Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis Inherits Big Job

Pope Francis as Cardinal Bergoglio
On Wednesday afternoon, Jorge Bergoglio stepped out onto the balcony at the Vatican and took the name Francis. The weight of 1.2 billion pairs of Catholic eyes descended upon him. He has a big job.

So far, it appears that Francis is not your normal Pope. After sneaking out of the Vatican on Thursday morning, he went to a church in Rome for a quiet and unannounced prayer service. After that, he returned to the Vatican-owned living quarters where he stayed while in Rome to pick up his luggage and pay his bill. That’s right; the Pope essentially paid his own bill at his own hotel.

Pope Francis has hardline and old school views on issues such as same-sex marriage (once equating the movement behind marriage equality to something started by the devil), women in public life (he doesn't think they're fit for public office) and abortion, but he also apparently has much more liberal views when it comes to helping the poor and the needy. People familiar with the new Pontiff speak extremely highly of his temperament and his heart.

The former Jorge Bergoglio was not without controversy. His critics accuse him of helping support the brutal dictatorship that ran Argentina for years and not doing enough to speak out on human rights violations by that regime. His friends and supporters say that this is simply not correct. It’s not unlike Josef Ratzinger’s indoctrination into the Hitler Youth as a teenager. The facts are out there, and people will take those facts and believe what they will. It was nearly 30 years ago for Pope Francis, and people change a lot in that time.

For those looking for a totally new way of thinking in the Catholic Church, this is likely not your Pope. There’s little indication that he’s going to radically change things, but he does appear much more human than his predecessor. He’s likely more John Paul II than Benedict XVI, and, while I disagreed with Pope John Paul II on many things, I admired him as a man and as a leader.

At 76, Pope Francis likely will not have a decades-long term in the Vatican, but he can definitely have a major effect on the future of the Catholic Church, and that will make a difference for the future of Catholicism in the world.

I will keep an open mind about the new Pontiff, and I hope that his new position will open his heart and mind to new ideas as he tries to reform a church that has been mired in controversy for many years. Pope Francis must address the sex abuse scandals head on instead of hiding from them and hoping they will go away.

Pope Francis has a big job ahead of him. I’m not Catholic, but I did say a little prayer for the Catholic Church’s new leader. Let's hope he governs in a different manner than previous Popes.

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