Power of the Pope — Updated

Originally written in the hours following the ascension of Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina to the Papacy as Pope Francis I, I honestly don’t have a lot to say on the subject. I don’t follow the activities of the Pope that closely, but from what I have seen in international media reports I have been impressed. I was too young to understand the activities of the younger John Paul II but from what I have seen Pope Francis seems to walking in his footsteps by being a pope of the people. From his wading into crowds of believers to speaking out against the Mafia  Pope Francis has a human touch that his predecessor Benedict did not.  This new Pope seems to have taken a hard line on church sex abuse cases (although calls for greater action are still being made, and rightly so) and he seems to scorn some of the more extravagant frills of his office which makes him one of the more interesting world leaders to watch.

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Fr...

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Français : emblème pontifical Italiano: emblema del Papato Português: Emblema papal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That being said, the Church still does not appear to be ready to embrace many twenty-first century reforms that many had hoped for: such as female priests, acceptances of gay marriage or the use of contraceptives and condoms. Considering the Church is over 2000 years old I guess it was probably too much to hope for a major shift on these issues. So only time will tell if the personal charisma of Pope Francis can restore the church to its past glory.

The following is my original blog post.

Following the election of Cardinal Bergoglio to the papacy as Pope Francis the First it had me wondering, what sort of power for change will he truly have? As we all probably know, the Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the approximately 1.2 billion individuals who categorize themselves as Catholics. The election of a South American Cardinal has been considered by some as an effort by the Church to tap into some of the fastest growing Catholic populations and his membership in the Jesuit order and modest lifestyle could signal that the church may dedicate some its vast wealth to aid the poor and needy.

Even with these advantages, the new pope faces a number of challenges, so much so that Canadian Cardinal Marc Oulluet (an early front runner in this election) was quoted as stating that being Pope “would be a nightmare”.  Beyond the spiritual responsibility it seems that almost every month a new report of abuse emerges against members of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile in one of his final acts, Pope Benedict decreed that a secret report that had been submitted to him on the “Vatileaks” scandal would remained sealed to all but the new Pope leaving some discontent among the electing Cardinals. The new Pope will have to battle against a Vatican bureaucracy and institutional inertia to effect change.

Despite the backing of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, I suspect that many within that number are what could be called “Sunday Morning Catholics” who religiosity extends to Sunday mass and major holidays. Calls for reform from church outsiders and members that could potential stem the decline of church attendance  are up against push back from entrenched hard line Cardinals who seek a continuation of traditional doctrines. Either way, Pope Francis is damned. Should he move towards reform he will alienate traditional elements of the Church. While if he maintains the status quo he will face greater push back from everyday Catholics who seek a more open and inclusive church in the 21st century. Either way, the new Pope’s power to effect change will be constrained.

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