White smoke billowed from the Vatican today as the Catholic Church elected its 266th pope: Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Francis is the first South American pope, the first non-European in 1,300 years, and a Jesuit. But a reformer? A conservative? An academic, an evangelical, or both? As the masses cheered in St. Peter’s Square, our contributors weighed in:
George Neumayr, American Spectator contributing editor:
The Jesuits were once affectionately called the “Pope’s marines.” In recent decades, that description has disappeared, as Jesuits, particularly in Europe and America, became more and more liberal and hostile to the papacy. Now one of the order’s own is pope, a historic first for the Church.
It is telling that pundits automatically assumed that Jorge Mario Bergoglio had named himself after St. Francis of Assisi. They want to put him immediately in the “social justice” box (falsely equating St. Francis of Assisi with their conception of left-wing outreach to the poor). In a different age, it would have been assumed that the first Jesuit pope had named himself after St. Francis of Xavier, a fearless missionary and pillar of orthodoxy.
Pope Francis hasn’t explained the selection of his name yet, but when he does it may reveal the direction of his papacy. For now, it appears that he appealed to the cardinals as a safe choice, the man who came in second last time and then threw his support behind Joseph Ratzinger. At the same time, he represents a nod to the global south, where most Catholics now live.
Slumping in the West, the Church needs an evangelizer as courageous as St. Francis Xavier. Let us hope that Pope Francis I can fill that role.
Jeremy Lott, editor RealClearReligion.org:
When I heard tell that my Church’s new head was a Jesuit from Argentina…well, let’s just say Pope Francis had a lot of reflexive skepticism to overcome in his opening address to St. Peter’s Square and to the world.
He pulled it off. In his first public words as Bishop of Rome, he said not one word that any ordinary Catholic could object to and quite a few words that we probably ought to applaud. Our first Argentinian-Italian pontiff is not electric like John Paul II, but he clearly has a deft pastoral touch.
Francis began by thanking and praying for his still-living predecessor Benedict XVI, with whom he reportedly jostled for the papacy in 2005. The new pope acknowledged the novelty of his election but didn’t dwell on it at any annoying length. He led all of the world’s faithful through prayers that are familiar to us: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be. Best of all, before he offered up a blessing to us, he first implored us to bless and pray for him.
That was not an affectation or, if it was, it was a masterful one. Pope Francis is an intelligent man and, as we could see on the balcony above St. Peter’s Square, a humble one. Those are both necessary qualities for the monarch of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics.
For my money, the other necessary quality to shepherd the Church forward is bravery. In the coming months, he will be sorely tested by Vatican intrigues, by regional church scandals, and by an almost all-pervasive cynicism in the formerly Christian West. Here’s hoping he’s got the bottle for it.
G. Tracy Mehan, consultant and adjunct professor at GMU School of Law:
As a former student at Jesuit schools, I recall an old joke that the Jesuits took the vow of poverty, and the Benedictines kept it. Rim shot. Well, our new Pope Francis certainly puts that one to rest just as John Paul II put to death the Polish joke once and for all.
As a man who lives a life of spiritual and material poverty, this new Pope testifies to the higher things which should preoccupy all of us not just the clergy or cloister. His love for all men and women is a reflection and an expression of his love of God, making him an outstanding example, often praised in Jesuit institutions, as “a man for others.”
While Pope Francis is not, thankfully, a typical Jesuit of the modern age given his proven orthodoxy on doctrine and morality, he brings to his new role the appreciation and understanding of the fundamental harmony between faith and reason which characterized the Jesuit tradition over the centuries.
From what I have heard and read in just the few short hours since the white smoke first appeared, His Holiness also has a pastoral bent, the common touch so to speak, as well as a keen intellect.
Writing as a citizen of the Americas, it also a nice bonus to have a pope from South America which confirms the Church’s self-understanding as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Long live our new Holy Father!
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy:
Amid U.S. and global culture wars over life, marriage, and religious liberty, previous suspicions and conflict between Catholics and traditional Protestants have faded over the years in favor of collaboration on a common front. Many evangelicals have been very appreciative of the witness and outreach of the last two popes. Some news reports about the new pope have cited Catholic competition with growing evangelical churches in Latin America, including Jorge Bergoglio’s Argentina. But Pope Francis will likely continue the friendship and cooperation that his predecessors extended to evangelicals.
Anglican Bishop Greg Venables, former primate of the Southern Cone, which includes Argentina, is a leader among global conservative Anglicans. On his Facebook page, Venables has warmly praised the new pope as “born again, Spirit filled, Bible believing, Christ centered, humble…” Venables said: “Many are asking me what Jorge Bergoglio is really like. He is much more of a Christian, Christ centered and Spirit filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written. I have been with him on many occasions and he always makes me sit next to him and invariably makes me take part and often do what he as Cardinal should have done. He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary. He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate [provision for departing Episcopal and Anglican clergy and churches to become Catholic] was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans. I consider this to be an inspired appointment not because he is a close and personal friend but because of who he is In Christ. Pray for him.”
Prominent international evangelist Luis Palau, an Argentine who is based in the U.S., was similarly enthusiastic about his friend and countryman Bergoglio, whom the Argentine press called the “evangelical pope.” He told an Oregon newspaper: “Whenever we pray together, he says, ‘lay your hands on me and pray for me, that God will keep me as servant.'” And Palau added: “He is respectful of all sides of Christianity.”
Probably many conservative Protestants and evangelicals will more warmly support the new pope than will many liberal and squishy Catholics hoping their church will compromise with liberal Western culture.
Jackson Adams, editorial intern and Oxford graduate in theology:
Mysterious are the ways of the Holy Spirit. The cardinals have elected Pope an Italian from beyond Italy: A man who can serve a country and its Eternal City with a personal touch, and a Jesuit who takes a name with the powerful connotations of reform, humility, service to the poor, as well as orthodoxy—Francis. A pastor who served a nation that has experienced military dictatorships, advanced socialism, and the headiness of unrestrained capitalism, even a disastrous fiscal crisis.
Perhaps most telling is the choice of the name Francis. As a Jesuit, one is bound to think to one of the Society’s founders, St. Francis Xavier: A fearless missionary to Asia. The Francis that perhaps everyone thinks of first is of course the one from Assisi. St. Francis of Assisi is best known for his dramatic poverty, a single-minded fidelity to Scripture, and a friendliness to all God’s creatures. Perhaps less known, St. Francis journeyed to Egypt in the era of the Crusades to convert their powerful Caliph, and returned unscathed. He won for his mendicant followers Papal protection by insisting on fidelity to orthodoxy, in contrast to the many reformers of his day. He is also credited with the first vernacular Italian poetry: Canticle to Brother Sun.