A secretary and a couple of professors standing near me were discussing the archaic nature of the Vatican hierarchy, and the lack of a progressive pope in recent (or ancient) history. As they read over a Time news article, heads together at the secretary’s desk, I pulled the same document up on my iPhone and read along.
There seem to be elements of hope, triumph and change symbolized in this transference of power. But, in much the same way, there is controversy melted in with those feelings of a fresh beginning. It is of equal importance a question of the past as it is of the future.
This new man’s long legacy of work in his native Argentina exists already, and will trail behind him throughout his papacy — either egregiously, promisingly or, as I expect, both.
It has now been nearly two weeks since the cardinals came to their rapid consensus; one of many historical landmarks in this election, it was the fastest decision they have ever made in conclave. In the days following, skimming the Opinion page of my CNN app, I have found titles ranging from “Pope Francis, humble and authentic” to “Pope: Conservative who sides with poor” to “Humble pope has complicated past.”
Immediately, a drafty and thin understanding of the man’s life and work has risen to set Catholics and non-Catholics alike into a state of due skepticism.
Firstly, it is important to note that Pope Benedict XVI resigned this year due to a lack of confidence in his ability to execute the responsibilities of office, in his words, “for the good of the church.” It was the first time a pope has stepped down, the office normally held for life.
Next, this efficiently elected new pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is the first New World, Latin American Pope, as well as the first Jesuit to lead the Vatican.
Pope Francis studied chemistry and became a priest at the age of 33. He has lived what many describe as a “humble, simple life," using public transportation as opposed to a private chauffer, and cooking his own meals in a small apartment. These traits represent a pope with the moral character Catholics hope can bring real reform to a church in a state of shambles.
Pope Francis is a traditional-, conservative-minded man who opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, but has championed the impoverished throughout his career. He is from the New World, but is now tasked with taking on some much newer, modern issues of a changing global public whose views are not necessarily aligned with those of the church, whose tradition of faith has opened new vistas of tolerance and acceptance.
Catholics, an increasingly diverse group, look on as the pope begins work.
There is the question of whether he can take on the Vatican bureaucracy, which is staunch in its divisions and wrought with recent scandal. There is the responsibility the new pope has to restore the sense of moral authority the Catholic Church holds over the world.
But there are more questions than these, questions for the people.
My question is whether a new pope means new change. I am curious to see whether the Vatican has the flexibility and fluidity to shift with the demands and desires of a new world of Catholics — who are no longer subjects of a traditional hierarchy, but live modern lives, and seek modern leadership and resolutions.
Those decisions do not impact me directly. I was baptized and raised Catholic. I used to attend church and Catechism during my elementary school years on a regular basis. But I have not seen the inside of a church in many years.
Still, the possibility of change for Catholics has great meaning to me. They are an abundant membership of my community. They are members of my family.
I would love nothing more than to see Catholic authority shift its ways toward a more accepting and nuanced approach in response to its changing constituency, and serve its people rather than dictate its moral tendencies.
Progressivism may not be a sustainable model for the Catholic Church, but changing its long-withheld stances toward contraceptives (90 percent of Catholics in the U.S. use them, 82 percent find them permissible) and readdressing its position on homosexuality would likely be welcomed by many members of the Catholic community around the world. The church can make great efforts in its already forward-looking views of economic regulation, immigration and the reduction of poverty.
The pope is a beacon for not only what is and has been since the church’s foundation, but what can and should be for future generations of faithful Catholics, and the secular watchful who in earnest try to see the church’s virtues and potential.
— By Alexander Sinn, GVSU student and Tribune community columnist