The Austere Pope

A man most nobody had ever heard of was announced Pope last night in front of an estimated crowd of over 100,000 in and around St. Peter’s Square. The Catholic Church needed someone different, someone more suited to modern times. In electing Jorge Mario Bergoglio, they most certainly gave the world someone different, someone who reflects the modern world, though perhaps not in the way the modern world expected.

The new Pope, as a Jesuit, reportedly embraces the poor in much the same way as Mother Theresa did. In so doing he represents the world, especially Europe and Italy, in economically depressed times. Perhaps he was shipped down from Berlin as part of the new austerity package, because if his backstory is any indication Pope Francis could just as well be called “the Austere Pope.” Bergoglio’s election does indeed represent several firsts. The first non-European Pope in over a millennium, by extension the first South American Pope, and the first Jesuit Pope. His whole choosing of Francesco is unique too, at least in the sense that St. Francis of Assisi was on by no means friendly terms with the Vatican.

That he comes from South America only makes sense seeing that the continent constitutes 40% of the world’s Catholics… And if we’re talking about actual weekly church attending Catholics who believe the church’s, ummm, nuttier bits, the number’s a lot higher. For all this talk about a Canadian or another European pope, that move would have been like electing the sole-believer on a panel full of scientists or, if you prefer, the lone nut in a box full of chocolates. There should have been a South American pope well before this, and now with the upcoming Olympics and World Cup, we are poised for a South American decade… If only because the media likes naming things.

When the curtain fell back to reveal the relatively frail looking figure of newly assumed Pope Francesco, it did raise several interesting questions, and I don’t mean whether Brazilians will hate him because he’s Argentinian, or whether he’ll be a political influence in the whole reignited Falkland Islands debate, though those are interesting questions as well. The more important question however is whether this seemingly introverted, “humble” Pope will have the courage to confront the Church with its own demons or whether he’ll try to simply engage in feel good tunes and hand-holding with his fellow Catholics.

His stance on the poor and his widely reported humility do put him in clear contrast with the last Pope, whose Prada shoes and papal fashion made him the Vatican’s Valentino. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio reportedly turned down a chauffeured car in lieu of riding the local bus, and rather than live in the designated “palace” chose a humble apartment. Does the Vatican know who they just elected? The man couldn’t be more anti-Catholic hierarchy if he dyed his hair red and went around waving a rainbow flag. Speaking of gays, they rightly aren’t getting their hopes up over this pope who is just as anti-gay rights as all the rest… And why shouldn’t he be? He’s Catholic! All the gay, or feminist, or pro-equality Catholics out there ought to, instead of inevitably going on to rave about how the Pope and Catholic church don’t represent their values, need to understand that those values were never there in the first place. This supposed liberal, Kennedy-esque Catholicism has always been a pseudo Catholicism, in the sense that if you disagree with the Pope (who Catholic teaching tells believers is the voice of God on earth) then you disagree with the central tenet of Catholicism. It’s like saying you’re a vegetarian but having a hamburger everyday after your salad. Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not a vegetarian. You can’t be a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gender equality Catholic. It’s an oxymoron or, if you prefer, pointedly foolish. Do I believe that preaching against contraception in aids-ridden Africa, or anywhere else for that matter, is wrong? Of course! But I’m not trying to have my cake and eat it too. I’m not a catholic.

Similarly, and for reasons I would better agree with, you can’t openly detest the poor and feel that they’re burdening society and somehow be considered a good Catholic. Recent failed Republican Vice-Presidential candidate (and professing Catholic) Congressman Paul Ryan congratulated the new Pope on his election last night in a statement heralding Cardinal Bergoglio’s work with the poor. This just days after Ryan released a new budget proposal that would cut taxes on high-income earners and would ultimately result in higher taxes on low and middle-class families. Not exactly a man who lives by Franciscan principles.

So while I ultimately wish Pope Francis much success in helping the poor and modernizing the church in the sense of restoring its once primary mission of helping the poor and needy, I don’t wish him any success in converting non-believers to Catholicism.

Unless, that is, they’re Muslim… because that’s even wackier shit!

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