Monday, April 15, 2013

New Pope, New Hope

Times have changed since the last Papal Inauguration

On February 24th, 2013 the Roman Catholic Church experienced a phenomenon that has not happened in nearly six-hundred years. Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI resigned his post, making himself the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, and the first to  do so voluntarily since Celestine I in 1294. The Emeritus Pope explained his situation on February 11th stating "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry" (Reese and Untener). Not only is the church in upheaval due to the premature departure of the previous pontiff, but the new pope has promised radical changes. This new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Franics, has indicated revisions that may shake the Roman Catholic Church to its core. What effects will these strange happenings in the Vatican have, and what does the future hold for the world’s largest Christian denomination?

Pope Benedict XVI as a Hitler Youth
To investigate this question, one must first look at the life of Emeritus Pope Benedict and his journey to the papacy. He was born Joseph Ratzinger in 1927 to a Bavarian policeman and his wife.  Even at a young age he was noted as “widely recognized for his bent-toward-academic writings and a sharp intellect, showed early signs of what he would become. He entered the seminary at 12” (Russell, Dumalaon, and Somaskanda). However, Adolf Hitler and National Socialism nearly ended his career before it started, forcing him to unwillingly join the Hitler Youth. Later he was drafted into the anti-aircraft defense, ultimately being captured by the US and spending several months as a prisoner of war. Despite these setbacks Ratzinger was ordained in 1951 and went on to teach as a professor of theology in some of Germany’s top universities. In 1977, after serving as Vice President at the University of Regensburg for one year, he was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Cardinal by Pope Paul VI. This appointment was actually quite surprising; Ratzinger was much better known as an intellectual and did not have much experience as a priest. Joseph Ratzinger’s early experience as a college professor carried over into his later career and his papacy. 

Joseph Ratzinger had a successful career in the Vatican prior to becoming pope. By 1981 he was named prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II. Ratzinger and the pope shared similar conservative viewpoints and grew close over the next twenty years. His right-hand man status along with his conservative views gave many the impression that Ratzinger was an enforcer of sorts, and earned him the nickname “God’s Rottweiler”. Despite requesting permission to resign on two occasions, he was appointed Dean of the College of Cardinals. Ratzinger’s promotion made him the Vatican’s foremost cardinal and the second most powerful man in the Roman Catholic Church. In retrospect it could be argued that Pope John Paul II was grooming Ratzinger to be his successor to the papacy.
White smoke signifying the selection of a new pope
After the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005, the conclave had a difficult decision to make. Should they keep things going in the same direction with Ratzinger or pick a new route to take the Church? After two days of deliberation on April 18 and 19 the cardinals had reached a consensus. By choosing Ratzinger as the new pope the Vatican had cast its vote for religious conservatism. Even his chosen name is a reference to  the old ways "His papal name, Benedict, reflects his devotion to the founder of Western monasticism and his conviction that Benedict's heirs, the Christian monks of what are conventionally called the 'Dark Ages,' preserved classical culture when the Roman world was imploding.” (Weigel). Pope Benedict XVI pulled through on his end by fighting against reforms of the 1960’s Second Vatican Council, accusing Protestant religions of being too lenient, and taking steps backward in the dialogue with other religions. On top of this his papacy was marred by allegations of corruption and sex scandals. Most believe that the shy Bavarian did a poor job following his charismatic Polish predecessor.
Pope Benedict XVI’s conservative views did not stop him from being the first pope to resign in almost six hundred years. Many believe his unprecedented decision against Vatican convention will have far reaching consequences. Susannah Cullinane of CNN states “modern popes have felt that resignation is unacceptable and could encourage factions within the church to pressure pontiffs to step down.” The papacy is supposed to render its avatar infallible and the Vatican does not want groups with ulterior motives controlling them. The Church also fears schisms created from members choosing to follow the Emeritus Pope instead of the current pope. However, this could also be a modernizing step for the role of pontiff. Most current positions of world leadership view resignation as a common occurrence. Whether it be president, prime minister, or some other government position most people can recall at least one instance of resignation in their lifetime. This would be helpful in the case of a pope who is physically unable to carry out his duties, because it would insure there is always a capable pope. On the other hand, this resignation could just be a one-off and have minimal lasting effects. Either way it will most likely be a long while until anyone knows.
Saint Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus
Pope Francis experienced quite the modest upbringing in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Born Jorge Bergoglio to an Italian immigrant, the pope was the eldest of five children. Francis’s father had escaped Italy in the wake of fascist takeover and had taken a job as a laborer at a railway. After attending elementary school Bergoglio graduated from secondary school with a chemical technician's diploma. He went on to work several years as a chemist prior to entering seminary school. He was ordained in 1969 and finished his Jesuit transformation in 1973. Pope Francis’s involvement in the Society of Jesus  sets him apart from the crowd. Jesuits take martyrdom a step farther than the average priest “The founding members of the Society of Jesus took a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience under Ignatius. Current Jesuits take the same three vows today, along with a vow of obedience to the Pope.” Jesuits are also known to be free-thinking, accepting of other religions, and focused on education.  These convictions seem to be in direct conflict with a large number of the previous pope’s conservative policies. None of this means anything if Pope Francis does not have the gall to carry out the massive doctrine changes in the Roman Catholic Church.

The next logical question is one of whether or not Pope Francis has the audacity to carry out reforms to match the ideals of the Society of Jesus. To answer this question one must look no further than his recent decisions. While he was a cardinal he supported civil unions in Argentina, although he was opposed to gay marriage and their adopting of children.  He also publicly denounced priests refusing to baptize children born out of wedlock, and even washed the feet of hospital patients with AIDS. At his election as pope he refused to sit in the ceremonial throne and instead stood at the same level as his cardinals. Pope Francis still wears the black shoes (previous popes have traditionally worn showy red leather shoes) he wore before being elected and forwent the red ermine cape worn by Pope Benedict XVI. He has also been known as a man of simplicity. While in Buenos Aires he lived in a one-room apartment, cooked all his meals for himself, and took the bus to and from work daily. Pope Francis was even revolutionary in choosing his name. He is the first to name himself Francis, which is especially surprising in a profession where there have been twenty-two Pope Johns and sixteen Pope Gregorys. Pope Francis chose his name out of respect for St. Francis, a monk known for his service of the poor, love of nature, and choice to live among the beggars  at Saint Peter’s Basilica. It is obvious that Pope Francis has more than enough courage to stand up for his convictions.
Pope Francis rode the bus daily as a cardinal
The Vatican experienced its first resignation of a pontiff in over half a millennium and has elected the most progressive Pope to date as the head of their church. Although it does raise some questions as to what his place in the church will be from now on, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign has most likely opened the door of opportunity for future popes. Tired of corruption and scandal, the conclave chose a new direction for the Church by electing Jorge Bergoglio as its first South American and Jesuit pope. Pope Francis has shown the world what it means to live as a Jesuit and that he has the courage and the will to bring about the reforms needed in a stagnant Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Dolan expressed the true feelings of the Church in an interview with Matt Lauer, “I think we all got a reason to be hopeful.” For better or worse, the actions currently occurring in the Vatican will change the Roman Catholic Church forever.

Works Cited
Reese, Thomas J., and Kenneth E. Untener. "What Now?" America 3 Apr. 2013: 16-21. EBSCOhost. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
Russell, Ruby, Janelle Dumalaon, and Sumi Somaskanda. "From a Humble Start Benedict Made Mark." USA Today 2 Dec. 2013: n. pag. EBSCOhost. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
Weigel, George. "THE REAL BENEDICT." Newsweek 2 May 2005: 48-49. EBSCOhost. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
Wilson, A. N. "The Real Ratzinger." Newsweek 15 Feb. 2013: 1. EBSCOhost. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.

Some more Pope Francis related fun:
Follow Pope Francis on Twitter!
Take my very own survey on the topic!
Official Pope App
Is There White Smoke? (Don't use until next election... Or do for a chuckle)

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