While it’s unlikely that Pope Francis(formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) will make much headway in cleaning up the corruption in the Vatican and making the bureaucracy more transparent, or reforming the Catholic Church so that it regains the progressive spirit of Vatican II, it is possible that the new pontiff, with his humble demeanor and tastes can succeed in putting a more Jesus-like face on an institution not traditionally known for its simplicity, gentleness and responsiveness.
Many of the core qualities that you associate with the wise and courageous Jewish peasant who inspired the birth of Christianity seem to be absent from the Catholic hierarchy, whose members see themselves more as privileged royalty than shepherds or suffering servants.
Security concerns will probably require Pope Francis to give up his penchant for riding the subway; he’ll have to use the Popemobile from now on. A more demanding schedule will also limit his opportunities to cook for himself. Further, tradition and decorum will force the new pope to turn in his old wardrobe for the more elaborate costumes, and will require that he do silly stuff like let people kiss his gold ring instead of just shaking hands.
But maybe Pope Francis will be smart and opt for normal footwear, rather than the Dorothy-like red slippers (…no, apparently they weren’t made by Prada). And he can certainly eschew the vain temptation to commission his own personal eau de cologne like his predecessor did. The Vicar of Christ should have no great need to smell any different from the average Joe. It’s a good bet Jesus smelled more like sweat than a Sylvana Casoli fragrance.
Pope Francis may not be able to get much house cleaning done at the Vatican. He may not be able to bridge the growing theological and social divide between the hierarchy and the laity. He may not be able to adequately address all the hypocrisy, lies, and scandals that have led to a crisis of confidence in the Church. But he can do some small things that can begin to make the image of the Church less pompous and more down to earth. That would be no small achievement.
The new pope can also unknowingly do small, seemingly trivial things that can have a huge symbolic effect and show people that, while he may not be able to fix everything that is wrong and unjust within the Church, he “gets it.” A good example of this happened yesterday when Pope Francis happened to come across Cardinal Bernard Law at the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
This is the Cardinal Law who was forced to resign in 2002 as Boston’s Archbishop after it was revealed that he had covered up cases of child sexual abuse by some 250 priests within his diocese. The Vatican’s response? A promotion. Pope John Paul II named Cardinal Law to be the Archpriest emeritus at Santa Maria Maggiore.
Cover up the crimes of the Church, and you get a cushy retirement post in Rome. Nice.
John Paul II? He was beatified in 2011 — the third in the four-step process of being canonized a Saint.
When Pope Francis saw Cardinal Law, he apparently said to one of his assistants, “I don’t want him (Cardinal Law) to be coming to this Basilica regularly.” The incident was reported by the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. According to the article, when the pope saw Cardinal Law, his face became contorted, and he immediately hurried on.
The alternative might have been to make eye contact, smile, give a nod and wave. But nope, the pope went with his gut. A regular guy this Francis. Maybe there’s hope, after all.