Catholics of the world have a new pope. He is the first pope with the name Francis, the first Jesuit (an order that was on the Church’s bad list in the past), and the first from outside Europe. While these seem significant, they probably are not. They may even seem significant to the institution itself, but to the outside world, little will change.
If there is anything I could be encouraged by, it’s the connotations that the name Francis has for poorer socio-economic classes. It would be significant if the Catholic Church invested more effort in aiding the poor from the top-down. Latin and South American Catholicism in particular has been known in since the latter half of the twentieth century for a commitment to the poor, sometimes becoming the sole voice of resistance against capitalist exploitation that was often ignored by the official Church. It would not be new for Catholics to fight against economic exploitation, then, but it would be new for it to extend beyond words for the Catholic hierarchy. The institution cannot help but perpetuate itself, and this has meant an accumulation of wealth in the upper echelons of the church. There have been rumors that the papal transition was in part due to the potential loss of wealth because of impending prosecution.
It’s interesting to me, though, that we are so enamored by the whole process while holding, at the same time, that the pope really doesn’t matter and that we don’t really care what happens. Is it because we enjoy seeing the ceremonies and trappings of power? Is it only because we think that the pope doesn’t matter that we can enjoy watching people who obviously think he does? Or is it because we are worried that he may matter more than we let on? I am interested in the process, particularly because I can still remember when it took place less than a decade ago. I hold very little hope, however, for this pope being a harbinger for major changes either in the institution or the world.
What do you think? Does a new pope mean anything? Why are we so interested?