Thursday, 14 March 2013

VATICAN: '' Francis I'' : New Pope & New Challenges

The 115 cardinals participating in the Vatican conclave decided on a new pope on the second day and after five votes, picking Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as Benedict XVI's successor, the first non-European to be at the helm of the Catholic Church in more than 1,000 years. The 76 year old, the first pope from Latin America, has chosen the name Francis I and will now be the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Bergoglio's father was an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin, and he has four brothers and sisters. His original plan was to be a chemist, but in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for the priesthood. He spent much of his early career teaching literature, psychology and philosophy, and early on he was seen as a rising star. From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had graduated.

As Argentina’s top church official, he’s never lived in the ornate church mansion in Buenos Aires, preferring a simple bed in a downtown room heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals. Bergoglio has slowed a bit with age and is feeling the effects of having a lung removed due to infection when he was a teenager — two strikes against him at a time when many Vatican-watchers say the next pope should be relatively young and strong.

Already during the last conclave in 2005, Bergoglio had emerged as the strongest challenger to Joseph Ratzinger. But with his slightly frail health, the Argentinian Jesuit hadn't been considered an obvious front-runner this time around.

Bergoglio is seen an unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, earning a public rebuke from Argentina's President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The new Pope, Francis I, has indeed a large portion of challenges but I allow myself to elaborate only the three imminent challenges for the new Pope.

First: The nature of the papacy has  already changed. The hierarchy is reeling from scandal. Just as important, the numinous aura of the office has been altered by the decision of Benedict to step down, appearing to dispel the otherworldly quality of popes as divinely picked to serve for life.

To restore a sense of permanence to the office, the new Pope, Francis I, is called to make one of his first acts a public declaration to serve until death. Still, the precedent sent by a papal resignation could open the door to something heretofore seen as an oxymoron: a modern papacy, with the Holy Father as chief executive under constant pressure to perform or step down.

Benedict’s decision to remain in Vatican City with the title pope emeritus could also further undermine the office. The church has long taught of a singular authority in the Vatican. Now it will need to sell the notion of two popes — one reigning and one retired, both wearing papal whites.

Second: The biggest enemy of the papacy is the Roman Curia. The Vatican today is a menu of ''money laundry, corruption, tax noncompliance and sex abuse scandal. Inside the Vatican, the only spotless white can be found on the papal robes (to put it bluntly). But the few bad apples whose behavior is tarnishing the work of many devoted Catholics can only be defeated if they are prevented from usurping the power of the papacy. Confronting ''Vatican's dark powers'' could be tricky for the first Latin American Pope, an outsider of Vatican's bureaucracy.

Third: The internationalization of the papacy. Christianity is expanding outside of Europe and the new Pope will have to account for that trend. As the world becomes more international, it  also becomes more networked. A global and digital public – conceived as the global community of Christendom or as the bigger, general public – will no longer accept the shady dealings of the Vatican Bank and its money laundering practices.

The new Pope will also have to preside over the Church in a world which has grown more skeptical about absolute truth as a result of digitalization and globalization. A global syncretism is on the horizon, even if its prevalence and importance varies across regions. But some observers already argue that the rise of Islam is nothing but the last rebellion against a wave of secularization which will eventually sweep across the Arab world.

Indeed, the new Pope, Francis I , might count on God's spirit to face these new challenges, however his predecessors have dramatically failed to reform the Catholic chuch despite benefitting from God's grace.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP: The New Pope: Francis I

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