GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 17 March) – The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Buenos Aires, Argentina to the Papacy – becoming Pope Francis – has stirred new hope that the new pope would put an end to the same problems that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II had failed to put away and do more. He has, obviously, the qualities to meet the old and new challenges and inspire the new hope.
As the Vatican noted author Alberto Melloni sees it, with Pope Francis’ papacy, “The reign of the doctors is over, and this is the kingdom of pastors, a move away from theologian pope,” alluding to Pope Benedict XVI and the doctors of the Church with him and before him. Pope Francis has spent his entire priesthood as a pastor and with the pastors of the Church in Argentina.
What are the challenges and expectations?
Like his last two predecessors, he will still be dogged by sex scandal involving priests. How much cleansing has been done is clouded by the ugly shadow of the decades-long scandal that has morally shaken the Church. Can he drive away the scandal and erase the stigma?
While he affirms the Church teaching of compassion for homosexuals, he opposes same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by homosexuals. As more and more countries, including Argentina, have legalized and are legalizing same-sex marriage, how his papacy will deal with the rising tide of pro-homosexual policies and laws is interesting to watch.
He is staunchly opposed to abortion, euthanasia and the use of contraceptives except when used to prevent the spread of diseases. As the world’s governments intensify their pro-choice programs to control population growth and purportedly improve the quality of life, how will Pope Francis let the teachings of the Church prevail in tandem with the noble intentions of the programs? As in same-sex marriage, the pro-choice issue is essentially liberalism challenging the conservative Church for a constructive response.
Because of the crisis of communications, relations with the Muslims, Anglicans and Jews that Pope John Paul II welded suffered a setback under Pope Benedict XVI. Known as a good communicator, Pope Francis is expected to repair the damage and strengthen these relations.
The Church has been and still is beset by the shortage of priests. Yet, the Church rejects the call to admit women into the priesthood. This shortage must be one of the factors that abet the inroad of Evangelicals into the Catholic laity. As seen by Austen Ivereigh, a Catholic commentator, the immediate challenge to Pope Francis is “to ensure that those within the pews (the faithful Catholics) – and those who lead them (the priests) – are well supported”.
There has been a clamor, especially from many liberal Catholic bishops, for Rome to give more decision-making power to local bishops’ conferences to help respond to the needs of the faithful. Can Pope Francis grant more autonomy to the local bishops?
As seen by many, the Number One challenge to Pope Francis is governing the Church and the Vatican. The Curia or central government of the Church has to be reformed. As the noted Vatican author Melloni says, to reform the Roman Curia “get rid of the spoil system” and “it will take five minutes” only to do this “for someone who has the strength”. Can Pope Francis do what his predecessors could not?
Does Pope Francis have the strength, leadership and other qualities to meet these challenges and expectations? As seen in the media reports, the majority of the 115 cardinals in the conclave believe he has.
But he has two handicaps. First, at 76, he is only one year younger than Pope Benedict XVI when elected to the papacy. Of the nine popes before Pope Benedict XVI, five died in their 80s – three at the age of 82, two others at 81 and 85; two at 66 and 68; one at 79; and one, Pope Leo XIII, at 93. Second, he has had one lung since his teens. Can he stand the rigors of the papacy on one lung?
Will Pope Francis be blessed with the years and physical strength to meet successfully his challenges and fulfill expectations? (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)