Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papem -- Placeholder?

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From what little I've been able to learn about His Newly Minted Holiness, he's a nice man who lives simply, speaks well, observes the pieties and tells the rest of us to do likewise -- and who does not stand in the way of Bad Things

During the Dirty War and military dictatorship in Argentina, where his Italian family had previously emigrated, Archbishop Bergoglio was quiet as a mouse; nay, some are saying he was actively supporting their bloodthirsty rule of torture and murder and disappearance -- and advising his flock to do thou likewise. Others point out that the Good Archbishop assisted parishioners, priests and others to escape the clutches of the State, so no matter what he and the rest of the Church said during those dark years, what he and others did is what matters. And what he did was protect the vulnerable, shelter the hapless, and win release for the persecuted. Well, some of them.

What a mensch.

From reports (whose veracity is unknown)  he may well have been a good man acting on deeply held values of charity and mercy who occasionally intervened on behalf of persecuted Argentinians, but as an Archbishop, he was bound to the political positions and teachings of his Church, and in those days -- today as well -- the Church reserves its harshest criticisms for "leftist" regimes, generally tolerating when not actively assisting the death squads of rightist regimes -- even when its own people are gunned down, put to the screws or dumped out of airplanes.

The fact is, the Church has long maintained a kissing-cousin/cozy relationship with some of the worst human rights violators and neo/proto-fascist dictatorships on earth, while virulently excoriating "leftists" of all stripes. The political ideology of the rightists almost never elicits a rebuke from the Church (economic ideology sometimes does) while socialism and communism are treated as the Devil's Workshop to be denounced and destroyed forthwith.

Oh, but Bergoglio took the name of Francis! So there is that! Stop saying those things! Francis was a saint, for doG's sake!

Yes, well. Which Francis are we talking about here? Francis of Assisi or Francis Xavier? People are quite naturally thinking Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy and the very most wildly popular saint among the People world-wide. But Bergoglio is a Jesuit, and Francis Xavier is a founder of the Jesuit Order. Ahem.

Surely even non-CatLicks understand that they are very different characters in Church history, and their legacies are quite different as well. On the whole, I'm very fond of Francis of Assisi and his message (though not that "obedience" part). Except for some episodes of unpleasantness in the Americas, the Franciscans have been far and away the most appealing cloistered order the Church has going for it.

As for the Jesuits, well.

I don't have quite as high an opinion of them as some people do. Let us say they are far more worldly than the Franciscans (again, by and large), and they tend to be far more conscious of their role as leaders (or indeed, shapers) of men rather than followers of God.

It's the old "Jesuits I have known" issue.

So which Francis is Bergoglio evoking with his choice of Papal Name? My bet? Francis Xavier. But he and the Vatican certainly want you and me to think of Francis of Assisi when we hear the name of the Pope. And of course the Holy Father can shift back and forth as he sees fit.

Whatever the case, it seems to me that Bergoglio was chosen to play a public role as the Church undergoes an internal revamp of some sort. Exactly what sort of revamp is hard to tell. For many years, the Church in Rome has appeared to be under the spell of Opus Dei, as have many governments world-wide. Certainly JPII and Ratzinger were creatures of the cult, and who knows how many of them have wormed their way into the Vatican and Church hierarchy? The recurring scandals of corruption and abuse and wild sexual escapades that have characterized the Church for the past thirty years and more might make one suspect that the institution itself is rotten to the core. What institution isn't, though?

But the sex scandals, the financial corruption, and much of the other peculiar business that has come to characterize the Church in modern times, let alone its abandonment of Liberation Theology and the Church's absurd positions on questions of women's reproductive health (not just abortion) and the Homosexual Peril, among so many other things, have driven many tens of millions out of the Church, to the point where -- at least in the West -- its presence and future are in some doubt. Of course we're talking about the Roman Catholic Church here, the oldest and one of the largest institutions in the world. It's been through many episodes of relative decline only to revivify somehow. I have my theories, but I won't go there just yet.

On the one hand, we have Giotto's image of St. Francis (of Assisi) holding up the corner of the church in Pope Innocent's Dream:

On the other, there is the sight of lightning striking the dome of St. Peter's soon after the announcement of Ratzinger's "retirement:"

Let us pray...

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