Habent papa. They have a Pope.
Just in case you haven't been paying attention - and, how could you escape, really? - his name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and he is the seventy-six-year-old Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
But, you can just call him Pope Francis. Not "the first" - even though he is. You can't call him that, apparently, until the second pope takes the name "Francis".
He's a "new pope" in more ways than the first to be called "Francis". He's the first non-European pope in centuries - underlying the assumption that the church's center of gravity has shifted to the poorer, so-called "Third World" countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. He's the first Jesuit - formerly known as the "enemy of orthodoxy". He's the first to bow and ask for prayers from the crowd before pronouncing his first Papal Blessing. And, he's the first to give a one-handed wave to the crowds, rather than the both-arms-up gesture which always seemed to me to be asking for more applause.
He's known as a "reformer" but you have to understand what that means around the Vatican. It’s important to remember that all of the 114 electing cardinals - the "young ones", meaning, under age 80 - were appointed by the last two Popes, and that, when it comes to any interest in loosening the doctrinal strictures that most lay Catholics would call “reform,” they were appointed mainly for their intransigence in the face of change.
That means that you will not see women in the priesthood anytime soon; or married clergy; or an end to the bans on divorce, abortion, and contraception; or a reprieve for the nuns in trousers (aka "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") who go forth to give food, music, and solace to the poor (despite the fact that this pope apparently has a preferential option for the poor); or even an acknowledgement that “unrepentant” gay and lesbian Catholic men and women might, conceivably, get to heaven.
Nope. There'll be none of that from habent papa.
In fact, then-Cardinal Jose Bergoglio was a major force against the 2010 move to legalize same-sex marriage in his native Argentina. Though he ultimately failed, Bergoglio used the full weight of the church to crush the measure.
From a letter to the Carmelite Sisters of Buenos Aires on the perils of marriage equality:
“Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
And then, there's the unholy mess around the accusations that the hierarchy of Argentina’s Catholic Church was complicit with the military genocide.
Some researchers have linked Cardinal Bergoglio with the “desaparición” - the disappearance, in May 1976 - of two Jesuit priests who worked in the slums of Buenos Aires. Both were kidnapped and tortured.
The cardinal has always denied involvement, but many Argentines (including one dear friend) remain convinced that he “withdrew protection” from the priests, allowing the military to prey on them.
No, let's be very clear: the "reform", most clerics are hoping that their new pope will begin to remove the taint of scandal that hangs like black smoke over the Vatican - the scandal of widespread pedophilia, of Vatican banking fraud, and of money-laundering schemes we know about from the famous two-volume papal commission report on “Vatileaks”—said by sources quoted in La Repubblica to include claims of blackmail paid out of Vatican funds to keep the secrets of an alleged gay cabal in the Holy See.
These reports now resides in a for-your-eyes-only safe in the papal suite, waiting to be opened by the new Pope Francis. The hope is that habent papa will actually open it, read it, and begin to do something about it. Like, say, firing a few people and putting into place new policies of transparency to replace the entrenched Vatican theology of ....um... "forgiveness" which has allowed the ...um..."traditions" of the past to remain in place - along with pedophile priests and corrupt, money-laundering clerics.
Hey, it could happen. As St. Paul writes, "I am a prisoner of hope." I just don't place it in the hierarchy of the church. Did once. Not any more.
I'm pretty much with Sr. Joan Chittister on this one. I'm weary of it all. She writes in Who are the People who were waiting for Pope Francis?:
It gets spiritually exhausting to go on waiting for a pastor again and instead getting a scolding, reactionary church whose idea of perfection is the century before the last one rather than the century after this one.