Our new Pope is a servant of God unafraid to speak the truth

  • March 22, 2013

The Catholic Church teaches that the selection by cardinals of a new pope is guided by the Holy Spirit. Despite this teaching, many pundits (including some Catholics who should know better) prepared lists of favourites, debated frontrunners, discussed the pros and cons of each and sometimes even proposed odds.

But all such attempts to turn a divine process into a political horse race invariably fail. The Holy Spirit’s scant respect for oddsmakers was dramatically demonstrated on March 13 when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared on a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis.

Before leaving for the conclave, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan was asked how he would make his choice. “I want to spend a few days getting to know my fellow cardinals,” he replied, “and then I want to search out the one who most resembles Jesus.”

While no one can say for certain just what type of Pope the first Jesuit and first South American will be, three qualities are immediately evident.

Humility. Like his namesake Francis of Assisi, Cardinal Bergoglio is a humble man. He does not own a car. He declined to live in the official residence of the Buenos Aires archbishop, preferring instead a small apartment. He cooks his own meals. He rides public transit. His first appearance as Pope on the balcony of St. Peter’s, dressed in a plain white cassock and immediately requesting the prayers of the people, suggest a pontificate that will be marked by humility.

Service. As priest, bishop and cardinal, Bergoglio was known for his commitment to the poor. He regularly visited the slums of Buenos Aires and he established missions to those suffering from AIDs. He has reminded the faithful that Christ healed lepers and washed the feet of His disciples.

As an archbishop, reports reached him of priests refusing to baptize children of unwed mothers. He wrote to them: “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 is baptized.”

Continuity. Cardinal Bergoglio was never a proponent of “liberation theology,” the quasi-Marxist view that became popular in parts of the South American Church in the 1970s. Essentially, this theology conflated the message of Christ with political revolution. Like Pope John Paul II, Bergoglio was publicly identified as an enemy of liberation theology. In Argentina he has been criticized for being too cozy with dictatorial governments, but on the other hand he has been so critical of the current regime that he is now persona non grata in government circles. That sounds to me like a servant of God unafraid to speak truth to power.

On theological and social issues, Catholics are unlikely to perceive any difference from the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. What the secular media fail to recognize is that Catholic doctrine is not the property of pope or cardinals — it comes from God. The Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception, marriage, divorce and family is non-negotiable. People who want beliefs calibrated to the prevailing public opinion have plenty of other churches to choose from. Catholics are made of sterner stuff. Their Church is founded on the rock that is Peter, and his successors have no mandate to alter the deposit of faith.

Having been becalmed for several weeks, the barque of Peter sails again, with a new captain at the helm. He will have his own way of doing things, but will continue, as his predecessors have done, to throw out lifelines to those drowning in the acidulous, choppy seas of postmodernism.

Pope Francis, like his namesake, will quickly prove himself to be an instrument of God’s peace.

(Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University in London, Ont.)

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