Friday, March 15, 2013
gives me hope, despite . . .
I have hope that the papacy of the former
Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, will lead to
significant change in the Church, despite some disquieting facts. On social
issues, his leadership does not look promising. He led and lost a campaign in
Argentina to prevent gay marriage from being legalized, earning a tense
relationship with the government of Argentina and President Cristina Kirchner.
But history moves so inexorably toward acceptance of gays that this does not
He opposed Liberation Theology, considering it tainted by Marxism. This disturbs me more, and it seems inexplicable, considering his lifestyle. The archbishop lived simply, opting to have an apartment in the city instead of residing in the mansion reserved for the archbishop. He cooked his own meals and rode the bus. His outreach to the poor included visiting with residents of slums, and he makes a point of communicating with ordinary people. These facts not only endeared him to his faithful; they appeal to me. I can respect a conservative who places so much emphasis on care for the poor. He chose the name “Francis” in honor of Francis of Assisi and apparently models his life on the saint known for advocating peace, simplicity, love of nature, and bringing people together.
During Argentina’s military dictatorship of the 1970s, Bergoglio as Jesuit superior dismissed two priests from the Jesuit order because he disapproved of their anti-government activism. They were subsequently kidnapped and tortured, and he was accused of colluding with the government on this case and for failing to prevent other disappearances by speaking out strongly against the junta. A lawsuit was dismissed, but debate about his guilt continues. I expect this will go nowhere for lack of evidence and his elevation to the papacy, but the potential for trouble persists.
Because Bergoglio is not a Vatican insider—he has never lived in Rome—I hope he will appreciate the need to reform the Roman Curia and to diminish its power over Catholics the world over. Bishops around the world are clamoring for restoration of collegiality, meaning decentralized power and more local input into decisions, for instance, on the appointment of new bishops. As archbishop, Bergoglio was reputed to be a competent administrator besides having his austere lifestyle. This bodes well for reforming the Curia and its global relationships. Things needing to be cleaned up are Vatican finances and clergy sex abuse, most troubling, the lack of accountability for bishops involved in it. I expect more exposés of bishops covering up their own cover-up, as happened to Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles. This issue will not go away.
Bergoglio is loyal to traditional Church teaching and opposed to changes favored by Americans. He opposed married clergy, women priests, and legal abortion. He opposed the free distribution of contraceptives in Argentina, a disquieting detail. He asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, but while battling gay marriage in Argentina, he also rebuked priests who denied Baptism to children born out of wedlock. Bergoglio is a brilliant Jesuit intellectual, and I tend to trust intellectuals’ ability to analyze and see the broad implications of issues. I expect them in time to at least understand liberal thinking.
Mostly my hope rests on the fact of change, which ultimately leads to renewal. Change has a way of doing this. And if power is decentralized, if the Curial dictatorship can be broken, more substantial change can happen in spite of the views of people at the top. Hope springs eternal.