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Initially posted in shorter form at Orange Juice Blog.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I Francis, is as good a choice as I could have reasonably imagined and better than I could have reasonably hoped.

I'm not Catholic, though I'm married into a Catholic family and am still on great terms with my Catholic former in-laws, but to the extent I have the right to an opinion I'm very pleased with this choice. I welcome a Catholic Church that is devoted to ending poverty -- as well as to ending the abuse of children. The world needs such leadership.

I know that some of you will take some convincing, so here's what I'd suggest you consider before anything else: Cardinal Bergoglio, not considered one of the favorites this time although he was on "the long list," apparently came in second in the voting when Cardinal Ratzinger was elevated to the papacy as Benedict XVI.

Consider what this means: every single person who voted against Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005 voted for this man instead!  He had the esteem of a good portion of the Church -- the portion that did not want Ratzinger!

Now that I have your attention, let's look at this choice in greater depth.

First, from the long list of contenders offered by Toronto Globe and Mail:

Bergoglio, 76, has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests. The archbishop of Buenos Aires reportedly got the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election, and he has long specialized in the kind of pastoral work that some say is an essential skill for the next pope.

In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly. Bergoglio is known for modernizing an Argentine church that had been among the most conservative in Latin America.

From the Guardian -- and this contains one disturbing fact that I'll address just below:
Here's Sam Jones on Bergoglio:

The archbishop of Buenos Aires is a Jesuit intellectual who travels by bus and has a practical approach to poverty: when he was appointed a cardinal, Bergoglio persuaded hundreds of Argentinians not to fly to Rome to celebrate with him but instead to give the money they would have spent on plane tickets to the poor. He was a fierce opponent of Argentina's decision to legalise [sic] gay marriage in 2010, arguing children need to have the right to be raised and educated by a father and a mother. He was created a cardinal by John Paul II on 21 February 2001.

(1) You noticed the "fierce opponent of Argentina's decision to [legalize] gay marriage in 2010," didn't you?  That's pretty much what you have to expect from a Cardinal of any sort, let alone one with any hope of becoming Pope. Two things about this strike me as especially significant, however:

First, his position was not generated in response to some mild fact of nature, like the mere existence of homosexuality.  It came in response to the strongest action that a country could take in this policy domain. In other words, Cardinal Bervoglio didn't go out seeking the fight against a vulnerable enemy, like the rotters in Uganda who want to make homosexual activity a capital offense. He responded to a decisive victory for civil liberties and rights of gays and lesbians by asserting the Church's position. That's not good, in my book, but it's also not Rick Santorum-like. He's entitled to his benighted opinion, and his holding that opinion is not incompatible with coexistence with a "sinful" state.  (Catholics also oppose divorce, but they've mostly made peace with it.)

Second, the argument that he made against marriage equality was not, as one might have expected from a Catholic prelate, that homosexuality was an abomination, "go read Leviticus," etc.  Instead, it was that having parents of both genders is good for children. This explanation is notable for being (a) non-theological, (b) based on concern for the welfare of children, and (c) wrong -- and, more and more, demonstrably wrong.  (Even if right, it's the sort of thing with which a society has to live.  We don't take children away from single parents or those whose mother or father die, after all.  He thinks it's better; I say "so what?")

You're not going to find a Pope who's going to have favored marriage equality. He could not have become Pope if he did.  The next best thing is to find one who opposes on grounds that are scientifically debatable and that can be rebutted.  That ought to lead to peaceful coexistence -- and now we'll see if it will.

Some other points:

(2) The choice of an Argentine is, like it or not, a slap in the face at the extremely conservative insider from Brazil, Cardinal Scherer. Argentina and Brazil are very competitive. Now Latin America has the first non-European pope -- and it's from the smaller country with fewer Catholics.

(3) That he played any significant role in the liberalization of the Argentine clerical hierarchy, which was behind some awful practices during the "Dirty War," is wonderful. That he's apparently humble and pro-serving the poor just re-emphasizes that.

(4) The name "Francis"! No Pope has ever take the name of St. Francis of Assisi before now. I recall reading somewhere -- I'll go try to find the source -- that this would be one of the hallmarks of a Pope who was truly devoted to serving the poor. He's also the first-ever Jesuit, so this is also likely a nod towards the founder co-founder (with his teacher Ignatius Loyola) of that order, St. Francis Xavier, who among other things was a noted internationalist who established the Catholic Church in Goa, India.


As a Jewish boy, I regard myself somewhat in disbelief at being willing to comment on this at all, but: from the perspective of one who cares about the poor and hopes for some liberalization of church theology, at first blush this is probably just about the most welcome choice one could imagine and far better than one should have been able to expect.  I hope that he serves many years -- and that he appoints many like-minded Cardinals.

4:57 PM PT: Andrew Sullivan (pro-Obama gay and largely conservative Catholic) has been raising lots of interesting points on his blog today; I highly recommend a look.  His sensibilities on this -- what's good, what's bad -- are quite on target.

Thu Mar 14, 2013 at 3:02 PM PT: For the record: there's lots of good discussion below about Bergoglio's actions during Argentina's Dirty War.  Notably, some of those allegations against him [] have apparently been retracted.  (Some will say illegitimately so; read and judge for yourself.)

Originally posted to Doane Spills on Wed Mar 13, 2013 at 01:33 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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