Some Reflections as Pope Francis Starts His Pontificate

/ 13 March 2013

The majority of the remainder of this post is a slightly-edited version of a homework assignment that I have due in my Catholic Church Today course tomorrow that was, naturally, altered from the original questions slightly in light of the reality that I wrote it between/after the white smoke rising and Cardinal Bergoglio stepping out onto the balcony as Pope Francis. Some of the homework portions were based on articles we had in printed form from The Tablet (I can’t put links to the individual articles here because they’re behind a password wall).

But first I just want to point out that I quite vividly remember being in an Art class at Crosswinds back in 2005 when our teacher actually let at least myself and one other student know that the white smoke had gone up and that Cardinal Ratzinger had just risen to the Papal office. Looking back it seems a little odd that at a public school anyone would be sure to let students know that, but I’m guessing a day or two earlier we’d discussed the ordeal with her and thus she knew we’d be interested in the information. Maybe likewise the fact that I was sitting in my dorm room doing readings on this very topic for this theology class when I heard the bells starting outside, and given that it was 1:21 and that the bells definitely weren’t the “normal” ones marking the time I knew what they had to signify, will be forever etched in my memory.

The issues that our new pope, Pope Francis, (formerly Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina) needs to address all fit under the umbrella of rekindling relevance of the Church with the world. Given all the internal issues the Vatican has gained since none of the recent popes have been administratively gifted this is something that Pope Francis should be able to be good at. We simply need the Vatican to have a solid ground before the Pope can safely work at any other issues that directly affect the world.

One need only look at where Catholicism is growing to determine what another key issue the new papacy must take up. Latin America is where the most growth is, and it certainly isn’t “at home” in Europe. So a major issue Pope Francis must address is the global nature of today’s Roman Catholic Church. Being aware of this feature of the Church is one of those things that will get the Holy See more in touch with the average Catholics worldwide. But the origins of Pope Francis are enough to maybe have him do well in this arena.

Benedict XVI was more of a traditionalist when it comes to his theology and how he exercised the office of being Peter’s successor, but that is part of what got the Vatican out of touch, so Pope Francis must “reopen the doors and windows for a new blowing of the Spirit”. We need fresh ideas that match the expectations our world has. I find it interesting to note that this article said this is important, even if the reign isn’t long, but definitely don’t think that it should involve yet another Ecumenical Council so soon after Vatican II.

In the past few years the changes Vatican II aimed to bring were not fully understood or implemented. One might even say that Benedict XVI in ways was turning against the council and so what we need is to have a turn back to the true acceptance of the modern world that the council established. The Church has pushed in some directions us faithful really aren’t that thrilled about. Let us all hope that Pope Francis can turn the table a bit and make the Church more relevant again, even if his views don’t make us that optimistic that change will come.

One thing this unprecedented Papal resignation (the exact circumstances were unique, and it has been 600 years since any Papal resignation) did reveal to us is that Christ, and not the Pope, is truly at the head of the Church. So a definite skill I’d hope Pope Francis has is to recognize that his office is a gift from God and sever some of the “ultramontane ecclesiology” and “quasi-secular monarchical” aspects of the Vatican. Doing so will enable the local churches to more fully recognize their role in the daily life of congregants, and not as simply pipelines to decreed Papal teachings. Vatican II aimed for such a model of the church, one closer to the early church, but that never materialized. In the coming months hopefully we will see such a more open church evolve with this new pope. But I still doubt that will happen given his past record and his views on things.

In doing all of what I’ve discussed here the Roman Catholic Church should become more relevant to the entire world. It remains in the hands of Pope Francis to actually make these changes, and the Curia, bishops, and priests to all agree that such change is necessary for the change to take hold. Only time will tell if the Vatican will be reformed and following from that the relevance of the Church rekindled in the world. The next few months will be interesting as the real outcomes of Benedict XVI’s resignation and Pope Francis’s election materialize and we see where the Church is going. But maybe a pope from Latin America alone shows signs of change?