by Dr. Bruce Arnold
The world has paid a lot of attention to the election of a new pope. The election of Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who took the name Pope Francis, has caused a lot of interest around the world, and not just among Catholics.
Readers of this blog will know of my longstanding involvement with liberation theology. As explained in greater depth elsewhere, liberation theology had its genesis in Latin America. It is based on the theme that runs throughout the Bible, most prominently in the Gospels, that God’s love is most fully expressed in his desire, spoken by Jesus, “to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.” The phrase which, for me, sums up the heart of liberation theology is “the preferential option for the poor.”
Jorge Bergoglio, although he is a South American, is not a liberation theologian. He has spoken out strongly against what he sees as a politicization of the gospel. He fears the Marxist overtones which can be heard ringing through the works of many liberation theologians.
That’s on the one hand.
On the other hand, he has led a notably simple life. He has refused the trappings of office, taking buses instead of limousines, maintaining his home in an apartment rather than the grand edifices typically occupied by bishops and cardinals, and opposes exploitation and poverty. He has been clear about the negative impact of the International Monetary Fund on the poor. He has been quoted as saying “We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”
It is thought by many that his choice of the name Francis, although he is a Jesuit rather than a Franciscan, symbolizes his desire to lead the church in a more humble and selfless manner, as opposed to the imperial style associated with the papacy.
On the third hand, he opposes abortion and birth control. He is against same-sex marriage. I don’t know of his stance on feminism or on the ordination of women to the priesthood, but I’m sure more on those topics will be made clear as time passes.
How he handles the huge scandals with which the Roman church is struggling, chief among them the sexual exploitation of children by priests and the investigation of criminal mismanagement at the Vatican bank, will tell us a lot also.
For now, I want to share in the optimism. I don’t require that Francis be a perfect human being in every way and on every topic. If he can restore a sense of humility and simplicity to the largest Christian denomination, then he will have done a good work, not just for Catholics, but for the world at large.