Posted on 13-03-2013
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

In a fairly quick conclave resulting from the surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic church elected a new pope.  The choice was somewhat a surprise.  A pope who was 78 at the time of his election and who resigned for ill health was replaced by a 76 year old.  Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first pope from Latin America, the first pope since 741 AD not born in Europe, the first Jesuit to become pope and the first Pope Francis.

Elderly popes are generally chosen as transitory popes (though that logic backfired once rather spectacularly).  Yet Pope Francis inherits a church in turmoil.  The priest sex abuse scandal continues to sap the legitimacy and credibility of the Catholic Church.  Just before the conclave the United Kingdom’s most senior cleric (and notorious homophobe) resigned after allegations surfaced publicly that the cardinal had inappropriate relations with seminarians decades ago.  The Curia itself is rife with feuds which may have encouraged Benedict to resign.  The traditional heartlands of the Catholic Church no longer heed its teachings and the sex scandals have sapped the institution’s credibility.  The heart of the Church is in the southern hemisphere and here it faces aggressive competition from evangelical protestants.

The challenges facing Pope Francis are daunting.  His name may pay homage to either St. Francis of Assisi founder of the Franciscan Order (historically the rival of the Jesuits) or the Jesuit St. Francis Xavier (or both).  The new Pope has a history of humility and working with the poor.  Like Benedict he does not subscribe to the doctrine of government austerity indulged by the American religious right.  Yet he is doctrinally conservative.  Don’t expect too many changes in church policies regarding women and homosexuals.

The election of Pope Francis has already shone the light on the Catholic Church’s equivocal attitude to the atrocities committed by the Latin American military juntas in the 70s.  Francis has previously apologized for the the Church’s failure to speak out on the subject.  The record on his own activities during the period appears mixed.

The Catholic Church desperately needs a reformer who can clear out the muck that has accumulated over the past decades.  It remains to be seen whether the (likely brief) papacy of Pope Francis will achieve that result.

Some lighthearted irreverence below the fold.

After the announcement that the new Pope was from Argentina and seeing this nice balcony available, I was secretly hoping the new Pope would deviate from custom and belt out the tune in the video below:

Reform in the church will likely never extend that far.

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