It fascinates me that so many people in the media expected the new Pope to be a flaming American-style social liberal. Consider the New York Times which this morning notes with surprise:
But Cardinal Bergoglio is also a conventional choice, a theological conservative of Italian ancestry who vigorously backs Vatican positions on abortion, gay marriage, the ordination of women and other major issues — leading to heated clashes with Argentina’s left-leaning president.
As Rod Dreher points out this morning, this doesn’t mean he’s conventional, it means he’s CATHOLIC – that is, he believes in Catholic doctrine on sexual and reproductive issues. Ummm…d’uh! What are the odds?
What stuns me is that the NYT’s narrow vision of progressiveness is stuck on these issues. Now I don’t agree with the Pope on Gay Marriage and reproductive issues, but I also recognize that there is more than one way to think of “progressive” and “unconventional” – that is, gay marriage is not the be all-end all of those issues.
Here’s what IS important about this Pope. He’s spoken out loudly against Globalization, the IMF and neo-liberal economic policies (he’s not a liberation theologian or a Marxist). During Argentina’s debt crisis he called for a restructuring of austerity measures that focused on social supports for the poor and narrowing the gap between rich and poor:
And when the debt crisis hit in 2002, the church called in strong terms for a debt restructuring to take place which privileged social programs above debt repayment. They argued that the true problems in the Argentinian economy were, in their words, “social exclusion, a growing gap between rich and poor, insecurity, corruption, social and family violence, serious deﬁciencies in the educational system and in public health, the negative consequences of globalization and the tyranny of the markets.”
Bergoglio himself said:
“We live, apparently, in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least. The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”
This is a considerable contrast to Pope Benedict who felt that while there were concerns about Globalization badly done, that its larger structure was beneficial:
“The processes of globalization, suitably understood and directed, open up the unprecedented possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a worldwide scale.”
Having any world leader who has lived through a major economic crisis and social collapse as Cardinal, who grasps the urgent need of ensuring the protection of the poor in those crises – that’s PROGRESS, and PROGRESSIVE. And it represents the potential of the Catholic Church to take a leadership role in a time of great crisis.
Simply taking the name Francis I, whose focus was the poor, and Bergoglio’s history of personal austerity – living in an apartment rather than a mansion, getting rid of his limo and driver and taking the bus to work, doing hands-on work with the poor – these represent the real possibility that the Church has chosen wisely, with a Pope who is prepared to lead the Church through the times that come.
As a Jew I don’t really have a horse in the Pope race. Bergoglio is not perfect, and I’m sure Francis I will be imperfect in many ways. Still, there is something heartening about choosing a man who sees the protection of the poor and vulnerable as the central work of the Church, because Lord knows, it will be needed.