As everyone knows by now, on the second day of the Conclave, white smoke arose from the Sistine Chapel chimney signifying a new pope had been elected. The new Pope, Francis I, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, is the first Pope from the Americas. This seems to be no surprise as many expected the College of Cardinals would go outside of Europe to Asia, Africa or the South America, for a new Pontiff, since these are the only areas where membership is growing.
Other than the origin of the new Pope there were no surprises. Pope Francis is 76 years old, hardly a youthful figure to appeal to the youth of the Church. Not a surprise also is the fact that he is a social conservative, who strictly adheres to the old, haggard traditional teachings of the Church. In his native Argentina, the new Pope had a bitter confrontation with the female Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez over the issues of gay marriage, gay adoptions and birth control. He was on the losing side of these issues. His actions and sermons I am sure did not earn him any admirers among gays and women. Those people hoping for some change regarding gays in the church, birth control, married priests or women priests are once again sadly disappointed.
In his favor Francis I has a reputation of being a champion for the poor and less fortunate in society. He shunned the usual trappings of his position as Cardinal in the Catholic Church, in favor of a more modest lifestyle. He even chastised fellow clergy, for refusing to baptize children of prostitutes and unwed mothers, calling them hypocrites.
It is interesting to note that on the same day that the new leader of 1.2 billion Catholics was chosen, the new leader of 1.3 billion Chinese was also chosen, Xi Jinping. Neither the Catholic Church nor the People's Republic of China, are democratic societies, and they both are noted for their secrecy and opposition to change. Both leaders were chosen by similar bodies, who were not elected by those they represent. Both the Catholic Church and China are plagued by corruption, scandal and a loss of trust from their people. Both needed a new leader who would inspire trust and at the same time clean up the messes from the past. Both institutions desperately need to be brought into the modern world and both need reform. Any bets that neither one of these leaders will accomplish anything along these lines? If there is going to be any kind of reform and modernization, I am sure it will happen in China, not in the Catholic Church.
I admit that I am a bit jaded about the Catholic Church and really don't see it changing at all, regardless of who the pope is. I do realize that to many people the election of a new offers new hope and a ray of light during dark times for the Church. I sincerely hope for the many Catholics of the world that Pope Francis can institute some much needed reform, hope, tolerance and change.