COMMENTARY | As the Catholic Church picked Francis I, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, many people hailed the selection as ground-breaking. After all, he was the first Jesuit, the first South American, and the first non-European in ages. But a closer look at his views shows he’s not so different from his predecessors. But maybe that can change.
It’s not too different from a selection made by the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s. After a few years of doddering old General Secretaries of the Communist Party (Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko) who died in a three-year span, the Russian leaders supposed thought they had chosen a completely different person: Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gorbachev was much younger than these aged leaders. And he had some ideas for more openness in society (glasnost), which was a welcome departure. But he was still a dedicated communist, and could not stop the implosion of the Soviet Union.
Bergoglio is no young leader (nearing 80), but being from Buenos Aires is supposed to be different from the Eurocentric church. And sure, he’s lived among the poor more in his life than others. But when it comes to social views, he’s as conservative as the last four predecessors. Some of the language may shift, but the ideology won’t change.
Folks are sure to criticize him for being part of a church that frequently backed a brutal military junta; his record is difficult to ascertain but it sounds as though he did some good things, though for some critics, that won’t be enough.
Bergoglio was quoted in the AP article “Francis is first pope from the Americas” (by Brian Murphy and Michael Warren) as saying “In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage. These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!” That’s some pretty open thinking, so maybe there’s a chance for real reform.
Bergoglio also chided his colleagues for not taking an active part in helping the lepers and prostitutes. But given his interest in all of them, Pope Francis could bring together people from the homosexual community and pro-choice movement for a dialogue. That would be real change.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.