There is little to rejoice about in election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope. Yeah, the Argentines are ecstatic, and Latin Americans, in general, are happy because one of their own has been promoted to the highest office in the Vatican and become the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
But the choice of Cardinal Bergoglio does nothing to help heal the wounds left by the rape and torture of countless children at the hands of pedophile priests and the cover up of this criminal abuse by the Church hierarchy. It does nothing to advance a new of process transparency in the way the Vatican does business, and receptiveness to a serious conversation about how the Church must change in order to survive.
What it does do is send a clear message to the world that the princes of the Catholic Church are content with the status quo and prefer to remain in denial about the mess that surrounds them.
Those who voted for Cardinal Bergoglio on the fifth ballot today may feel comfortable with him because they like the man and think he is a safe pick to guide the Church for the next few years. But all the electors have done really is extend slightly the era of Benedict XVI. Cardinal Bergoglio is a conservative with the same theological and social views as the now pope emeritus — albeit an infinitely more humble and pastoral one. Vatican insiders will have their way.
The idea that, by choosing a non-European as pope, the Vatican leadership has signaled that it understands the need for change is laughable. Besides his conservative credentials, Cardinal Bergoglio is 77 years old and comes from an Italian family. (Both his parents were Italian immigrants.) He has hardly left Argentina. There is no new thinking here. No new openness. It’s pretty much another old Italian guy.
Cardinal Bergoglio seems to be a wonderful man. He lives modestly, rides public transit, and has done incredible work growing the Catholic Church in Argentina. The fact that he is known simply as “Padre Jorge” — not “Your Eminence” — says a great deal about him. But he is a dangerous pick for pope because he is merely another place card for the person who will eventually have to lead the Church out of the Middle Ages.
The liberal Italian Cardinal, Carlo Maria Martini, who died last year, was probably being overly generous when he said that the Catholic Church “has remained 200 years in the past, and is not open to the modern world.” But he was on target when he said, “Our rites … are pompous.”
Cardinal Martini was among the top two or three contenders (including Cardinal Bergoglio) for the Papacy in 2005. He reportedly received more votes on the first ballot than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), who eventually won out. In retrospect, the Church should’ve gone with Martini. It missed out on seven precious years of reform.
With Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis), God knows how many more years the Church will have to wait. In Argentina, they’re celebrating like they just won the World Cup. The Catholic Church… eh, not so much.