of social justice.
  • Those of us outside the Catholic Church will also develop our own opinions one way or the other, partly from the media, partly from the Catholics we know.
One sign of hope for Francis's papacy is seen in his name.  Taking a name that embraces the example of St. Francis of Assisi, the new pope seems to be embracing a commitment to an accessible, inclusive, and compassionate spirituality.

Even for those of us who aren't Catholic, the Pope has a major role in promoting the well-being of all Christians, of all people of faith, and of all people of good will.  For those of us who pray, let's pray that he's able to do well in this task. 


Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.