Quotes of the day

Bergoglio, 76, reportedly got the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election, and he has long specialized in the kind of pastoral work that some say is an essential skill for the next pope. In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, says his official biographer, Sergio Rubin.

Bergoglio would likely encourage the church’s 400,000 priests to hit the streets to capture more souls, Rubin said in an Associated Press interview. He is also most comfortable taking a low profile, and his personal style is the antithesis of Vatican splendor. “It’s a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome,” Rubin said…

“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,” Bergoglio said.


The new pontiff is considered a straight shooter who calls things as he sees them, and a follower of the church’s most conservative wing…

Bergogolio’s selection of the name of Pope Francis is “the most stunning” choice and “precedent shattering,” Allen said. “The new pope is sending a signal that this will not be business as usual.”

The name symbolizes “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church,” Allen said.


Tears and cheers erupted across Latin American on Wednesday as an Argentine cardinal became the first pope from the hemisphere, and many expressed hope that he help bring the church closer to the poverty-wracked region that is home to more Catholics than any other…

“It’s a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait,” said Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar at the church of St. Francis of Assisi in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico…

Latin America has some of the world’s sharpest divides between rich and poor and Marvin Cruz, a Catholic at the Parish of the Miraculous in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, said the pope’s “main challenge will be the fight against economic inequality.”

“His training as a Jesuit will allow him to take it head on,” Cruz said.


Pope Francis is unique not just for being the first Latin American pope. He’s also the first Jesuit pope, possibly signaling a renewed emphasis on traditional Catholic theology by the church…

“I think you’ll find a man who is conservative theologically but very strong on matters of social justice,” Sheeran said…

The Society of Jesus is the largest religious order of men in the Catholic Church, according to church statistics, and the largest single order of Catholic priests. But there has never before been a Jesuit pope, reflecting both the order’s own reluctance to get deeply involved in church politics and its history as a polarizing force within Catholicism.

“I’m amazed (Francis) was selected,” Sheeran said, because “the Jesuits steer clear of getting high-ranking jobs like this.”


Benedict was selected in 2005 as a caretaker after the momentous papacy of John Paul II, but the shy theologian appeared to show little inclination toward management. His papacy suffered from crises of communications — with Muslims, Jews and Anglicans — that, along with a sex abuse crisis that raged back to life in Europe in 2010, evolved into a crisis of governance…

Francis will have to help make the Vatican bureaucracy — often seen as a hornet’s nest of infighting Italians — work more efficiently for the good of the church. After years in which Benedict and John Paul helped consolidate more power at the top, many liberal Catholics also hope that the new pope will give local bishops’ conferences more decision-making power to help respond to the needs of the faithful.

The reform of the Roman Curia, which runs the Vatican, “is not conceptually hard,” said Alberto Melloni, the author of numerous books on the Vatican and the Second Vatican Council. “it’s hard on a political front, but it will take five minutes for someone who has the strength. You get rid of the spoil system, and that’s it.”


Yet the new pontiff is in other ways a cautious choice — first, because at 76, he’s only two years younger than Benedict was when he was chosen in 2005, and while not exactly a ‘caretaker pope,’ is certainly a less risky choice than someone younger, who would have been expected to have a longer pontificate…

Cardinal Borgoglio may also have been a less radical choice than some other options — Milan’s Cardinal Angelo Scola, for instance — in terms of institutional reform.

After years of embarrassing sexual abuse and financial scandals, anyone stepping into the role of pope knows sweeping administrative reform is needed — even those inside the Curia who will fight hardest for the status quo publicly say they support it — and the new pope has also spoken of the need to clean house, saying, “We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church.”

But since Cardinal Borgoglio never worked inside the Vatican, he’s seen as less likely than some other candidates were to overhaul the way its government functions, and doesn’t, the thinking being that to truly reform the Curia, it helps to know how it works.


My only provisional thoughts are these. First, whatever correlations of factions and forces within the conclave produced this result, Bergoglio won relatively swiftly, which — joined to his runner-up status last time, in a conclave that had a very different slate of cardinal electors — suggests a man with deep reservoirs of support and goodwill among his fellow prelates. Even if he was a compromise choice of some sort, his fellow electors were clearly quite happy to make it. If the new pope makes bold moves, and especially moves that ruffle feathers in the Roman court, it will reflect his confidence in that support. On the other hand, if he does prove more of a caretaker figure, it will be a sign that a supermajority of his fellow cardinals had much less interest in institutional change than the pre-conclave press accounts suggested.

Second, the choice of a Latin American makes a great deal of sense on paper, since Latin America is in many ways the place where the different experiences of global Catholicism converge. The region shares a New World experience with North America, a long record of church-state entanglements with Western Europe, a history of colonial exploitation and stark extremes of wealth and poverty with sub-Saharan Africa. The Latin church faces the same challenges from secularism and sexual liberation as the church in the developed world, and the same explosive growth of Pentecostalist and prosperity-oriented Christian alternatives as the church elsewhere in the global South. A pontiff from the region is thus a natural choice, in ways that an African or Asian pope might not have been, to move the church’s focus away from Europe and North America (and especially Europe) in some ways without cutting the Vatican off from the trends, issues and crises facing the church in a secularizing West.


But the other way to look at the dawn of this papacy is that it is one more in the pile of recent Catholic novelties and mediocrities. He is the first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit to be pope, and the first to take the name Francis. And so he falls in line with the larger era of the church in the past 50 years which has been defined by ill-considered experimentation: a “pastoral” ecumenical council at Vatican II, a new synthetic vernacular liturgy, the hasty revision of the rules for almost all religious orders within the church, the dramatic gestures and “saint factory” of Pope John Paul II’s papacy, along with the surprise resignation of Benedict XVI. In this vision, 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.

There are reasons to believe that Pope Francis is a transitional figure, unlikely to affect 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…

Of course, the papacy has offered surprises in the past. Catholic tradition holds that the papacy was built on a mediocre man, St. Peter, who was once described as “a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man.” Pope Francis is now the man at the head of a Church impaired by immoral clergy, negligent bishops, and a moribund intellectual and spiritual life. God help him.