In a huge surprise, it didn’t take long for the Sistine Chapel to emit white smoke from its chimney.
In fairly short order, the cardinals ended the conclave and reached what appears to be an easy two-thirds majority, if not a unanimous consensus, as if it were a congenial parish council.
And then came the pronouncement over St.Peter’s Square: “Habemus Papam,” (we have a new pope), and indeed we did.
He is Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 76, described as a “simple man,” who like his abdicating predecessor became a pope of firsts.
Bergoglio is the first non-European, from Latin America, a Jesuit who didn’t choose Ignatius, but the revered saint’s name, Francis–the first pope ever to take the name of St. Francis de Assisi, the patron saint of the poor and the humbled, who rebuilt the church.
And isn’t that just what the Catholic Church riddled with accusations concerning sex, money, and inequality needs right now.
“Here I am,” he said in Latin, as he addressed the crowd at St. Peter’s Square. He then thanked Benedict, the Pope Emeritus and led the crowd in the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.
Pope John Paul II made him cardinal in 2001, and at the last conclave, Bergoglio was said to be the runner-up to Benedict.
But in pope handicapping this time around, Bergoglio was hardly mentioned among the favorites.
Indeed, the questions remain as Francis I takes over. He’s known as a simple man. But is he charismatic? An administrator? A communicator? Does he tweet?
Did we get someone who recognizes the need for reform? Or did we get someone all too willing to let the faithful believe that indeed God works in mysterious ways.
The church will lose members either way.
Surely, the conclave could not go with a traditional man of Rome. That would be like leaving “not so good” alone, and flash a green light to the smart, cunning men (and unfortunately in the Catholic Church, men is all that we mean), who will continue to do what men do, all be it in the name of God.
Considering the sheer mass of alleged wrongdoing by Church leaders, some that’s only recently come to light, this was a critical moment for the cardinals.
There’s been no better case for reform in the Catholic Church since Vatican II.
It would be great if someone just plopped out of the sky, or appeared at a mountaintop in a flash of light. But that only happens in the presence of God, and the election of a pope is purely political and in the realm of man. It’s not a matter of liturgy.
If the choice was to be a Rome outsider, I thought Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, who seemed to have impressed many with his linguistic ability and charm, might have been a good choice.
That would have made a great St. Patrick’s Day story in America. O’Malley knows the politics of sex scandals, and would have lifted the American church.
But with Bergoglio, the cardinals seem to have picked the right person based on demographics. As a Latin American, the new pope is someone who represents where the church is presently. There are 501 million Catholics in Latin America, the largest group of followers in the world. Bergoglio appears to be the right choice just on the makeup of the modern church.
His politics is more traditional and conservative, but let’s not forget, Catholics also believe in virgin births. Should it be a surprise that Bergoglio has been fervently against gay marriage, not to mention against contraception. Well, how do you suppose Catholicism reaches 1.2 billion people in the world. Not with condoms.
As his past is dredged over, no doubt people will find some things that might make one wish there was a better vetting process. Ratzinger/Benedict withstood his connection with the Hitler Youth Corp. But will Bergoglio/Francis live down his past actions where he hid from a Human Rights Committee the political prisoners of the Argentinian dictatorship?
Is the explanation compassion? Or complicity? If so, maybe this is an opportunity for a little public penance and contrition, though the preference for the simple life and embrace of the poor is already a signifcant display of Bergoglio’s humility.
In the end, that may have been the reason for his selection. It wasn’t his penchant to bring the church into the 21st Century so much, but to bring back the simple values on which the church was built. When the debate rages within the church, Bergoglio’s humble, spiritual style is a winning one.
To see him elevated is truly a “first will be last, last will be first” moment.
One wonders if Bergoglio, the bus rider would have shunned the papal helicopter to the papal retirement resort. That’s the common touch that makes Bergoglio’s papacy most hopeful.
Observers and lay members of the church who may want to see all the sex issues resolved in the church, may not see the kind of reform they’d like to see in their lifetime.
But at this time, more than ever, is there a question that the Catholic Church could use a pope named Francis?
His politics is more traditional and conservative, but let’s not forget, Catholics also believe in virgin births.
Still, it’s Bergoglio’s humble, spiritual style that I find more interesting. And hopeful.
At this time, more than ever, is there a question that the Catholic Church could use a Francis?