It will be a long time, if ever, before Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis, can blow white smoke from the Sistine Chapel. Catholics and the general public acknowledge that the primary attention of the new pope is to deal with the sex abuse and financial scandal that have sullied the good name of this church known for its moral high ground. Now with the white smoke puffed forth after five rounds of voting, his work will commence. Surely the symbolism of choosing to be named Pope Francis signals concern for those who had no voice in his election.
A four-point agenda for this Pope awaits: 1. sex scandals, 2. financial corruption, 3. balancing the church’s wealth against its commitment to the words of Jesus about giving that away, and 4. dealing with its own doctrines of divine rightness. This post will not focus on the first two of these because they have already received much attention.
Balancing wealth and poverty. This religious body of 1.2 billion members with wealth so secret and extensive that it is impossible to know, now under Pope Francis, will walk the tight rope between holding fast to its wealth and attending to those who will never have wealth themselves. Pope Francis’s choice of a modest apartment over the opulence of the former popes promises a humble attention to poverty. Those of like-mind hope he will withstand the expected vestments draped on his shoulders and ring placed on his hand and instead, spirit of John Rawls, will wear the veil of ignorance that proposes the shapers of our world self-impose blindness to their own socio-economic status as they make the rules. So will this Pope be a prophet that challenges the vested interests of greed and the taken-for-granted assumption that most of the poor deserve what the get—they aren’t entitled to anything more?
Doctrines of Rightness. His mission is challenged by the old guard who want the Church to reassert its doctrines of absolute rightness. For example this angry lament has surfaced:
Words changed – true transubstantiation doubtful which likely makes the new mass no longer a true sacrifice. This change is the single most devastating change that resulted from Vatican II … changes to the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council resemble changes proposed by Luther in the 16th century, many of which are seen in Protestant churches today. During the Reformation, Luther's motive was to destroy the belief that the Catholic Mass is a true sacrifice and to also push ecumenism (i.e. one religion is as good as another).
That arguing absolute authority, to call the Papacy divine and holy, is undebatable is more than a theological dispute. What is really at the core of this great institution is embedded in the words of those who lament and worry that their church is losing its “We are divinely right” and those of other faith or no faith can go to hell. They don’t want to be politically-theologically incorrect put it that bluntly, but this is the sentiment of the throngs who crowd the Vatican City and watch in awe as a pope is chosen. Democracy has no real voice in this election; is for those in red. What is really being witnessed and practiced in this election and installation of a Pope is programming a people to commitment to fiction and not to fact. The fiction is that a leader of this or any religion merits a following because he, she, or it is supernaturally informed and empowered.
This then is the unspoken challenge of the office of Pope. A Pope, just like those who are born to royalty, even if they refuse to be make king or queen, are so thoroughly conditioned to their royal status that they play out that role for their lives. I predict that Pope Francis, as good as he is, will not shun the accolades that come with his office—accolades that come because his followers believe and are taught to believe he is divinely special. Black smoke will long cloud the eyes of millions of souls who crowd Vatican City, until, if ever, this institution declares it is not absolutely right.