Francis: Another Mediocre Novelty?


That’s Dougherty’s concern – and the possibility that Francis was actually the candidate of the old guard in the Curia:

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.

The more I read about his role during the dirty war of the 1970s, the queasier I get. This is not an encouraging detail about a priest under Bergoglio’s authority who was convicted of seven homicides and 40 torture sessions:

Father von Wernich was allowed to continue to celebrate Mass in prison, and in 2010, a church official said that “at the appropriate time, von Wernich’s situation will have to be resolved in accordance with canonical law.” But Cardinal Bergoglio never issued a formal apology on behalf of the church, or commented directly on the case, and during his tenure the bishops’ conference was similarly silent.

Only in November 2012, a year after Cardinal Bergoglio had stepped down as head of the bishops’ conference, did the group address the issue of its role during the dictatorship.

We need a Pope unafraid of airing the dirtiest of laundry. But if Bergoglio kept silent in the face of government assassins and torturers, and didn’t de-frock a torturer-murderer priest, why would he be vigilant about child rape? This line from Dougherty struck a chord about the current turbulence:

Benedict’s papacy, which focused on “continuity,” seems like the exception to an epoch of stunning and unsettling change, which—as we know—usually heralds collapse.

(Painting: St Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus, by Caravaggio.)

Face Of The Day

The Conclave Of Cardinals Have Elected A New Pope To Lead The World's Catholics

People stand in St. Peter’s Square as they listen to newly elected Pope Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who will take the name Pope Francis on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Quote For The Day II

“But didn’t Jesus say, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16.18)? Yes, but he also ordered his disciples not to seek rank among themselves (Mark 9.33-37), and said “Do not call any man on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven” (Matthew 23.9, NEB). How do we reconcile these sayings? G. K. Chesterton gave the best answer. Christ, founding his church, did not choose Peter because he was above others, but because he was not above them:

He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man… All the empires and the kingdoms have failed because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by a strong man upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.

In the coming election, we do not have to fear Dante’s hell-bound popes, Acton’s mass-murderer popes, or Newman’s in-need-of-death pope. Happily, we can expect the new pope to be a man ordinary and ignorable, like Saint Peter,” – the great Garry Wills.

A New Pope: Tweet Reax


Above image from the One Tiny Hand tumblr. More tweets after the jump:

Live-Blogging Pope Francis: “Lowly Yet Chosen”

The Conclave Of Cardinals Have Elected A New Pope To Lead The World's Catholics

5.43 pm. He celebrated Rosh Hashana in 2007,

saying that he was there to examine his heart, “like a pilgrim, together with you, my elder brothers.” “Today, here in this synagogue, we are made newly aware of the fact that we are a people on a journey and we place ourselves in God’s presence,” the cardinal said. “We must look at him and let him look at us, to examine our heart in his presence and to ask ourselves if we are walking blamelessly…. Even if your sins are scarlet, they will become white as snow, he promises us; even if they are red like crimson, they will be like wool… In the end we are asked not to hide these, our errors, this meanness, this sin in its totality […] but to place them in front of God’s eyes — that Lord who forgives and is patient.

That’s what the church needs: humble solidarity with our fellow believers of all kinds, and a refusal to look away from our own iniquity.

5.37 pm. Stanley Hauerwas:

It’s remarkable that they’ve chosen a Jesuit. That’s even more remarkable than choosing a non-European. That he’s a Jesuit says so much about his commitment to the poor, and that he’s taken the name of Francis — in recollection of Saint Francis of Assisi — clearly gestures that the Roman Catholic Church not only serves the poor, the Roman Catholic Church is the church of the poor.

Now for a real battle within American Christianity: the “church of the poor” or the Prosperity Gospel?

5.28 pm. Assisi or Xavier? Many readers think Francis may be nodding to the co-founder of the Jesuits, Saint Francis Xavier, rather than of Assisi. I assumed Assisi because the former invariably has the Xavier attached (so many Catholic boys were once named Francis X. O’Sullivan or whatever), and because of the new Pope’s focus on poverty and humility. And Pope Francis, unlike Xavier, is not a globe-trotter or known for missionary work. But I may be wrong. We should find out soon enough.

5.24 pm. This Pope will give Paul Ryan heartburn:

Francis also seems to be an opponent of austerity, most notably during his time as spiritual leader of Argentina when the country defaulted on its debt in 2002 … When the debt crisis hit in 2002, the church called in strong terms for a debt restructuring to take place which privileged social programs above debt repayment. They argued that the true problems in the Argentinian economy were, in their words, “social exclusion, a growing gap between rich and poor, insecurity, corruption, social and family violence, serious deficiencies in the educational system and in public health, the negative consequences of globalization and the tyranny of the markets.”

5.20 pm. He has a background in chemistry. Hank Campbell cheers:

As I have noted before, we have had back-to-back Popes with solid support for science. It isn’t going to satisfy every militant who thinks every form of biology should be embraced (yet don’t complain at all that the Obama administration bans somatic cell nuclear transfer) but the Catholics have the oldest science institute in the world, Galileo was one of its first presidents, and this carries on a long tradition of advancement of science among Catholics.

Pope Francis is a humble man and that’s good, because 21st century science is humbling. The world is going to change pretty fast.

One merciful thing about Catholic Christianity: no denial of evolution.

5.16 pm. A reader writes:

“The Pope is the successor of the Apostle who was graced with faith, and still denied Christ, cowered in fear with the other male apostles in the upper room after Jesus’ death, and would have us still circumcising boys and eating kosher. Yet managed to serve God.”

We are all sinners, and the Gospels tell us that the first leader of the church was one of the greatest.

5.14 pm. I have a feeling this book is going to get translated pretty soon.

5.09 pm. Why American conservatism is so sick:

5.03 pm. Some more details on Bergoglio’s relationship with the dictatorship of the late 1970s and early 1980s:

One [case] examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.

Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them — including persuading dictator Jorge Videla’s family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in the junta leader’s home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed him for the 2010 biography.

At the same time, there was a reluctance to testify, public silence about the regime’s horrors, and evasive answers, according to some human rights lawyers. He seems to have been much more outspoken about social ills under a free society than under the junta’s rule.

4.55 pm. As I often do, I find myself in agreement with Michael Potemra:

People who worry that, as a Jesuit, he might be too liberal, should relax: A very conservative Jesuit priest of my acquaintance, who is unhappy with the liberal direction of his order, has been telling me for weeks that he supports Bergoglio for pope. Bergoglio is a solid conservative on the hot-button social issues that agitate American laity, but that would have been true of just about any of the cardinals who might have been elected today. The story here is that he is an outsider who is the consensus choice to fix what’s wrong with the church administration, but all in a Franciscan spirit of love and humility, to wipe the face of the church so that its inner beauty can radiate. St. Francis was called to “rebuild the church” — Pope Francis will act in that spirit.

The word that is constantly repeated in assessments of him is “balance”. And his entire career in the church has been centered on overcoming and condemning social and economic inequality.

4.51 pm. More from Reuters on the Pope’s alleged complicity with the military junta’s purge of leftists:

The most well-known episode relates to the abduction of two Jesuits whom the military government secretly jailed for their work in poor neighborhoods. According to “The Silence,” a book written by journalist Horacio Verbitsky, Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection of the two men after they refused to quit visiting the slums, which ultimately paved the way for their capture.

Verbitsky’s book is based on statements by Orlando Yorio, one of the kidnapped Jesuits, before he died of natural causes in 2000. Both of the abducted clergymen survived five months of imprisonment. “History condemns him. It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the Church and above all, during the dictatorship, it shows he was very cozy with the military,” Fortunato Mallimacci, the former dean of social sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, once said. Those who defend Bergoglio say there is no proof behind these claims and, on the contrary, they say the priest helped many dissidents escape during the military junta’s rule.

4.45 pm. Rod Dreher reprints a hagiography of Saint Francis as perhaps a sign of what this Pope intends to do with his time in office:

One day when Francis went out to meditate in the fields he was passing by the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray.

Kneeling before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with great fervor and consolation as he prayed. While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times: ‘Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.’

4.42 pm. One source of considerable hope is Pope Francis’ history of contempt for clericalism, one of the key factors behind the child-rape conspiracy:

“These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation.”

4.30 pm. Theocon Damian Thompson wants Francis to clean out the stables:

It’s a shame that Cardinal Bergoglio never had the opportunity to mingle incognito in the bars of modern Dublin, where he would have found an intensity of hatred for the Catholic Church that the Gordon rioters might have recognised. Young Irish people especially can hardly mention the Church without a curl of the lip. Older folk, meanwhile, feel miserably betrayed. It’s the same story in, say, Boston or Quebec. How telling that the siblings of Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, no longer go to Mass regularly.

I know this is a downbeat response to what, for Catholics, is a joyful and hopeful event. But savage reform to the curia is required so that Pope Francis can (should he wish) take advantage of the successful Benedictine reforms … So welcome, Holy Father, and let the sackings begin.

4.18 pm. And now the troubling parts of his background – which were aired just before the last conclave. From Hugh O’Shaughnessy of the Guardian almost two years ago:

The extent of the church’s complicity in the dark deeds [of the Argentine junta in the 1970s] was excellently set out by Horacio Verbitsky, one of Argentina’s most notable journalists, in his book El Silencio (Silence). He recounts how the Argentine navy with the connivance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires, hid from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission the dictatorship’s political prisoners. Bergoglio was hiding them in nothing less than his holiday home in an island called El Silencio in the River Plate. The most shaming thing for the church is that in such circumstances Bergoglio’s name was allowed to go forward in the ballot to choose the successor of John Paul II. What scandal would not have ensued if the first pope ever to be elected from the continent of America had been revealed as an accessory to murder and false imprisonment.

And the heart sinks.

4.11 pm. After Benedict’s frills and lace, we get something rather different:

When Roman Catholic Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio takes the subway to work, few of his fellow commuters realize they are sharing the train with the archbishop of Buenos Aires.  The 68-year-old Jesuit eschews opulent religious garments, chauffeur-driven limousines and other perks of his position. Sometimes, he throws an old raincoat over his cassock before heading out the door. “He never dresses like a cardinal,” said Gregory James Venables, a close friend of Bergoglio’s who heads the Anglican Church in southern South America. “It’s not to be scruffy. But that’s his character. He is very, very, very humble.” …

It’s also noticeable that one of his close friends is an Anglican. He is said to be open to other faith traditions.

4.04 pm. Tweets of the hour:

4.02 pm. Quote for the hour (and perhaps suggesting why Francis’ age may not have counted against him):

One Italian writer quoted an anonymous cardinal on March 2 as saying, “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things.”

3.57 pm. Chart of the hour from Yglesias:

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 3.57.24 PM

But he’s wrong. There’s only one actual Pope at a time. And his name is Francis.

3.55 pm. Why Argentina? Why not?

If you crunch the numbers, it’s astonishing that we have not yet had a Latin American pope. Today roughly 41% of all Catholics hail from Latin America. And half of all Catholics under age 40 are from Latin America.

3.48 pm. In 2001, he made an important gesture in washing the feet of people with AIDS – another sign of his association with Saint Francis, whose outreach to lepers began his great ministry. I may be reading too much into the name, but Bergoglio’s embrace of poverty and his seeming humility speak to me as a Christian in these dark ages for the faith. Rocco also notes how rare it is for a Jesuit to nod to a Franciscan:

By choosing the name of the founder of his community’s traditional rivals, the 266th Roman pontiff – the first from the American continent, home to more than half of the 1.2 billion-member church – has signaled two things: his desire to be a force of unity in a polarized fold, and his intent to “repair God’s house, which has fallen into ruin”… that is, to rebuild the church.

3.41 pm. Another Allen nugget:

In September 2012, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of “rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism.”

He seemed genuinely mild-mannered, gentle and humble too – judging from a few minutes of watching him wave rather tepidly to the crowd.

3.31 pm. Evem more than his predecessor’s, this Pope seems an unlikely fit for Paul Ryan-style Catholics:

Bergoglio has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor. “We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” Bergoglio said during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”

“Social sin”. I cannot imagine what he’d say about Ryan’s budget proposal.

3.28 pm. John Allen’s profile is here. Money quote:

“We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church,” Bergoglio said recently. “It’s true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that’s sick because it’s self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former.”

3.24 pm. Here’s what he recently wrote about marriage equality in Argentina:

“Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

So marriage equality is the work of Satan. Oh well.

3.20 pm. Perhaps a sign of why he chose the name Francis. From Wiki:

As Cardinal, Bergoglio became known for personal humility, doctrinal conservatism and a commitment to social justice. A simple lifestyle has contributed to his reputation for humility. He lives in a small apartment, rather than in the palatial bishop’s residence. He gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of public transportation, and he reportedly cooks his own meals.

3.18 pm. Two obvious first thoughts. The first Jesuit Pope, named after arguably the greatest saint, Francis, and from Latin America. Those are big precedents. And they give me some hope.

(Photo: Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. By Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.)

What’s Happening Behind The Curtain?

A tick-tock of the traditional ceremonies just occurring behind the scenes. Money quote:

The new Pope, accompanied by Msgr. Marini and some assistants, will then enter the “Room of Tears,” a small, simple room situated immediately behind Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. There, they will help him to divest his scarlet robes and don the traditional white vesture of a pope.

Three sizes of soutane (cassock), large, medium and small, and made by the famous local Gammarelli vestment makers, will be waiting for him. Each can be rapidly adjusted to meet his personal requirements. In addition, he will be attired in the traditional white moiré silk fascia and skull cap, the lace rochet (surplice), a crimson silk mozzetta (a sort of shoulder cape), red morocco leather slippers and an elaborate gold-embroidered red-velvet stole.

Hence the wait between the smoke and the appearance on the balcony on which my eyes are now fixed.

The Science Of The Smoke

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 5.59.58 PM

A timely explainer from Philip Ball:

The smoke comes partly from the burning of ballot papers in a special stove in the chapel. But to colour it white or black, this smoke is mixed with that from chemical additives burnt in a second stove. Traditionally the Vatican produced the different colours by burning wet straw for white and tarry pitch for black.

Anyone who has ever made a bonfire knows that damp grass will work for the former; the less responsible of you will know that chucking old tyres or roofing felt into the flames will turn the smoke black – and what’s more, noxious, because it is then full of sooty carbon particles that can clog the lungs and are potentially carcinogenic.

It’s not concern for the environment that has led the Vatican to change its ways, however. Rather, the smoke in some previous elections came out an ambiguous grey, prompting the decision for the last conclave in 2005 to use a more reliable method based on chemical ingredients.

The Vatican has now revealed what these are. For black, it uses a mixture of potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulphur; white comes from potassium chlorate, lactose and the conifer resin called rosin, which is also used to lubricate violin strings. We needn’t imagine a team of Vatican chemists labouring like alchemists to devise these magic recipes, because what they really show is that the Vatican is making plain old smoke bombs.

(Screenshot from the site