Pope Francis has bona fides to restore Church integrity

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Author: Clark Scally

The 266th head of the Roman Catholic Church is Francis I, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires prior to his Mar. 13 election to the Vatican office of pontiff. With the tumultuous scandals and other troubles plaguing the Catholic Church today, the pontificate of Francis has been greatly hyped. From both churchgoers and bishops, a lot of faith is placed in him to restore order and honor to an organized religion with shrinking congregations and increasing corruption.

Although Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, his parents emigrated from Piedmont, Italy with their other four children in the 1920s. His father built railways and sent the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Jesuit schools to learn chemistry before Jorge became an ordained priest in 1969, at age 32. Four years later he was Argentina’s leader of the Jesuit order. In 1998, he became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, where he remains a popular and respected philanthropic figure. For many years now, Bergoglio has actively worked hands-on to help impoverished communities and social justice advocacy groups. He is famous for his commitment toward building close relationships with other religious communities in the Islamic, Jewish and Eastern Orthodox faiths, a respectable trait for the Church leader.

The Holy See is right to entrust in Pope Francis the leadership of a religion followed by a 1.2 billion faithful. He is a humble and righteous man, and it is very refreshing to see a pope with so many firsts associated with his election. He is the first Jesuit, and the first pope born outside of Europe since the election of Syrian-born Gregory III in 731. He’s also the first pope to be named Francis after the revered Saint Francis di Assisi, patron saint of Italy and the founder of several famous clerical orders for both women and men.

Bergoglio is in a great position to save the troubled Catholic Church, mostly by virtue of him not being Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict resembled the villainous Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars while Bergoglio looks more like George Bluth from “Arrested Development,” which is certainly a more pleasant change.

Vatican cardinals wanted to see a leader stay the course, to stabilize an institution rocked by the Pope Benedict debacle; and Bergoglio is by no means a liberal or reformist. Bergoglio has stuck by his famously conservative positions throughout his career, calling abortion a “culture of death,” and believes contraceptives are co-conspirators to that culture. As a cardinal in Argentina, he used the power of his office to oppose President Cristina Fernândez de Kirchner’s efforts to legalize same-sex marriage and distribute free condoms. His attitude is no different from any other pope’s conservative stances on social issues. However, Bergoglio’s commitment to social justice in regards to economic equality and food justice is tantamount to the worldwide charity of the revered Pope John Paul II, who preceded the unimpressive Pope Benedict XVI.

Unfortunately, Bergoglio led a troubled priesthood that was, to put it politely, reviled by many Argentinians for their failure to prevent the atrocities committed by the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. “Critics assert that he did not do enough to support church workers or victims, whose relatives often sought him out directly to unload stories of torture, kidnapping and murder,” an analysis by the Economist magazine said. Indeed, the reputation of the powerful and wealthy Catholic Church was destroyed by both deadly political infighting between church officials, and the complicity of priests to the terrorizing dictatorship that kidnapped, imprisoned and murdered countless innocent Argentinians. He remains silent and refuses to comment on some matters, which was more admirable than certain other priests who collaborated with the brutal dictatorship.

The Catholic Church has improved and is far less unethical and more transparent, though not without problems. Many Cardinals and Archbishops have been found guilty of covering of the child abuse of other clergy members. Thankfully Bergoglio is well prepared for the modern challenges of the institution such as addressing the pandemic of clergy child abuse counteracting declining church attendance in wealthy western countries. Modern Rome will be a cakewalk compared to the violence and subterfuge of military junta Argentina. Since he came from a Church of crisis and conflict, Bergoglio will be a perfect pope for the global Church in crisis.

Clark Scally is a sophomore DWA major. He can be reached at scally@oxy.edu. Do you have an opinion on this issue? If so, keep the conversation going and comment on this article at occidentalweekly.com or write a Letter to the Editor.

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