Saturday, March 30, 2013

A New Pope

In the post immediately below, I completely forgot to mention my silence on the new Pope.

When I heard Benedict XVI was resigning, I set to one side all the questions raised in the press about having two living popes for the first time in centuries, and wondered why the man who had spent most of his adult life yearning for the Throne of St. Peter would vacate it before the coroner pronounced him dead.  As Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict was neck deep in covering up the world-wide endemic of child rape on the part of priests.  Perhaps the only thing worse for the Roman Catholic Church than thousands of priests around the world convicted of pedophilic rape would be the Supreme Pontiff indicted by a court in one country or another.  Considering that Pope Benedict XVI managed to do what hundreds of years of English occupation failed to do in Ireland - turn the Irish against the Roman Catholic Church - he had to know some prosecutor in one country or another would turn their eyes toward Vatican City.  Best to hightail it to St. John Lateran and spend the rest of his days in prayer that Jesus and Mary take him before a Spanish, Italian, Polish, Irish, Australian, or American court do.

Most folks who pay more attention to these matters than I ever could noted, over and over, that hopes for a different kind of papacy from Benedict's successor should be held in check.  After all, the College of Cardinals is filled with men appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Those folks didn't get their little red caps by rocking boats, particularly with Joey Ratz (as one FB friend refers to the retired Pontiff) in charge.

The conclave elected a 76-year-old.  My first thought was, "Place-holder".  My second thought, when I heard he was a Jesuit, was "Conspiracy theorists will love this."  Before there was JFK's assassination and Roswell and Area 51, the Society of Jesus was always a target for rampant speculation about its plans to convert the non-Catholic world.  My third thought, upon hearing Jorge Bergoglio was from Argentina was two word: "Dirty War".  And at first, there was not so much chatter as whispering that, while Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he sided with the military junta, even turning over a couple fellow Jesuits who join the ranks of the desaparecidos.  It turns out, however, that no less a person that Argentina's Nobel Peace laureate has nothing but praise for what Bergoglio did during those years of horror.

Still, it is nearly impossible to view the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church without seeing it through the rage stemming from rampant child rape, covered up in no small part by the recently-retired Pope.  All things considered, not least Benedict's preference to keep at least one hand on the wheel of power, I figured there would be little to no difference between what had been and what would be.

And Pope Francis I is making it very hard for this non-Catholic to be cynical.  He's even making all the right enemies.  While I have no skin in this particular game, at least on one level, on another I most certainly do.  I wrote recently about the Roman Catholic Church I love; I was afraid to hope for new life to be breathed in it not least because the forces against such a possibility seemed far too small.  All Christians are my brothers and sisters in the faith; we have different traditions, to be sure, as well as different things we emphasize.  At the heart of it all, however, we are disciples of our Lord and Savior.  When any part of the Church of Jesus Christ fails in some way to be the Church, it hurts all of us.

There are, as Robert Frost wrote, miles to go before we sleep.  The Church of Rome has much to do and years ahead of it should it choose to do penance for the monstrous crimes it has worked so long and hard to conceal.  Still, just a month along and Papa Francesco has, through small acts, awakened the sleeping giant "hope", perhaps not for real, radical change, but at the very least for real difference.  Seeing the pictures of Fr. Bergoglio washing the feet of imprisoned children including two young Muslim girls was moving; that it ticked off some who harrumphed about Church law and tradition is all to the good.  I don't want to nurse that hope too much. Still, I can feel it stirring.

So, Pope Francis, this United Methodist is praying for you, for your ministry, for your witness, and for the whole Church which you embody.  May the Spirit move you to remind your one billion confreres that "Church" isn't vestments and shoes and tradition, but the service we render those whom society - including the Church - insist are beneath our notice and outside our circle of concern and care.  May you continue your prophetic witness, and may it be embraced by all Christians of goodwill who yearn for a vigorous Roman Catholic witness to the world.

Virtual Tin Cup

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