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will the new pope live up to his name?

March 14, 2013

The Catholic world has a new pope, and at first glance, Pope Francis (previously Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio) appears to be a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Francis is theologically much like his predecessor, Pope Benedict, being decidedly conservative and adamantly opposed to abortion, contraception, the ordination of women priests, and same-sex marriage, and who publicly asserted in 2010 that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children (definitely no liberation theologian).

On the other, he has a reputation for being humble and rather austere, being more concerned about social outreach and issues like poverty and the effects of globalization than doctrinal battles. He’s also known for calling out fellow church leaders for their hypocrisy, such as forgetting about the sick and the poor and for things like refusing to baptize the children of unwed mothers.

In addition, he’s the first Jesuit to be elected pope, as well as the first to take the name Francis – reportedly after St. Francis of Assisi, although one can’t help but suspect a slight nod towards St. Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Society of Jesus, as well – suggesting that his style may be markedly different from that of Benedict. In fact, his actions on his first day hint that Francis’ papacy will be less traditional/flashy and meeker/more hands on than Benedict’s.

The new pope isn’t entirely free from controversy, though, and has been dogged by allegations that he may have been complicit in, or at least turned a blind-eye towards, some unsavory deeds committed by the 1976–1983 Argentinian military dictatorship, accusations that have been documented by Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky’s book, El Silencio: de Paulo VI a Bergoglio: las relaciones secretas de la Iglesia con la ESMA (Silence: from Paulo VI to Bergoglio: secret relations of the Church with the ESMA).

The most prominent allegation seems to be that Bergoglio was complicit in the 1976 kidnapping of two liberal Jesuit priests, a claim that was made by Orlando Yorio, one of the priests in question. He’s also accused of “turning his back on the De la Cuadra family, which lost five relatives to state terror, including Estela’s sister Elena, who was five months’ pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977.”

His authorized biographer, however, tells a different story, one in which Bergoglio did everything he could to intervene and save the lives of the priests he’s accused of putting into danger by withdrawing his order’s protection of the them due to their work in the slums.

Whatever the truth of his alleged involvement in these affairs may be, I think it’ll be interesting to see how his papacy will play out, especially considering the continued fallout from the Church’s ongoing sex-abuse scandal and the leaked papal documents, which gave the world a peek into a corrupt and dysfunctional Vatican bureaucracy. It definitely looks like Francis is going to have his humble hands full, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll live up to his namesake’s call to “go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”

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