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Thursday, March 14, 2013
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So we have a Pope. How did my predictions from this past Tuesday do? The bottom line is, terrible. In the end of my note I concluded that the stodgy old Cardinals would give in to politics and go with a Scola, Oullet or Scherer. They actually had a bit of a surprise in store for most of us. Cardinal Bergoglio had been mentioned in passing by some Vatican analysts, but his odds on the European betting sites never got much better than 25 to 1.

And yet . . . at the beginning of my post, I imagined the Cardinals making some room for an eventual new wind to blow in the Church. I forecast that the new Pope would be old and Italian, and prove to be a transitional figure who would pave the way for a Southern Hemisphere man to follow, a younger and energetic pope who would define a new sense of Catholic mission in the 21st Century.

Too bad that I then cast doubt on my forecast. What actually happened was not terribly far from that scenario. Cardinal Bergoglio’s election certainly does set precedent for future Southern Hemisphere popes, given that he is from Argentina. And yet, Bergoglio is a child of Italian parents, and comes from the most Europeanized country in Latin America. There is not a drop of Native blood in him. So culturally, he does not represent a big departure from the Italian pope tradition. As far as age, Bergoglio is 76 and 1/2; given reasonable health, his papacy could be expected to last from 5 to 10 years (and again, given Benedict’s precedent in quitting the papacy while one is ahead, allows Bergoglio to make a graceful exit without subjecting the Church to years of papal senescence).

So, the scenario that I first imagined is more or less in play tonight at the Vatican. I should have stuck with my first instinct! In addition to considering the elderly Cardinal Re because he was taken seriously at the 2005 papal conclave, I should have noticed that Bergoglio was also in the running, and was possibly the strongest alternative to Ratzinger at the time.

So, did the Cardinals truly sense the first light gusts of a new wind destined to blow once again in the Church, a wind truly of the Spirit? I’m not entirely convinced.

Recall the speculation that the embattled Curial “insider” faction of Cardinals supported Cardinal Scherer, another Latin American of Euro parental heritage, in return for easy penance with regard to their “VatiLeaks” sins, i.e. the recent disclosures of scandal and corruption in the top offices of the Church. Bergoglio probably would not have been elected (or not in such a short time) without a significant voting faction that has some use for him. It’s not impossible to imagine that Bergoglio was substituted for Scherer by the insiders as an incremental concession to the reformers. At age 63, Scherer could have given the crony faction almost 20 years of cover. With Bergoglio, they get a shorter redemption period — but still get off light.

As opposed to Scherer who had a position inside the Curia, Bergoglio knows almost nothing about Rome and the Vatican. Even if he, as Pope Francis, does intend to shake things up in Vatican City, it will take him years to figure out what is going on and who needs to be booted; and who would know how to keep the show running when the bad guys are driven out. Recall the reports on how Bishop Bergoglio was content not to say much when the Argentinian military junta carried out its cruelties against Catholic and other reformers in the late 1970s. I get the feeling that Bergoglio’s style is to try to shame the rats out with his humility and Franciscan references, and not to root them out by investigation and directive. I’m sure there will be announced reforms coming up for the Curia, but one has to wonder whether they will be much more than “damage control” and window dressing, orchestrated by the guilty. Bergoglio, as a Jesuit, seems like more of a teacher than an activist reformer.

So, it looks like politics and dirty deals were still on the agenda in Rome this week. But then again, the election of Pope Francis 1 certainly could open some doors for the future. The increasingly popular and charismatic Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines should be sleeping well; in 10 years he will be 65, and still able to carry out a strong and transformative papal reign. The Holy Spirit may yet have a say in the future of the Roman Catholic Church. That future may not be one that many Americans and Europeans would like to directly participate in, given that the Church’s upcoming “Southern Revolution” could demand much doctrinal conformity and ecclesiastical loyalty. It may not be a good venue for asserting the equality of gays and women and providing freedom for enlightened, individualized spiritual journeys in life (like my own!).

But the Roman Catholic church of the 21st Century could yet help many poor and presently disenfranchised peoples in Asia, Africa and Latin America to realize greater dignity and enfranchisement. It might even challenge the materialistic notions and values that we westerners accept and assert without even thinking. So, it looks as if the old Church might repeat the trick that it pulled off so many times over the past 2000 years. I.e., just when it appears moribund, just when it seems like a tree slowly losing its leaves and branches, some new inspiration and historical circumstance snaps it back to life. Even today as the tree continues to turn brown and barren, the election of Francis might someday be looked back at as the budding of a small, uncertain new shoot coming up from its roots.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:23 pm      

  1. Jim, You make some very good points. However, I have a small point about why you think Francis was elected rather than someone else. It seems that at the last Conclave (when B16 was elected), Bergoglio came in second. So it seems that now was his “turn”, so to say. (Notice: Nobody has said who got the second largest number of votes this time. Could the one who got the second largest number of votes be the pope after this one, presuming he lives long enough?) Your points about his being Italian are right on the mark. I heard he probably speaks better Italian than the last two popes did.

    I think your point about “shaming the rats with his humility” rather than actually rooting out the “bad guys” is right on the mark.

    I think Bergoglio has some good points, but there are also some lesser good points, if not downright bad points about what his reign may bring. But then, the same thing could be said of anybody (or of us all).

    I have also read that it takes 50 years for a Vatican Council to begin to have some real effect. It’s coming up on 50 years soon; so your point about their being a “budding of a small…new shoot” might also be right on the mark. Well, at least we could hope. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — March 14, 2013 @ 11:44 pm

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