May 25, 2013
Habemus Pa(m)pam II
While any pope is pre-eminently a spiritual leader, he is also an international leader of world stature and since not all readers belong to his flock whereas everybody will feel the global ramifications of this historic change, this editorial will largely dwell on the political impact of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio becoming Pope Francis, both at home and abroad. “The pope? How many divisions does he have?” asked Joseph Stalin (who died 60 years ago last week) and the answer is, of course, none (today’s Argentina does not have that many either, a cynic might add) but this did not prevent a later Pope (John Paul II) from fatally undermining Stalin’s life work, the Soviet empire. The invisible force is thus definitely there but it is far too early to say how it will shape world affairs. Pope Francis is the first ever pontiff from the developing world but he is also the product of Latin America’s most Eurocentric society while the rising Hispanic minority of the United States as a decisive electoral force multiplies overlap with the US. Ideologically, Pope Francis is equally difficult to pigeonhole. Everybody is asking whether he should be defined as conservative or progressive but as Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was always living proof that it is possible to be both — doctrinally conservative (over abortion, gay marriage, etc.), he nevertheless gave the freest hand possible and full moral support to slum priests like Father José María Di Paola (who in turn show far more respect towards the hierarchy than their Third World predecessors of four or five decades ago ever did). Given the latent mistrust of even conservative pontiffs towards capitalism as a more efficient vehicle of secularization than any socialism, could we be in for a socially progressive papacy in line with most Latin American government policy?
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s frosty reaction to this patriotic milestone so jubilantly hailed by an astounded country might seem odd coming from the head of a “national and popular” government but obeyed the spirit of the separation of Church and state — the politically correct is not always political, however. No space here to list all the tense moments between Kirchner presidencies and Cardinal Bergoglio in the last nine years but if the prelate’s insistence on dialogue was often a sore point, CFK needs to take on board that this appeal is now coming from a Pope.
For Pope Francis, yesterday was the first day of the rest of his life — and of how many other lives?