Is the Pope Catholic?

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.


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*cheers loudly*

Couldn't have put it better, Sharon. May Francis continue to do the work that is needed, and inspire others to join in.

He also appears to have chummed around with the military leaders and dictators during the dirty wars in the 70s and 80s and, if reports from Argentina are to be believed, reported "undesirables" to the government.

It is likely he will be even more disagreeable a person than the last two popes have been.

Dean, I think it isn't clear. It may well be that Bergoglio was complicit, it may also have been that he was merely too silent. I'm reluctant to throw stones on that latter one - if I lived in a place where priests and intellectuals were disappearing, I might modulate my dissent too. I don't feel any need to defend Bergoglio - either more truth will come out or not. Nor do I take political progressiveness to be a euphemism for "morally pure" or "always acted ethically" - in fact, I have serious doubts anyone ever comes to major power morally pure.

vigorously backs Vatican positions on abortion, gay marriage, the ordination of women and other major issues

Given the way that JP2 and B16 pushed conservative doctrines among Church leadership (and promoted only those who adhered to those doctrines), it would be surprising if the conclave gave serious consideration to anybody who doesn't meet that criterion. Add in the child sex abuse scandal(s) that the Church is hip deep in[1], and the Church could have done a whole lot worse than someone who regularly rode public buses in a big Latin American city.

As for the Dirty War, recall that the Argentine junta at the time were the people who made "disappear" a transitive verb. I might like to think that I would do more than the new Pope did, but I'm not sure that I would, and I am thankful I have not needed to find out.

[1]Be thankful that they didn't choose an American this time around. The one American who was considered a serious candidate, Timothy Dolan, is apparently neck deep in this scandal.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Mar 2013 #permalink

agreed, it is complicated, and nobody can know for sure what he/she would do in similar locations. However, there is evidence that he stepped in with Jorge Videla personally to appeal for the release of two Jesuit priests who had been taken for their work with the poor (Rubin is the name of one, I believe) but did nothing to aid other locals who were taken. It is also clear, from records made public after their removal, that he (and other clerics, no argument there) publicly endorsed Videla and the government, telling people to support their government and country, in spite of knowing of the military squads carrying out the abductions and executions.

All in all we don't know how things will go. It seems he is more conservative than ratzinger or his predecessor was, so it will likely not be an improved time in the church for women or gays. I'm not sure why anyone would have expected that.

As a former Catholic who hasn't yet had his name removed from the rolls I do like that he seems somewhat progressive with regard to the downtrodden.

Yep. I'm not holding out for women's ordination or gay marriage here, though I still harbour hopes for relaxation on priestly celibacy, and I think that there's a strong possibility that there could be some movement on the child sexual abuse issue. Abortion is unlikely to ever shift. Frankly if you're a Catholic who wants a different stance on gay marriage or abortion, it's time to find a different church.

But I do think a commitment to the worlds poor is a wonderful thing, and I think that in that respect Francis will be a vast improvement on many of his predecessors.

By Sarah in Oz (not verified) on 15 Mar 2013 #permalink

I'd love to see his face when he sits down to read what Benedict has left him - yunno, the detailed report on sex crimes within the church, and the ensuing clean-up job. Christopher Hitchens considered Benedict was responsible for hiding the peadophiliacs within the church, and it has been widely posited the reason Benedict has chosen to live in the Vatican, is because he can't be subpoenaed there. Let's see what happens next.

By Robert Morris (not verified) on 15 Mar 2013 #permalink

He's taken on what might be one of the shittiest jobs on the planet. If your goal in life, as directed by your deity, is to bring people into the fold while keeping what faithful you have in the fold, while simultaneously dealing with a closet full of skeletons, you have one tough job. If your inclination is to social justice as well, you've taken a tiger by the tail -- a really cranky tiger. I don't wish him luck in accumulating and keeping the faithful (I'm an ex-Catholic humanist). But I hope his voice for the poor gets heard. I also hope he has the integrity to deal with the pedophile scandal in a just way, but that may be just too tough for anyone in that position. He is, after all, just a human being.

I'm with you on this one, Sharon. I was at mass today. Our bishop asked the pastor to bless him, and I wished that he had followed Pope Francis' example and gotten a blessing from the people. I still practice because you have to be the change you wish to see. I find Christianity and the New Testament worthwhile and a moral compass for myself and for my girls. I still stand against my faith on many issues, especially gay rights and women's issues, but I have hope that this pope can help re-focus us all on the issues of equality and how we all can actively work with the poor. This is progress.

Regrettably, yes, the Bishop of Rome is still Catholic. No worse, and no better, than any of the other followers of Yahweh.

Well said. No Catholic Cardinal is going to satisfy the liberal press, particularly the New York Times. As a life-long Catholic, I continue to be amazed at the speculation the press traditionally emits during papal elections. The Church will not magically decide to concede to the idea of women priests, sacramental gay marriage, abortion rights, and other secular liberal tendancies. The teachings of the Church are solidly based on the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, and tradition. Catholic teaching does not "change" to satisfy secular society. The press loves to have a field day when it comes to Catholasism. In addition to its' aspirations toward a 'liberal' Pontiff, the press continues to dig out every obvious and obscure reason to present the Catholic faith as a bad thing. Here are facts (no I am not quoting sources at this time, but it is not difficult to find them): 98.3% of all Catholic religiious are not sex offenders. 1.7% are sex offenders. Mainstream reporters would do well to explore, research and write about the good the 98.3% are up to while they create the illusion that every Catholic religious is a sex offender. Should we know about the evils performed by 1.7%? Yes. Should we know about the good works of 98.3%. Yes. Other faiths present equal, or near equal percentages in these areas, but rarely does one see the press so interested in the failures of the clerics of other faiths. As Pope Francis was selected, the media was immediately rolling with the implication that the former Cardinal had not done enough to save the citizens of Argentina. Reminds me of Pope Pius during WWII. He was frequently accused of not having "done enough" to defy Hitler. Behind the scenes, he, Vatican City, and monastaries throughout Europe were secretly hiding and protecting Jewish people from the Nazis. As in the case of Francis, the press let society know that rather than saving lives, the Pontiff should have sacrificed his life and the safety of the protected Jews by making himself a target for Hitler. Sadly, during the 70's and beyond, Argentinians were murdered, tortured, imprisoned, mutilated by the monsterous government and its "police". Thousands of mothers,fathers, sisters, brothers, children simply disappeared and were never found. To this date, most of the perpetrators of this atrocity are still at large and have not been brought to justice for their crimes against those who spoke out against the regime. It would please this reader a great deal if members of the press would focus their interests in Argentina on tracking down and prosecution of war criminals rather than taking the stance that the newly elected Pope did not "do enough" to stop the atrocity, & thereby implying he was complicent with the perpetrators.

I'm not surprised that he's a conservative on matters of Catholic doctrine, but that doesn't equate to "of course he believes these things -- he's a Catholic." It's more like "Of course these are his views, he was chosen to be Pope by a College of Cardinals that overwhelmingly holds to conservative doctrinal positions." But it's not as though there is no disagreement on these matters within the Catholic church, not just among the laity but within the church hierarchy.

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