Thursday, March 14, 2013

World stunned as elderly white man ascends to papacy

Yes, it's official; "the world" has a new pope. Cardinal Jorge Bergolio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has taken the name Francis, the first pope to do so. Yet another opportunity lost for "Pope John Paul George Ringo". When will they wake up?

There are a couple of moderate historic firsts here. One is that this is the first pope elected from among the Jesuits. Discovering that surprised me. The Jesuits have been around for, what, four or five hundred years? And this is the first one of them to make the grade? It's not like the College of Cardinals is a conservative lot or anything, is it? Secondly, Francis is the first American pope. It's nice that, after over five hundred since Europe began the annexation of America—essentially begun by Catholic countries in the first place—and its effective conversion into a cultural and political extension of Europe, the Vatican has finally noticed that gee, there are quite a lot of Catholics here, not to mention quite a few cardinals over the past 500 years. But I shouldn't complain, I suppose. The Vatican has known about Asia and Africa for much longer, and yet, Francis is apparently the first pope from outside Europe in over a thousand years.

At least they didn't opt for another Italian. Since, to this day, the largest block of votes in the College of Cardinals by far comes from Italy (49—as many as all the countries in the Americas combined despite their having 15 times Italy's population), there was some talk of them falling back into the old track of Italian popes. Until John Paul II, Italians had had an uninterrupted lock on the papacy for over 400 years, so even in Europe, non-Italian popes have been underrepresented. For example, there has been one, exactly one, pope from England: Adrian IV (oddly enough, the last non-Italian pope till John Paul II). I'm dubious as to whether the world will ever see another native English-speaker as pope, given that the Anglosphere is largely Protestant and increasingly secular.

But here we go again. The guy's 76—an age at which most people have been retired for a decade—and despite the novelty of his being from the New World, it's much of a muchness... white, unmarried, deeply conservative and reputedly chosen to hold the line. I'm seeing "clean house" connected with his name. Basically that means put on an apron and hose the muck off the ramparts. But the ordination of women, the end of the non-scriptural celibacy of the clergy, the acceptance of homosexuality, or a responsible attitude toward contraception (not abortion; just contraception)? Don't count on any of these. These and other reasons are why, if I were to become genuinely religious, I would probably opt for Anglicanism, rather than return to Catholicism; and why I've come to consider myself a "cultural Protestant" in recent years.

I'd like to say here that I like that Benedict abdicated. I'd like to say "retired". There should be more of this. Popes should serve a while, and then step out of the job, not be carried out. Same thing for the Royal Family. I know the Queen took an oath to serve us her whole life, but after six decades, I don't think anybody would say she hasn't done her bit. Let Charles be king for a little while while he can still enjoy it, and then after a decade or so, he can step aside for William, etc. They already do this kind of thing in other European monarchies. It seems to me vastly more human than an institution where you spend your life waiting for someone you love to die just so you can have your turn. Likewise the papacy.

But anyway, like I was saying, this guy is 76. Odds are, within 10-15 years, they'll be blowing smoking again. Maybe by then, a quarter of the way into the 21st century, the Catholic Church will be ready to join the 20th.

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