Thursday 14 March 2013

And what now?

Pope Pius XI
Well, it's one of those situations when we don't know what the future will hold. When his name was announced last night, there was none of the excitement that was attendant on the naming of Ratzinger, just puzzlement. Who?

Pope Francis
At first glance he reminded me of Pope Pius XI in appearance; shortish, stoutish and with glasses. But we can't judge a book by its cover. What was apparent was that none of the bling laid out in the Room of Tears came out. Not even a rochet, let alone a mozzetta. His pectoral cross was the one he wore as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

And those opening words; 'Buona sera', the equivalent of 'Hello'. Bathos indeed, after all the fuss. And then he just stood there, with barely a wave, looking a bit like a rabbit in the headlights. Time will show whether this was simply sheer fright or part of his calm, unhistrionic, style.

I was rather impressed with his words, if only because they were so artless. This was not a man who had memorised his acceptance speech, like a luvvie at the Oscars. The words came from the heart, and this made up for what he lacked in eloquence. Asking that people pray with and for him was a genuine good idea —meaning both genuine and good. And a good beginning, especially as there was no extempore ramblings, but simply the traditional Our Father and Hail Mary. I would have been happier had these been in Latin, but he was, I think, stressing that he is first and foremost the Bishop of Rome. Indeed, he used no other title.

Back home in Argentina he would appear to be a controversial figure. Many love him for his unfeigned charity, some (especially both the Kirchners) detest him for his firm stand on Catholic teaching. I gather that many of his Jesuit brothers are not keen on him, firstly for the firm way he administered their province when he was in charge, secondly for his refusal to support Liberation Theology, which some of them interpreted as support for an oppressive military dictatorship.

Somebody in the UK is bound to spot soon that he has spoken in favour of Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands—but then he is Argentinian, and perhaps this is to be expected. And perhaps if asked he might say that indeed the Malvinas should be 'returned' to Argentina, but when Patagonia is given back its independence, and the lands taken from Chile and Uruguay returned. For now, I noticed that the BBC last night interpreted his taking of the name Francis as meaning that he was 'an animal lover.' Which tells you all you need to know about the BBC, anyway, but nothing about Pope Francis.

Some on the net have been horrid (really horrid—so horrid and uncharitable that I'm not posting links) about his lack of liturgical style. Yup, I don't imagine we will be seeing the return of the tiara any time soon. He's not a fan of the Extraordinary Form, but he does appear to be a genuine fan of Pope Benedict, so I don't think he'll be reversing any of his liturgical decrees. Just don't expect red shoes or white Paschal mozzettas. Still less a deal with the Society of St Pius X.

As for what everyone seems to think necessary, will he reform the Curia? Reform of the Curia is something that has been a kind of a mantra since the 1960s. The 'Vatileaks' scandal has suggested very powerfully that now something badly needs to be done; it may well have been the event that precipitated the resignation of Pope Benedict. Pope Francis is not a curial insider, but he has served on several Curial commissions as Cardinal and showed himself an able leader of one of the Synods in, I think, 2001. His time as Jesuit Provincial has showed that he is no push-over and, while unquestionably kindly, he is capable of firm, though unshowy, action. If I had to guess, I would say that there will be no heads rolling, but we should expect a gradual clear-out over the next five years or so. Even if what has come to be known as the Sodano party is right in thinking that little needs to be changed, the worldwide perception is that change is essential, and this is important for the credibility of the Holy See and the Church more widely. At the very least there needs to be a proper and transparent mechanism for dealing with the abuse cases around the world. As Tim Stanley wrote, the trouble is that the Curia function much like the Italian Government, and the Italian Government doesn't even work in Italy!

A friend on Facebook alerted me to this article from the Catholic Herald at the time of the last conclave; it is about the then second-placed Cardinal Bergoglio, and tells us more than most other sources.

Quiet thunder in Argentina

This profile of Cardinal Bergoglio first appeared in The Catholic Herald on October 7 2005
By  on Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires (Photo: CNS)
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires (Photo: CNS)
José Mariá Poirier explains why the self-effacing Archbishop of Buenos Aires may well be the next pope
What a surprise: it turns out that the main opponent to the unstoppable Joseph Ratzinger in the April conclave was none other than the severe, shy figure of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The revelation comes in the “secret diary” of one of their colleagues in the Casa Santa Marta – a cardinal’s account of the election published recently in an Italian magazine.
The spotlight the news has placed on Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – whether or not it is true – will be agony for this notoriously media-shy Jesuit, whose face will have gone even redder with the speculation by vaticanisti that Bergoglio should now be seen as the leading contender to replace Benedict XVI when his time comes: the first Jesuit, and the first Latin American, in Church history to occupy the See of St Peter.
For Bergoglio’s enemies, the revelation will come as no surprise. It only proves, they will say, what we thought all along: that behind all that humility what Bergoglio really cares about is ambition.
But for almost everyone else it does seem remarkable that a relatively obscure South American cardinal should have been an obstacle in the path of the great German theologian and former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The “secret diary” suggests that Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan and the standard-bearer for the progressive cardinals, asked not to be taken into consideration for reasons of age and health. His votes (around 40, according to the diary) went instead to Bergoglio, who was seen as the best hope for those who wanted, for whatever reason, to stop Ratzinger. Although the Bergoglio vote was not enough to stop Ratzinger, it prevented the German sweeping the board in the first two rounds.
Bergoglio as Pope? Perhaps it is not so surprising. There was much talk, in John Paul II’s final years, that his successor should be a Latin American; the feeling was widespread that the continent’s hour was near. Bergoglio would be a safe bet: at 69 he is relatively young, and comes with many virtues: he is austere, doctrinally solid, and with a proven track record in Church governance, as Jesuit provincial, then auxiliary bishop and Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Bergoglio’s star shone in Rome when he replaced Cardinal Edward Egan as relator for the September 2001 synod after the Archbishop of New York had to dash back to his traumatised city. The Argentinian moved easily and with great confidence into the role, leaving a favourable impression as a man open to communion and dialogue.
But there is little else in public view, the modest glimpses of Bergoglio only serving to heighten his enigmatic profile. The newspapers have rightly stressed that he is modest, dressing mostly as a simple priest; that he always travels on the bus or metro rather than by taxi or with a chauffeur; and that he regularly travels to the furthest ends of his three million-strong diocese, preferably to visit the poor.
And then, of course, there is that Trappist silence. His press secretary, a young priest, spends his time interpreting what the Cardinal does not say. The other part of his job is to turn down, on Bergoglio’s behalf, interviews or invitations to write articles. The Archbishop of Buenos Aires has almost no published work, and seems to become less visible with each passing year.
When he does speak, however – in the annual Te Deums preached from the cathedral – it is dramatic. Bergoglio thunders like an Old Testament prophet; the government quakes in its boots.
What is certain is that he is not loved by most of his Jesuit companions. They remember him as their provincial during the violence of the 1970s, when the army came to power amid a breakdown in the political system after the death of General Peron. Apart of the Church in Argentina was involved in the theology of liberation and opposed the military government. Bergoglio was not. “After a war,” he was heard to say, “you have to act firmly.”
He exercised his authority as provincial with an iron fist, calmly demanding strict obedience and clamping down on critical voices. Many Jesuits complained that he considered himself the sole interpreter of St Ignatius of Loyola, and to this day speak of him warily.
The secular clergy of his diocese, however, love their archbishop. As auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires in the 1990s, he managed always to be with his priests, keeping them company through crises and difficulties and showing his great capacity for listening sympathetically (I have heard many stories of Bergoglio spending hours with elderly sick priests.) He also continued to show his option for the poor by encouraging priests to step out into the deep in intellectual and artistic areas: Bergoglio has never hidden a passion for literature.
Ironically, it is the same Bergoglio who, as Jesuit provincial, demanded absolute obedience and political neutrality, as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires wants his priests to be “out on the frontiers”, as he puts 

Cardinal Bergoglio regularly travels to the furthest ends of his three million-strong diocese to visit the poor 

it. He wants them in the neediest barrios, in the hospitals accompanying Aids sufferers, in the popular kitchens for children.
To take one example: when, last year, a number of young people died in a fire in a rock club tragedy, Bergoglio went to their aid in the middle of the night, arriving before the police and fire service, and long before the city authorities. Since the tragedy, one of his auxiliaries has a ministry to the family and friends of the victims, and has not been backward in criticising the government for its response to the tragedy.
Bergoglio is admired as being far from the powers of this world, indifferent to his media image, preoccupied by 

the future of society, and a man looking always for new forms of social solidarity and justice in a country where 15 per cent are unemployed and thousands rummage through the bins at night looking for something to eat.
The media do not punish him for his silence, but speak of him with awe and respect. Many, including agnostic critics of the Church, regard him as the most credible social leader in a country in which, it ought to be said, politicians, union leaders and businessmen are regarded with considerable scepticism.
Where do his political sympathies lie? Certainly not on the Left. Those who know him best would consider him on the moderate Right, close to that strand of popular
Peronism which is hostile to liberal capitalism. In the economic crisis of 2001-2002, when Argentina defaulted on its debt, people came out on to the streets and supermarkets were looted, Bergoglio was quick to denounce the neo-liberal banking system which had left Argentina with an unpayable debt.
The same people who would say he was apolitical would be quick to add that he can move pieces along with the best chess-player. Soon after his appointment to lead his diocese he appointed six new auxiliary bishops, all people well-known to him and loyal. His style of government is discreet, but decisive.
A chemist by training, born to a working family of
Italian origin in a traditional middle-class quarter of Buenos Aires, he was for many years in charge of the formation of young Jesuits.
He is without doubt the strong man of the Argentinian Church, almost certain to be elected president of the bishops’conference at its next meeting.
With his suave manners and gentle voice, Bergoglio is not a theologian or an outstanding intellectual nor a polyglot (although he can cope with foreign languages), but he moves in all milieux securely and ably, especially in Rome.
Whenever I have met him, I have been struck by his astonishing paucity of words – even more remarkable in an Argentinian – and his hieratic gestures, but also by his intelligent gaze, his obvious spirituality, and his constant preoccupation with the poor.
If he were Pope? Everything suggests that his approach would be above all pastoral, which is what a number of the cardinals were looking for in the conclave. He would govern the Curia with a sure hand, as he does his diocese. He would likely take a firm stand with the powerful of this world. But the modern-day media demands on the papacy would be a torture for this most retiring of Church leaders. 

José Mariá Poirier is editor of the Argentinian Catholic magazine Criterio

1 comment:

GOR said...

I was watching La Repubblica’s live coverage of the terza fumata and was getting quite annoyed that, once the white smoke appeared, all the commentators assumed it would be Cdl. Scola – even to the extent of opining about his choice for Secretary of State!

So, Holy Spirit – 1. Commentators – 0.

I agree Father about the scurrilous comments on a certain traditionalist website. As a traditionalist myself I found that embarrassing and want no part of it. It was character assassination of the worst kind. We don’t need to blame the anti-Catholic elements in the world when our own co-coreligionists act like this. Shameful!

The choice of the name Francis was not by happenstance either, I suspect. I also immediately thought of Our Lord’s words to St. Francis: “Rebuild My Church!”

It is good also to recall the criticism heaped upon Cardinal Ratzinger at his election eight years ago. We may be in for a few surprises. Regardless, I believe we get the Popes we deserve, not necessarily the ones we would choose.

I imagine that if Our Lord had left it up to the Apostles to vote on the first Pope, St. Peter might not have been the front-runner! Man proposes…