The whole world rejoiced when the new pope was named, myself included. No, I am not Roman Catholic, but I looked for the white smoke, and when it showed, I rejoiced.
Though confused as to why the Roman Catholic church continues to elect such old men to an office that has behemoth responsibility, there is something to be said about the peace that the world could possibly be feeling this morning because that important office has been filled.
Can an old man address the newness of an old world, with old religious beliefs and practices?
It is true that the world wanted the office of pope to be filled, sooner rather than later, but the new pope has a mess awaiting him. The Roman Catholic church is in disarray, due largely to the reported incidences of sexual misconduct of priests. That disarray is further exacerbated by the fact that the Roman Catholic church has seemed to be resistant to the way the world has changed. This is not a day and time where Catholics receive a word from the Vatican as sacrosanct, unable to be challenged. Catholic women want to be ordained as priests. Some male priests are challenging the value of the need for priests to take vows of celebacy. More and more Catholics are speaking up for same-sex marriage, which the new pope reportedly opposes. It seems that there is a search for a new Catholic dogma and doctrinal reality, but from what has been shared about Pope Francis, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any modern or updated changes to ancient Catholic practices and beliefs.
This pope is said to be an extremely humble man, a man who gave up his house in order to live in a more modest apartment, a man who takes public transportation, and who reportedly once washed the feet of men infected with HIV/AIDS. He has a heart for the people, “the least of these,” which is endearing and encouraging to know.
But in his office as pope, it seems highly unlikely that he will be able, or even allowed, to get out and mix with the very poor and forgotten Catholics of the world. What a mark it might make on a world which is filled to the brim with countries that are severely in debt, apparently putting more stock in materialism and the acquisition of wealth, rather than with taking care of those less fortunate. In fact, in these hard economic times, lawmakers of struggling countries seem more eager to cut programs that help “the least of these,” a category of people which seems to be growing daily, than to cut into the lives of the very wealthy.
One wonders if Pope Francis will address that apparent reality? Some would ask if it’s even necessary, but in a day where morality is being investigated, especially as it regards the rights of the LGBT community and same-sex marriage, and, of course, the sexual scandals involving priests and young boys, there seems to be a need to expand the definition of morality. Surely, ignoring the poor is immoral. Surely, taking from the poor in order to protect the wealth of the wealthy is…immoral. Will the new pope, if he believes along the lines just stated, be able to effectively communicate that widened definition of immorality to a world which isn’t all that interested in attending to the poor?
The issues before the new pope – a man enmeshed in ancient dogma which has not really helped the Catholic church in recent years – are wide and deep. Benedict remained tenaciously connected to the ancient dogma, in spite of many Catholics calling for change. Pope Francis, the first pope to take that name, and who, like so many others, has been moved by the life of Francis of Assisi, will be caught in an interesting place between the sacred past and the formation of a new sacred present. It will be interesting to watch.
A candid observation …