As I have noted, I’m a Protestant with an odd fascination with Catholic popes. The accession, in March 2013, of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, 76, to become the 266th head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, especially when his predecessor, Benedict XVI is still alive, intrigued me.
I admit that I’ve enjoyed that he’s made some in the church hierarchy nervous, when he faults the church’s focus on gays and abortion, though that feels more like optics rather than actual change to me. He may be right, though, when he describes‘ideological Christians’ as a ‘serious illness’ within the Church.
More interesting to me is his suggestion, if it’s understood correctly in a secular press, that it’s OK not to believe in God if you have a clean conscience. For a different perspective on what the Pope may have meant, read Anthony Velez, who is studying for the (Protestant) ministry.
Dr. Anne Hendershott, Professor, Franciscan University of Steubenville had perhaps the best take on the new pontiff in the Huffington Post:
Many traditional Catholics are beginning to feel–as Time magazine columnist, Mary Eberstadt recently suggested–that they have been “thrown under the popemobile.” …
They would be wrong. While Pope Francis has said that “we cannot insist only ” on these culture war issues, most have not noticed that he also added that “the teachings of the Church are clear…and I am a son of the Church…but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”…
And, while traditionalists maintain that we still need to talk about them sometimes, an increasing number of progressives and traditionalists are beginning to acknowledge the possibility of finding a true common ground. If Pope Francis can help us reach that common ground, then his pontificate will truly be the “one we have been waiting for.”
A few years ago,…I titled a chapter in [my book Status Envy], “A Pope Away from a Perfect Life.” The chapter suggested that progressives have always believed that they were a “pope away” from a Catholic Church that would allow full reproductive rights, female ordination, and same sex marriage.
It is likely that progressives–and traditionalists as well–will still have to wait a while for that perfect life. Besides, Christians know that we all remain “strangers in a strange land” here on earth. There will never be a “perfect life” here. But Pope Francis is simply asking that we all work together to make that life better for each other. Perhaps it is time to start.
Frankly, I’m more impressed that Pope Francis has launched reform of Vatican bureaucracy, with a cleanup of the Vatican bank. In September, “the bank released its first ever financial report (it is doing quite well, making $117 million last year, more than quadruple the 2011 figure. This year’s number is projected to be substantially lower partly because of the costs of the transparency campaign).” Now, to quote someone else, THIS is change I can believe in.
This action, tied with his simpler lifestyle, more in keeping with Scripture than some German bishops have been living, gives me some hope that some positive permanent change might come from this papacy.