David Frum

03.15.13

What Catholics Think of Pope Francis

Over a billion Catholics rejoiced at the announcement that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would be Pope Francis.

Here are a sampling of reactions to the new Pope.

The editors of the National Review call upon Pope Francis to live up to his chosen name.

Saint Francis’s famed humility was his method for acting on his zeal to reform the Church of his day. “Preach often,” he urged his brothers in religion, according to Franciscan tradition, “and use words if necessary.” That is, his answer to the ecclesiastical corruption around him was first of all to demonstrate the purity that men and women of the Church are called to practice. Then as now, a great stumbling block for those who failed to live up to the Church’s call to moral rectitude was money… His unassailable reputation as a man who has tamed the vice of greed should lend credibility to his exercise of a strong hand in this matter.

Timothy Egan of the New York Times points to the Pope’s fascinating beginnings and how the creed he has lived by could make the Church more accepting.

The stories of the new Pope cleaning the feet of AIDS patients in his native Argentina and disparaging fellow clerics for refusing to baptize the children of unmarried mothers show just how much the energies of the Vatican bully pulpit could be redirected.

Francis knew violence, and he knew wealth. He had gone to war with nearby Perugia as a young man, a party animal with family money. Captured, he spent a year in a rat-infested cell. After release, he was a changed person, stripping himself of his clothes at the feet of his father. He was duty-bound, he said, to follow the gospel of helping the least among them.

That said, some media outlets have focused on the Pope’s public battle with Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner over legalizing gay marriage.

From the Huffington Post:

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a 76-year-old Argentinean, was chosen as the first Latin American pope on Wednesday. He will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics as Pope Francis. While his selection may be historic, it may also mean more of the same when it comes to gay rights in the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis is a conservative who is anti-gay marriage and anti-gay adoption. He has described same-sex marriage as the work of the devil and a “destructive attack on God’s plan.” He has also said that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children.

Slate balks at the idea that Pope Francis will be a revolutionary figure. Michael Brenden Dougherty predicts little will change under Pope Francis.

There are reasons to believe that Pope Francis is a transitional figure, unlikely to effect major reform at the top of the church. He is not known as a champion of any theological vision, traditional or modern. He is just two years younger than Pope Benedict was upon his election eight years ago. He has deep connections to Italy, but little experience with the workings of the Vatican offices. A contentious reading of Pope Francis’ rise is that Benedict’s enemies have triumphed completely. It is unusual for a one-time rival in a previous election to triumph in a future one. And there is almost no path to Bergoglio’s election without support from curial Italians, combined with a Latin American bloc. Low-level conspiracy theories already flourish in Italy that Benedict’s resignation was the result of a curia determined to undermine his reforms. This election will only intensify that speculation. An older pope who does not know which curial offices and officers need the ax, will be even easier to ignore than Benedict.

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