The New Pope

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that we have a new Pope. He is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, form Argentina, but from now on he will be known as Pope Francis. It appears he is a doctrinaire right-winger on issues related to homosexuality, abortion and conctraception, which is no surprise. Andrew Sullivan provides other reasons for concern. On the other hand, he does seem to have a genuine commitment to speaking out on behalf of the downtrodden. He took his name from Saint Francis, who famously took a vow of poverty. He also has a background in science, specifically chemistry, so perhaps he will end the Church’s recent flirtations with ID.

There’s no need to speculate. We’ll know soon enough from his actions what kind of Pope he will be. But there is one thing about the coverage of the new Pope that drives me crazy. Virtually every news outlet ha emphasized the extreme humility of the man. He is such a humble leader, we are told. Here’s a representative example.

Let us recall that with his new position comes the ability to speak infallibly, at least some of the time. It is part of the job description that he is closer to God than the rest of us, and has unique authority to hold forth on the will of God. It is the teaching of his Church that they, and they alone, are qualified to interpret scripture. You place your eternal soul in jeopardy by rejecting their moral teachings. I could go on.

Humble people do not accept such positions. Quite the contrary, in fact. It is only the most arrogant of men who speak with the Church’s level of certainty. The new Pope may be many things, but humble definitely is not one of them.

Comments

  1. #1 Steven Carr
    March 14, 2013

    I take it he wasn’t in the Hitler Youth? I was under the impression it was compulsory for Popes to have once been in the Hitler Youth, but perhaps I had misunderstood.

  2. #2 not a catholic
    March 14, 2013

    @jrosenhouse:
    The thing about papal infallibility is that it’s only the case when he’s speaking ex cathedra. Which has only been done twice in all the history of the church, both times dealing with Mary. So it’s *really* not as big a deal as people think it is. It’s not like the Pope would ever say ‘the sky is green’ and all good Catholics would just have to believe him.

    @Steven Carr:
    Willfully ignorant people make me sad. This is great primary example. Prior Pope Benedict was in the Hitler Youth, yes. So was the majority of German youth at the time. It was in fact compulsory as you pointed out. Had you been in German at the time, you would have joined as well. The thing is, he quit. He quit when it was actually dangerous to do so. There are plenty of reasons to not like the Catholic Church and that former pope in particular, but please do yourself a favor and learn a little about which ones are actually valid…

  3. #3 JimR
    March 14, 2013

    Garry Wills argues there really is no justification for the Pope, Cardinals or priests as there is no basis in the early church for their existence:
    http://www.amazon.com/Why-Priests-Tradition-Garry-Wills/dp/0670024872/

  4. #4 Comrade Carter
    March 14, 2013

    “Willfully ignorant people make me sad. This is great primary example. Prior Pope Benedict was in the Hitler Youth, yes. So was the majority of German youth at the time. It was in fact compulsory as you pointed out.”

    Amazing that you go into the Catholic Church as a Priest, rise up through Bishop and Cardinal, run the “Inquisition” for a while and then you’d end up Pope.

    Amazing, you’d think that they had to elect a German and/or that nobody had TOLD him the he was in the Hitler Youth and it might not be the best thing to be running for Pope.

    Apparently my Church works in mysterious ways.

  5. #5 Comrade Carter
    March 14, 2013

    Oh, and this..

    ” The thing is, he quit. He quit when it was actually dangerous to do so. “

    So, seemingly, you DIDN’T have to be in the Hitler Youth.

  6. #6 Stewart Henderson
    at my desk?
    March 14, 2013

    Papal infallibility was only ‘given’ to the Pope by vote of the Cardinals in about 1870, so it’s pretty disturbing that popes have used it twice already (or did the ex cathedra pronouncements occur before he became infallible?), and anyway the notion is totally absurd and no self-respecting individual should accept it. Maybe this pope will abolish the concept. Obviously I’m an optimist/fantasist.
    I agree that this Hitler Youth crap should stop. It’s lazy, unfair and stupid. There’s so much real stuff to attack Ratzinger on, his disgusting remarks on gay marriage, his more than half-heartedness on child abuse, etc.

  7. #7 Valhar2000
    March 14, 2013

    Stewart: There was nothing half-hearted about Joe the Rat’s efforts to shield pedophile priests from prosecution and to allow them to continue abusing children.

  8. #8 Valhar2000
    March 14, 2013

    From what little information I can find on the subject (how can people ignore something like this to such an extent!), this guy is not as bad as The Rat when it comes to child abuse, but he is far from good.

    Not surprising, I guess, since he would have been swiftly suppressed if he had really acted against the priestly child rapists before and even after he became a bishop.

  9. […] later, after visiting Jason Rosenhouse’s blog, who points out that the man who is hailed as someone of great humility, was an also-ran in the […]

  10. #10 Mu
    March 14, 2013

    Leviticus is 2500+ years old, and the only guy who ever changed anything about the rules in it got nailed to a cross for it. I don’t expect any pope to introduce drastic changes there anytime soon.
    The humility aspect is interesting as the man was brought up in the Jesuits. Jesuits normally aren’t supposed to take high office, as they are direct servants of the pope. But then, he might have had secret orders to take the job.

  11. #11 eric
    March 14, 2013

    the notion [papal infallibility] is totally absurd and no self-respecting individual should accept it.

    On one hand, I agree with you and Jason: a humble man would, almost by definition, refuse an office that basically came with massive arrogance built into the position. OTOH, maybe not. If I was a catholic social worker and had a chance to take a catholic position that might allow me to do massive good for many people, but it came with a requirement that I publicly declare myself Superman, I might just do it anyway. The ability to help many people by influencing church policy outweighs the silliness or arrogance of that declaration.

    What is more disturbing are the claims about his conduct during the 1970s, like the ones in the Sullivan article and other places. Those allegations are considerably worse, IMO, than a 1940’s German teen’s passive participation in the hitler youth.

  12. #12 Blaine
    March 14, 2013

    “It is the teaching of his Church that they, and they alone, are qualified to interpret scripture. You place your eternal soul in jeopardy by rejecting their moral teachings.”

    I think most American catholics are going to the bad place…

  13. #13 Blaine
    March 14, 2013

    Andrew Sullivan makes the following statement: “This is not an encouraging detail about a priest under Bergoglio’s authority who was convicted of seven homicides and 40 torture sessions: Father von Wernich was allowed to continue to celebrate Mass in prison.”

    I am not sure what this is supposed to convey. Andrew needs to read the Wiki page for ‘ex opere operato.’
    If the devil said the mass it would still be valid and efficacious under the Catholic view of their religion. Most people think ( laughably ) that their leaders should be moral giants. This was thought out by the RC church long ago. The end run around this issue was that the ritual itself guarantees it’s efficacy not the person performing the ritual. Hilter could also be the pope. It would make no difference. Oddly, most people don’t get what monarchialism means since they grew up in a democratic country. We’ve inherited this notion of ‘its the office I respect, not the person’ or some other democratic double speak that Westerners spew when they kowtow to their elected leaders. Saying that the current pope should be a moral giant or even moral just reveals ones ignorance of the religion.

  14. #14 dean
    March 14, 2013

    ” Prior Pope Benedict was in the Hitler Youth, yes. So was the majority of German youth at the time. It was in fact compulsory as you pointed out. Had you been in German at the time, you would have joined as well. The thing is, he quit. He quit when it was actually dangerous to do so”

    It seems to have been rather simple for families whose sons were involved in Catholic study to get passes from serving in the youth, if they petitioned. It has also been suggested that the date given for his “desertion” came after the german military leaders (remnants thereof) had officially excused the youth of their responsibility; the sourcing of that is marginal.

    More interesting are the reports from England and Argentina about the background of the new guy. The reports indicate that he was quite the pal of the ruling military and dictator, and accusations of complicity in crimes have been made. From the Guardian:

    As head of the Jesuit order from 1973 to 1979, Jorge Bergoglio – as the new pope was known until yesterday – was a member of the hierarachy during the period when the wider Catholic church backed the military government and called for their followers to be patriotic.
    Bergoglio twice refused to testify in court about his role as head of the Jesuit order. When he eventually appeared in front of a judge in 2010, he was accused by lawyers of being evasive.
    The main charge against Bergoglio involves the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, Orland Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were taken by Navy officers in May 1976 and held under inhumane conditions for the missionary work they conducted in the country’s slums, a politically risky activity at the time.
    His chief accuser is journalist Horacio Verbitsky, the author of a book on the church called “El Silencio” (“The Silence”), which claims that Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection from the two priests, effectively giving the military a green light for their abduction.
    The claims are based on conversations with Jalics, who was released after his ordeal and later moved to a German monastery.

    No doubt those were rough times for all, but it is worth noting that there were many cases of priests who actually did the right thing and spoke out against the government abuses, and were disappeared for that, so some did indeed make the ultimate choice.

    All that aside: I never expected this choice to be any less conservative than the recently retired pedophile protector, and I expect the coming years to support that in spades.

  15. #15 Jason Rosenhouse
    March 14, 2013

    not a catholic —

    The thing about papal infallibility is that it’s only the case when he’s speaking ex cathedra. Which has only been done twice in all the history of the church, both times dealing with Mary. So it’s *really* not as big a deal as people think it is. It’s not like the Pope would ever say ‘the sky is green’ and all good Catholics would just have to believe him.

    It would be a very big deal even if the power were never used. The very concept of a human being speaking infallibly on anything should be offensive to any reasonable person.

  16. #16 bryant
    March 14, 2013

    The Catholic Church supports the most regressive and evil of policies designed to lock humanity into fear, poverty, and misery. It is a great evil.

    There’s no reason, however, to accuse it or its leader of things that are not so — and much reason not to. The Pope is infallible ONLY under certain circumstances which include consulting with curia, and declaring that his statement is in fact infallible.

    Pope Benedict made not a single such statement in eight years.

    I don’t understand this obsession with non-Catholics (or Catholics, for that matter) who appear to hold the (untrue) assumption that every word the Pope speaks is infallible. Not so.

    Task the Church with its crimes; accuse the Pope of those evils he abets — but making stuff up is just unhelpful, and tars the factual criticism.

    B

  17. #17 Phil A
    Chile
    March 14, 2013

    What confuses me is the joy of the crowd at the announcement. Sure, it’s to be expected from the Argentine and latino contingent, who revel whenever their region gets publicity.

    But for the others.. why be more joyous about one candidate than any other?
    I’m assuming that the reason for joyousness is that they think the new Pope will somehow improve each Catholic’s relationship with God. But isn’t it down to each believer to achieve that in their own way?

  18. #18 eric
    March 14, 2013

    Blaine:

    Saying that the current pope should be a moral giant or even moral just reveals ones ignorance of the religion.

    Yeah, where could the laity have ever gotten the idea that a person with the title “His Holiness” is considered by the church to be a holy man?

    Sorry about the snark, but surely you agree that the RCC itself advertises their popes as being individually moral agents, aside from whatever theistic power the position grants. Your argument is one that seminary students might argue about in class as a theoretical issue, but in the outside, pragmatic, practical world, practically nobody views the pope your way. The vast majority of the laity don’t hold your position, the vast majority of non-catholics don’t hold your position, and whatever the RCC hierarchy may think, their PR never reflects your position.

    Bryant:

    The Pope is infallible ONLY under certain circumstances which include consulting with curia, and declaring that his statement is in fact infallible.

    Let’s pretend I claim “I am infallible ONLY for one minute, 5:00 PM to 5:01 PM, on March 14, 2023.” Does the fact that my claimed infallibility is very narrowly proscribed make it any less silly? Non-catholics generally say no. Making a claim to infallibliity narrow does not make it any less silly.

  19. #19 deepak shetty
    March 14, 2013

    Humble people do not accept such positions.
    That’s exactly what I thought when they keep saying how humble this character is.

  20. #20 deepak shetty
    March 14, 2013

    @Blaine
    The end run around this issue was that the ritual itself guarantees it’s efficacy not the person performing the ritual.
    Cool – so a woman can perform mass and be elected pope right?

  21. #21 deepak shetty
    March 14, 2013

    @bryant
    The Pope is infallible ONLY under certain circumstances which include consulting with curia, and declaring that his statement is in fact infallible.
    People have already covered why this is still a problem. but another issue is when the Pope says gay bad! gay marriage bad! – are the lay people thinking the pope is fallible when he makes such pronouncements and showing him the middle finger?

  22. #22 JimR
    March 14, 2013
  23. #23 Blaine
    March 14, 2013

    @deepak shetty

    Yes – it wouldn’t matter in terms of the efficacy of the sacraments. On maleness and the RC church check out : A World Without Women: The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science by David Noble.

    @eric
    Holiness means set apart or santified. But I take your point. One would expect the pope to adhere to his church’s moral teachings.

    A book I ordered but haven’t read yet: Original Sin: Ritual Child Rape & The Church by David Hillman. If the author is correct, it seems that Christian clergy raping prepubescent boys has been part of Christianity from the beginning.

  24. #24 MNb
    March 14, 2013

    :”What confuses me is the joy of the crowd at the announcement.”
    This bothers me much more than papal infallibility. It reminds me too much of Austrians and Germans cheering at Hitler, Russians cheering at Stalin and North-Koreans cheering at one Kim or another.
    Sure, there are Dutch and English citizens cheering at their respective monarchs as well, but I never have thought high of their thinking skills either. And those two monarchs at least are kaltgestellt.

  25. #25 Stewart Henderson
    Australia
    March 14, 2013

    The bottom line is that this pope won’t make much difference, except maybe in book-keeping or other such trivia. Expect more homophobic and misogynist pronouncements, and more putting the church’s interest before that of the victims re the child abuse scandals. This guy’s emphasis on the poor won’t make much difference on the ground – church welfare services are already doing that work everywhere, completely cut off from the Vatican, with some doing better than others, completely dependent on local leadership.
    This church will stand or fall on its dogma. If it’s not prepared to bend, surely it will break eventually. This is my optimistic hope – two choices, to bend and sink slowly into irrelevance like the Anglicans, or to remain inflexible and finally crash and burn spectacularly.

  26. #26 MNb
    March 14, 2013

    “are the lay people thinking the pope is fallible when he makes such pronouncements and showing him the middle finger?”
    At least lots in Europe do.

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/influence-of-catholic-church-on-the-decline-in-poland-a-843694.html

    Here we have a famous catholic gay (at least famous in The Netherlands):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_Reve

    He also inspired Paul Verhoeven (from Robocop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct fame) to direct his best movie:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086543/

    A totally catholic bisexual movie. Reve did not get excommunicated, but was even involved with the latest translation of the Bible.

  27. #27 Steven Carr
    March 15, 2013

    ‘Had you been in German at the time, you would have joined as well. ‘

    Lots of Jehovah’s Witness children did not join the Hitler Youth. They were prepared to let their religion interfere with their private life, unlike Josef Ratzinger, who did join the Hitler Youth.

  28. #28 JonJ
    March 15, 2013

    Traditional Catholic theology — ex opere operato, etc. — is a marvelous thing to behold, like an axiomatic system devised by a brilliant mathematician which is assembled with the most rigorous logic, but need not have anything to do with real life.

    Of course, this conceptual marvel developed over a long historical process out of the beliefs of (presumably) a group of Jews 2000 years ago who were dazzled by an impressive wandering preacher into thinking that he had the key to bringing them closer to God than they had ever been and to solving all their problems, but who ended up executed by the authorities, leaving his followers with the problem of explaining why they were so bowled over by him.

    All these centuries later, with everything human beings have learned about the world since, throngs of people can still stand up and cheer at a puff of white smoke, hoping against hope that it means that some, if not all, of the world’s problems will be solved by this new guy. What this means, actually, is that human credulity is apparently endless.

  29. #29 Pierce R. Butler
    March 15, 2013

    He took his name from Saint Francis, who famously took a vow of poverty.

    Except he didn’t. Papa Franky picked his name in homage to Francis Xavier, co-founder of the notorious Jesuit (Society of Jesus) order to which Bergoglio belongs.

    Not that the historic Francis of Assisi (as compared to his modern image as an animal-loving hippie) would be much of an appropriate role model for our times: he accompanied the King of France on a crusade to Egypt so he could bless the whole enterprise and the weapons involved, but was smart enough to hop a ship back to Europe before said king and his lords carried out a classic military bungle, getting their army shredded and themselves held for a steep ransom.

  30. #30 Pierce R. Butler
    March 16, 2013

    not a catholic @ # 2: [Pope Classic] … Benedict was in the Hitler Youth, yes.

    Where he loyally performed all his assigned duties, including guarding prison camps and crewing anti-aircraft batteries: the first and so far only pontiff known to have fired on US & British troops. He didn’t stop until his unit – and practically the entire Wehrmacht – dissolved around him.

    As for the young Germans of his generation who resisted the Hitler Youth, please read up on the “Edelweiss Pirates” and their fellow travelers (most numerous in Ratzinger’s native Rhineland area).

  31. #31 SLC
    March 16, 2013

    Re Pierce R. Butler @ #30

    Except that when he performed the duties cited, he had been drafted into the Wehrmacht, just like millions of other German boys. Apparently, Mr. Butler thinks that he should have been a draft dodger, in which case he would have been sent to a concentration camp or summarily executed.

    Ah gee, he fired on US and British aircraft who were busy bombing Germany. Sounds like self defense to me.

    Re Steven Carr

    Excuse me, he didn’t voluntarily join the Wehrmacht, he was drafted. As for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, most of them ended up in concentration camps.

  32. #32 Walt Jones
    March 19, 2013

    Pierce – the link you provide states that the provenance of his papal name is indeed St. Francis.

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