May 24, 2013
Habemus Pa(m)pam III
We should recall that “Catholic” comes from the Greek word for “universal” because a new papacy from a new continent under a new name is being subjected to all kinds of reductionism. Starting with the native country of Pope Francis where there is a need to see loftier things at stake here than the insistent political polarization between pro-Kirchner and anti-Kirchner (as is gradually dawning on the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration, which belittles the upsurge of national pride at its peril). This polarization is most visible over alleged complicity with the 1976-83 military dictatorshipwhere the waters divide over whether Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel is quoted on Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s innocence from such charges or his “lack of courage” — this issue over two Jesuits being detained on Bergoglio’s watch as the order’s superior is overrated because by the same logic the parents of any missing persons could be made to take the rap.
But if politically pigeonholing Bergoglio into government or opposition trenches does not do justice to everything Pope Francis could achieve for the world, neither does the national pride which CFK ignores at her peril. And neither does viewing his election through the narrow prism of Vatican politics — a combination of South American birth, an Italian surname and 30 of the 40 cardinals backing him in 2005 still voting in the conclave was too much for a numerous Italian bloc evenly split into conservative and reform wings. Those media who reduce the Church to VatiLeaks, a vast paedophile club or a conspiracy against abortion and birth control are trivializing both the depths of belief and its full dimensions in space and time — Benedict XVI’s “Pontifex” Twitter in his last months marked not so much a bid to be fashionable as despair over the print media’s inability to rise above petty scandalmongering and a trust in the new technology offering a broader range of vision. Even the social gospel falls short, as Francis himself stressed in his first day as pope — while fully encouraging slum priests as Buenos Aires archbishop, he warned against turning the Church into a “compassionate NGO.”
This definition may carry the key to his papacy. Perhaps no pope could better be expected to embody a defensive strategy than a South American from a once totally Catholic region threatened by Protestant sects but instead Francis seems ready to sacrifice both established status and merger into modern pluralism (as Benedict said, belief in one God ultimately leads to belief in one truth) to head a convinced minority. A new Church from the New World.