Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 6:28 PM

Habemus Papam: Hail, Francis!

Posted by Anthony L. Hall


I must confess that when the Vatican introduced Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope this afternoon, I was not inspired.

To be fair, this probably had more to do with how little of the Holy Spirit resides in me (the son of a preacher man) than with any failure on Bergoglio’s part to inspire. But perhaps it’s because I was too distracted by the spectacle of so many experts on the Vatican Curia and Papal Conclave wiping egg off their faces.

After all, despite all of their pontification in recent days, you’d be hard-pressed to recall a single one who even mentioned Bergoglio’s name, let alone one who picked him to be the anointed one. So bear this in mind when you hear these same experts pontificating now about what his papacy portends for the Catholic Church.

I, for one, am humble enough to admit that I knew nothing about Bergoglio before today, and I know even less about what impact, if any, he will have. Not least because I’ll be damned if I can cite any significant impact Pope Benedict had on the Church.

The prevailing wisdom is that Bergoglio intends to return the Church to its basic mission of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Arguably, he telegraphed his intent by choosing Francis as his papal name, paying homage to St. Francis of Assisi—who was a bone fide champion of the poor.

Hell, to listen to some papal experts extol his humility, simplicity, and spartan lifestyle (all pursuant to the Jesuitical vow of poverty), you’d think Bergoglio were going to shun the rich trappings of the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo to live in an Italian hostel and take the bus to church.

But think about this folks: Is Pope Francis going to instruct the Curia to redistribute what remains of the Church’s ostentatious wealth, after settling child-sex abuse cases, to caring for the poor? I don’t think so. In fact, the Church is already closing schools for the poor instead of selling valuable artworks and other material possessions to settle these cases.

On the other hand, he might instruct the cardinals (aka the “princes” of the Church for Christ’s sake) to follow his example by giving up their fancy apartments, cooks, and chauffeured limousines.  But I suspect cardinals will be even less willing to follow the pope’s instruction in this respect than lay Catholics have been to follow the cardinals’ instruction with respect to contraception.

Of course, that the pope is only doing what Jesus would do indicates how much leaders of the Catholic Church have perverted and corrupted their holy mission. Indeed, that Bergoglio is the first pope to honor St. Francis is testament to how little interest even his predecessors have had throughout the ages in living lives of humility, simplicity, and poverty … as Jesus did.

Much is being made of the historic firsts his election represents. Most notably, he is the first pope to hail from Latin America – the region that accounts for almost 40 percent of Catholics worldwide and where the Church is experiencing its fastest growth. I fear, however, that expectations for his papacy to usher in radical or even moderate change will be dashed.

For it’s not as if Benedict did not sermonize about the social injustice that has the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  What’s more, I’m on record warning that Latinos (and Africans) are more Catholic than the pope when it comes to all of the social issues – like abortion, homosexuality (same-sex marriage), and contraception – that most Catholics in Europe and the United States care so deeply about. And, frankly, Pope Francis stands even less chance of changing the Church’s culture of sexual hypocrisy, perversion,  and conspiracy than Obama stands of changing Washington’s culture of political partisanship, pettifoggery, and gridlock.

In fact, the only thing I did find surprising about his election is that, at 76, Francis presents all of the concerns about physical health that caused Benedict to resign. Unless, of course, this is the Lord’s way of saying to the Catholic Church that popes should be term-limited just as presidents and prime ministers are. Which means that, like Benedict, he may be perfectly fit to serve for eight years before resigning … or dying.

That said, with due respect to all of the experts commenting on this momentous event, it seems I’m the only one who predicted something that actually came through. No doubt it’s inconvenient for them to recall now, but virtually every expert was speculating about the prospect of a Black pope in the days after Benedict resigned. Remember that?

By contrast, I sounded the following contrarian, though now prescient, note:

Trust me, despite all of the religious rhetoric about cardinals being guided by the Holy Spirit, the election of a pope is every bit as political as the election of a president…  All the same, for what it’s worth, I believe the ‘Holy Spirit’ will move the cardinals to elect a Latino before they elect a Black.

(“The Abdication of Pope Benedict XVI,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 12, 2013)

I reasoned many years before that:

Even the more catholic Catholics of the world are not ready to kiss the hand (and feet) of a Black man as their Holy Father.

(“Black Pope = Black Smoke?” The iPINIONS Journal, April 6, 2005)

Though politically incorrect, there’s no denying that my apostasy in this regard is affirmed by the fact that, in electing Bergoglio of Argentina, the Catholic Church has as White a non-White pope as possible, from the most European country outside Europe as possible, who is as close to being European as any non-European can possibly be (as the son of Italian immigrants).

Change…? Don’t hold your breath.

Related commentaries:
Abdication of Benedict

NOTE: The Holy Spirit moved me to interrupt my fishing to write this commentary. Not that I was catching anything….

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