Papa Paco

When I left the Anglican church and became a Roman Catholic, an important part of the decision was connected with that part of Catholic theology which is referred to as “The Social Teaching Of The Church”. As someone who had been active at a local level with Amnesty International and the fair trade movement, I had been drawn to a charity based in Central America, Casa Alianza. Casa Alianza works with the street children of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico with outreach workers on the street, refuges and homes. It also challenges the impunity which too often protects the police and armed forces from prosecution for their cruel and inhumane treatment of these children, including even torture and murder.I worked as a UK-based volunteer for the charity for several years. I was aware, too, of the role of liberation theology in the life and ministry of many priests in Latin America who lived and worked among the poorest and most deprived groups. All of these concerns led me to believe that the church was at its truest when it spoke and acted on behalf of the voiceless of the world, and it seemed to me that this was a much higher priority for the Roman Catholic Church than for Anglicanism. Of course, I soon found that the higher echelons of the church were concerned much more with protecting and maintaining the accumulated privileges of the centuries, and I have to admit a sense of deep disappointment when, on the death of John Paul II in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger, known to many as the Pope’s Rottweiler, was elevated to become Pope Benedict XVI. Grudgingly I have had to admit that whilst deeply conservative doctrinally, he faced and tackled the shame of sexual abuse by paedophiles within the priesthood. There is still much to be done, but without Benedict one wonders whether the process would have even begun. His last major act as pope was also a courageous one, to accept that he could and should retire from the office; I suspect the precedent set by his action will benefit the church in the future. So how do I react to the election of Cardinal Bergoglio? At 76 he comes to his role as Pope Francis I with two clear threads to his priesthood. Firstly, he is conservative doctrinally, probably just as much so as his predecessor, and secondly his work in Argentina shows him to be someone who has embodied there the social teaching of the church; a simple lifestyle, a commitment to the poor and excluded, and a love of people. Already the media are focussing on examples of his humility - declining the papal limo in favour of travelling back to his accomodation in one the minibuses laid on for the cardinals, his choice of name and the simplicity of his address to the crowd in St Peter’s Square (I especially liked the fact that he introduced himself as their new bishop, rather than as head of the whole church). I also noticed than, in contrast with the cardinals surrounding him on the balcony, his was a very simple pectoral cross that appeared to be neither gold nor silver. I am excited by the thought that this may well be a transformative pontificate, even if the changes may not be in areas which many would prefer to see.

No comments:

Post a Comment