The resignation by Pope Benedict XVI last month has far-reaching implications that will last well into his successor’s reign. Argentinean, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is the first Jesuit Pope and the first Pope from South America. The new pontiff has an opportunity to right the battered ship that is the Catholic Church while he is in office. Hopefully, for the church’s sake, he can set off a domino effect of positive changes to save the institution.
But will he?
Pope Francis was an unusual cardinal. Back in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio ditched his chauffeured limo and took the bus instead. Instead of living in a church provided palace, as is the norm for cardinals, he lived in a tiny apartment.
As cardinal, he opposed abortion, gay marriage, free distribution of contraceptives and butted heads with Argentinean President Cristiana Fernandez de Kirchner over gay adoption. Over the years, he became a national voice for the poor in Argentina.
Pope Francis has already shattered a glass ceiling in the Vatican simply because he is the first pope from the Latin America, where more than 40 percent of Catholics live.
As far as popes go, Pope Francis looks rather moderate. Yes, he comes from the conservative Jesuit sect of the Catholic church, but I do think Pope Francis sounds at least more liberal than his predecessor.
While he is a doctrinal conservative, I don’t think that means this pope will be totally inflexible.
Based on his attitude back in Buenos Aires, he strikes me as a priest in the old sense of the word: A priest who is wholly dedicated to helping people, not to enforcing the fine points of religious dogma.
The new pope’s predecessor simply wasn’t a very good problem solver, which resulted in Benedict being unable to deal with the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.
During his entire papacy, Benedict only managed to slap people on the wrist for sex abuse and other scandals. Yes, he did meet with some of the sex-abuse victims and acknowledged there was a problem, but he failed to set up effective penalties to stop the abusers from continuing to abuse.
He was too easy on convicts.
The church is dealing with sex scandals, corruption, the status of women, infighting among the church hierarchy and a worldwide eroding faith, not only in Catholicism, but in religion in general.
According to a religious survey by the Pew Forum, the number of irreligious people in the United States is growing. The number of people who are either outright atheist, agnostic or simply uninterested in religion went up from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012.
I used to be a Catholic myself, and I really think my faith may have been saved, as an adult, if a stronger, more connected pope allowed reforms to modernize the church.
What Catholics need is a reformer who will bring the church into the 21st century. Pope Francis has the opportunity to point the church in the right direction, but only time will tell if he can live up to his potential.
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