Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis I: "Seeming Anomalies" and a Sense of Humor

I'm still a bit surprised that we got our new Pope so fast: about 24 hours after the first vote, as I recall. It's nice to see someone from my home hemisphere hold the authority my Lord gave Peter, but I'd have been happy with whoever the conclave picked.

The Catholic Church is καθολικός (katholikos, for folks who use the Latin alphabet): universal. Expecting the Pope to be from any particular part of the world seems a bit silly: although recent history has encouraged folks to think "Italian" when they hear "Pope."

Francis I has been in the news quite a lot, including the three articles I picked.
  1. Social Justice, Orthodoxy, and "Anomalies"
  2. 'A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Vatican....'
  3. A Reminder From the Pope

1. Social Justice, Orthodoxy, and "Anomalies"

"Former Vatican diplomat sees wisdom of Holy Spirit in Pope's election"
Carl Bunderson, CNA/EWTN News (March 15, 2013)

"Despite 'seeming anomalies' in the election of Pope Francis, a former ambassador to the Vatican said that seeing the event through the eyes of faith can give us a glimpse into the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

" 'I have confidence in the College of Cardinals and the Holy Spirit,' said Jim Nicholson, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See from 2001-2005.

" 'They know very well what the Church needs today,' he told CNA....

"...Nicholson said that while some may 'think there are superficial contradictions' in the election of Cardinal Bergoglio, he finds the choice 'terrific.'

" 'A combination of social justice and orthodoxy. That is greatly needed,' he said...."
I'm with Jim Nicholson on that last point. We need social justice, and orthodoxy. As I've said before, social justice is orthodoxy, or should be:

"Seeming Anomalies" and Headlines

Former ambassador Nicholson's "seeming anomalies" are interesting, and I'll get to them in a bit. They're not disturbing, not to me anyway: but I think it's possible that we'll see headlines like "IRREGULARITIES IN VATICAN VOTE!" or "IS FRANCIS POPE? FORMER DIPLOMAT CLAIMS IRREGULARITIES IN VOTE!"

Tweaking language for dramatic effect isn't necessarily limited to supermarket tabloids. Reuters has consistently used the verb "abdicate" to describe what Benedict XVI did. In context, the word is technically accurate: but it's not the term chosen by an English-language news service operating on the Vatican's server. and other English-language Vatican resources I've seen use the verb "resign" to describe Benedict XVI's decision to step down as Pope:
"Resignation" and "abdication" have very similar 'dictionary' meanings, but I think "to abdicate" carries a little extra emotional baggage. For example, I can imagine someone "abdicating responsibility," but not "resigning responsibility."

But I could be wrong about that.

An Unexpected Pope

The 'anomalies' involved in Francis I's election are more interesting than disturbing. Here's some of what Nicholson had to say about the new Pope:
"...One of the apparent anomalies surrounding the election was the fact that Cardinal Bergoglio's name had not been one of those mentioned as a top possibility for Pope when the conclave began, said Nicholson. And while it had seemed like the cardinals were largely undecided and there was no clear frontrunner, the conclave lasted just two days – shorter than many Vatican analysts had anticipated.

"The former ambassador said that while this contradicted many people's expectations, it shows that Pope Francis was 'obviously very well regarded' among his brother cardinals....

"...The Holy Father's choice of the name 'Francis' is another of the 'seeming anomalies,' Nicholson said, observing that St. Francis of Assisi is 'the founder of an order of which he is not a part.'

"In addition, he said, although St. Francis of Assisi is 'one of the most beloved saints in the Church,' no Pope has ever taken his name before.

"However, taking St. Francis' name is 'consistent with his lifestyle,' which is characterized by humility, austerity and a dedication to the poor, he explained...."
(Carl Bunderson, CNA/EWTN News)
A Pope who is a Jesuit, but took the name of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans? That doesn't shake my confidence in the Pope's qualifications: much less my faith. As for not being one of the pre-conclave frontrunners? Same comment: 'unexpected' doesn't mean 'bad;' not for me.

2. 'A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Vatican....'

"Pope Francis to cardinals: 'I hope God forgives you' "
Estefania Aguirre, CNA/EWTN News (March 14, 2013)

"The newly elected Pope Francis joked with cardinals over dinner telling them he hopes God forgives them for having chosen him.

" 'When the Secretary of State toasted to him, he toasted back to us and said "I hope God forgives you," ' Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan recalled at the Pontifical North American College last night...."
A joke? From the Pope??!

I didn't become a Catholic because we allow Bingo, but tolerance for something other than the 'oh woe all ye faithful' approach to piety was appealing. I've been over that before:
A little more seriously, joy and humor are part of a Christian humanism. (Catechism, 1676)

So, yes: it's okay to smile.

3. A Reminder From the Pope

"Pope Francis warns Church could become 'compassionate NGO' "
BBC News (March 14, 2013)

"Pope Francis has warned the Catholic Church would become 'a compassionate NGO' without spiritual renewal.

"In a Sistine Chapel Mass with cardinals on his first day as Church leader, the pontiff said: 'If we do not confess to Christ, what would we be?

" 'We would end up a compassionate NGO. What would happen would be like when children make sand castles and then it all falls down.'..."
It's nice to see an outfit like BBC News 'get it' about the Pope and the Catholic Church.

The rest of the article is fairly straightforward reporting. I think it's a pretty good place to go for an 'outside' point of view of the current situation. We've had Popes who held that authority while a previous Pope was still around: but not for a few centuries.

My take on the situation is that it's a good thing. Francis I could, in principle, ask Benedict XVI for insights: I've seen nothing to suggest that there's some sort of rivalry.

On the other hand, I rather hope that Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger can retire and live out his years without the pressure of advising the current Pope.


Acronyms are handy: as long as everyone involved knows what they mean.

"NGO" could by "Never Grow Old," a song title; the airport code for Komaki Airport/Nagoya Airfield, Japan; Non Gazetted Officer; or National Gas Outlet. (The Free Dictionary) but in this case I'm quite sure it means "nongovernmental organization." (Princeton's WordNet)

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