The papal announcement has been on the news for only a few minutes and I’m already bored out of my mind. For those who haven't heard, the world’s first Latin American Pope is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, now Pope Francis.
I don’t mean to decry an entire religion, and there are a good number of Catholics around the world truly embodying their faith’s better virtues, but the Vatican’s latest decision shows a lack of insight and imagination in their leadership that Americans are all too familiar with.
The Vatican had an opportunity to elect the first black Pope in Peter Turkson of Ghana, not on the merit of skin color, but in recognition of Africa’s huge support of the church. Catholicism’s dwindling numbers around the world have been bolstered by their foothold among the African nations. Recognizing the evolution of their church’s base would have shown a lot of foresight, and choosing a Pope that could bridge the divide would have drawn many new followers to an open minded faith.
Instead, they've chosen the Church’s first Jesuit. A distinction that may have carried rogue connotations a century ago, but now stands little more than an arbitrary peculiarity. The Jesuit focus was on education — artifacts of which can be seen throughout the Big East universities. They once encouraged students to reach out to nearby impoverished neighborhoods through charity, and challenged the Vatican on many of its more antiquated doctrines.
But that was years ago, and placing hope in a Jesuit to radically modernize the Catholic Church is at best naïve, at worst delusional. He hasn't even been Pope for a day, and we already know that Francis I will not rock the papal boat on homosexuality, family planning or euthanasia — causes once dear to the Jesuit core. Francis’ "legendary" advocacy for social justice and the poor is being touted as his highest virtue. After all, he once kissed the feet of AIDS victims.
That’s the old reliable staple of any Church: champion of the poor huddled masses, God’s beloved and faithful children. And that’s the exact problem — a complete lack of intellectual evolution and forward thinking. If you cling to traditionalist values alone as your power, you will always miss an opportunity to attract new generations of worshippers, as well as lose loyal followers through progressive internal rebellions. Just look at how many denominations of Christianity exist today as a result of internal disputes.
It’s not that I expected a new pope to burst out onto the scene and announce free condoms for everyone, the loving acceptance of gay marriage, and an abortion wing at the Vatican. But those causes, and the mainstream movements toward securing them herald the nails being pounded into the coffins of old world faiths.
An informationally-connected and scientifically-informed global populace is quickly uniting around the world. If the faiths of old wish to have a presence in that altruistic rise, they need to start focusing on the metaphorical morality in their scriptures, rather than restrictive doctrines that segregate the masses into sinners and saints. There is so much beauty, spirituality and insight into the human condition available within religious texts, and yet all we ever hear about is the divisional judgements that make one portion of the world seem fanatically ignorant, and the other seem barbarically sinful.