by Tristan Stewart-Robertson Mar 14, 2013 09:10 IST
People who aren't Catholic and profess not to care, seem to be surprised when a conservative becomes pope.
Pope Francis the First - let's call him Frank - might technically be an outsider to Rome, son of a railway worker, but he's still Catholic. He might ride the bus and cook his own meals, but he is still against homosexuality and contraception. They all are. He might lead a humble life, but can you be called an "austerity pope" when you live in a building like the Vatican?
The cardinals' choice was a surprise to many, so what will an Argentine pope bring to the world?
Though older, meaning perhaps a concise papacy, this first Jesuit pope brings social justice, humility and perhaps a degree of wisdom. It can only be a good thing to have a man who rides the bus, who lives close to the people.
Don't expect huge changes in faith, but certainly hope for reforms of the institution, particularly to deal with allegations of abuse, both old and new. The Catholic Church emphatically needed a pastoral leader, not a banker or a politician. But those figures are aplenty in the Vatican, so Pope Frank will need to somehow assert his position above them. There's no democracy in this kingdom - it's an absolute monarchy that 1.2 billion people look to for guidance. So everyone, Catholic or otherwise, need to hope he's a worthy ruler.
The church is old. It moves slowly. If you're expect Frank to endorse gay marriage or contraception tomorrow, don't hold your breath. But there may be growth in tolerance, rather than belligerence of dogma. Maybe.
Saint Francis of Assisi was a man of dialogue, and Frank is the first pope of the Twitter age, making the dialogue potentially easier, or harder. Watch not for how many followers he gets - that doesn't matter - it'll be how he can tap into technology and use to the advantage of pastoral care, all while reforming institutions, if that is indeed his path.
Frank has already shown humility and humour, by joking about how far the cardinals had to go to find him and by asking for the prayers of the people, before their blessing. True dialogue within the church, and with its opponents, will be harder.
Plenty of those opponents and non-Catholics have already dismissed Frank as a conservative and homophobe. I'm not sure who atheists, liberals and others expected as pope - Lady Gaga?
The Vatican is a conservative institution. The clash with the rest of the world comes not from within the institution on sexuality, but when it interacts with real-world faith and laws. That's the interaction we have to watch. Catholics are free to believe as they see fit, but each country has laws that can't be denied or selectively ignored, to protect children, to protect individuals from discrimination and hate, and to meet standards of banking and anti-corruption. The Catholic Church under Frank must start to meet those standards of law or more members of their flock will have crises of faith. It may be a sexist organisation, but, for example, it must emphasis the equality of women much more to help combat rape and abuse.
Fine, don't change your own ways, but at least protect your flock.
The church hasn't met minimum standards for a long time. Frank-ly, I hope they start to now, because this is who we've got to do it.
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