Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jorge Mario Bergoglio: Challenges Before 266th Pope of Roman Catholic Church

The world had had a few seconds to prepare itself. The French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran who made the announcement Habemus Papem — in medieval Latin revealed two things. The first was the name Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The second was the name he had chosen — Francis.

Francis, the first pope from Latin America and the first from the Jesuit order, bowed to the crowds in St Peter's Square and asked for their blessing in a hint of the humble style he cultivated while trying to modernize Argentina’s conservative church and move past a messy legacy of alleged complicity during the rule of the military junta of 1976-83.

About New Pope

Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital city, December 17, 1936. He studied and received a master's degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, but later decided to become a Jesuit priest and studied at the Jesuit seminary of Villa Devoto. He also studied liberal arts in Santiago, Chile, and in 1960 earned a degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires. Between 1964 and 1965 he was a teacher of literature and psychology at Inmaculada high school in the province of Santa Fe, and in 1966 he taught the same courses at the prestigious Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires.

In 1967, he returned to his theological studies and was ordained a priest Dec. 13, 1969. After his perpetual profession as a Jesuit in 1973, he became master of novices at the Seminary of Villa Barilari in San Miguel. Later that same year, he was elected superior of the Jesuit province of Argentina.

In 1980, he returned to San Miguel as a teacher at the Jesuit school, a job rarely taken by a former provincial superior. In May 1992 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. He was one of three auxiliaries and he kept a low profile, spending most of his time caring for the Catholic university, counseling priests and preaching and hearing confessions. In June 1997, he was named coadjutor archbishop. He was installed as the new archbishop of Buenos Aires in February 1998. Since 1998, he has been archbishop of Buenos Aires, where his style is low-key and close to the people.

Francis, the son of middle-class Italian immigrants, came close to becoming pope during the last conclave in 2005. He reportedly gained the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running before selection of Vatican insider Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.

With the name Bergoglio, we knew some decisive changes had been set in train. The Archbishop of Buenos Aires is the first non-European pope for 1,000 years. He is the first pope from the New World, most specifically from Latin America where the majority of the planet’s 1.2 billion Catholics live. He is the first pope ever from the Jesuits, the order renowned for having produced some of the most intellectually profound, and often free-thinking, church minds over the centuries.

With the name Francis came a signal of another new departure. No pope had ever before taken the name of the great saint of the poor, Francis of Assisi. And Bergoglio was known for his commitment to social justice and his championing of the poor of his native Argentina in the teeth of a global economic crisis whose cost fell chiefly upon the shoulders of the most vulnerable.

Seventy-six-year-old Bergoglio, it was known, was a humble man who had moved out of his archiepiscopal palace and into a simple apartment. He gave up his chauffeur-driven car and takes the bus to work. He cooks his own meals.

Unlike many of the other papal contenders, Bergoglio never held a top post inside the Vatican administration, or curia. This outsider status could pose obstacles in attempts to reform the Vatican, which has been hit with embarrassing disclosures from leaked documents alleging financial cover-ups and internal feuds.
But the conclave appeared more swayed by Bergoglio's reputation for compassion on issues such as poverty and the effects of globalization, and his fealty to traditional church teachings such as opposition to birth control.
His overriding image, though, is built around his leaning toward austerity. The motto chosen for his archdiocese is "Miserando Atque Eligendo,'' or "Lowly but Chosen.''
Even after he became Argentina's top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, warmed by a small stove on frigid weekends when the building turned off the heat. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals. Yet Bergoglio has been tough on hard-line conservative views among his own clerics, including those who refused to baptize the children of unmarried women.

Charges Against New Pope             

Bergoglio, whose official name is Pope Francis, without a Roman numeral, also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was five months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them; Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: The woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family "too important'' for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn't know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

Preferences and Actions

His preference to remain in the wings, however, has been challenged by rights activists seeking answers about church actions during the dictatorship after the 1976 coup, often known as Argentina's "Dirty War.'' Many Argentines remain angry over the church's acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements'' in society. It is one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but less than 10 percent regularly attend Mass.

Under Bergoglio's leadership, Argentina's bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

Challenges before Pope

Pope Francis will have a tough job ahead of him. The Catholic Church has been seen as an organisation facing the pressure of modernisation. It has been scarred by child sex abuse scandals and in recent years, also by infighting, even corruption in the Vatican bureaucracy. The new pontiff is not a Vatican insider. This could well be to his advantage as he uses his dedication, energy and skills to clean up what his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, called the “filth” in the church. Pope Francis must build on his known love for the poor and his association with the area that has the largest number of Catholics in the world to leave a lasting legacy.

The former Bishop of Buenos Aires is the first non-European Pope in the modern era; he is the first Pope to hail from Latin America, the first Jesuit to hold the revered post; and he is also the first to take on the name ‘Francis’ after St Francis of Assisi. That is not all. During the course of his first public appearance itself, Pope Francis I broke with tradition — not once but twice — as he refused to stand upon a pedestal that would elevate him above the other Cardinals who stood by him. Instead, he chose to “stay down here”, and surprised many again when he asked the people to pray for him first, before he blessed the crowd. On both the occasions that the newly named Pope steered away from convention, he appeared to strengthen his image as a humble pastor, not given to the pomp of the Vatican, but instead, committed to serving his people — much like his namesake St Francis of Assisi who chose to live in poverty and who remains one of the most beloved figures in Catholic history even though he was never ordained into Catholic priesthood.

One of the most important challenges before Pope Francis will be to bring the faithful back to the fold. Particularly in the Western world, which has traditionally been the heart of Christendom, the Catholic Church has lost much of its following as an increasing number of people have been moving away from institutionalized religion. Much of this problem is of the Church's own making. For example, in recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has been associated with sex abuse scandals across the world and rampant corruption within the Vatican. In fact, Pope Francis's predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had come under much criticism for his alleged efforts to overlook sexual assaults that priests had committed on children. Yet, it remains unclear if Pope Francis will take up the kind of zero tolerance policy against such crimes as many would want him to.

Demand of the Situation

The list of trials facing Catholicism is as long as it is daunting: plummeting church attendance and a massive shortage of new priests in the secular West; a widening theological chasm between the developed and developing world over what is socially acceptable; inter-religious animosity and distrust; the seemingly ever-recurring sex abuse scandals and a Vatican bureaucracy that all but the most naïve of commentators will admit is riven with corruption, incompetence and political infighting.

Similarly, it is also to be seen if Pope Francis will respond to the reformist within him — a hallmark of Jesuit priests — and introduce changes in the Catholic Church's policies toward key social issues such as contraception, abortion and gay rights. For example, Pope Francis had earlier said that contraceptives could be used to prevent the spread of AIDS, but has stayed away from endorsing the use of contraceptives in general, in keeping with official Church policy.

While many will look for signs of change from the new Pope, and there are already some departures from tradition, a look at his record shows that Cardinal Bergoglio, who belongs to the Jesuit order, is theologically conservative and supportive of the Vatican’s positions on major issues. He is against abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women. However, the energy with which he has devoted himself to his flock as Archbishop of Buenos Aires has often been praised.

How Pope Francis will prioritize these problems remains to be seen but he will need to tackle them nonetheless. Pope Francis is both a continuation of the past and something very different. Theologically he is an orthodox conservative like his predecessor. No-one will be expecting him to take the Catholic Church into a brave new world where homosexuality is suddenly accepted and women are ordained.

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