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March 14th 2013 print

Peter Wales

Pope Francis: Curia and curiouser

The Pontiff from Argentina is as yet a largely unknown quantity, although one would hope he does not represent a species of Jesuit so common in the US and Australia -- the sort, in other words, who spend their congregants' money on websites hailing Hugo Chavez


Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio briefly flickered through my mind as I was considering who might be elected Pope, but quickly flickered out again. He flickered in because of persistent rumours that he was runner–up in the Conclave that elected Pope Benedict. But the rumours were doubtful, while the factors weighing against him seemed decisive.


There were three.

Firstly, at 76, he is at the upper limit of what might be considered a likely age. Too old, I thought.

Second, he is a Jesuit. There has never before been a Jesuit Pope. That in itself is not a negative factor, but the recent behaviour of some Jesuits is. In the past the Society of Jesus has produced some of the Church’s greatest thinkers and missionaries. In recent years, in the Australia and the US at least, it has declined into a kind of PC knitting circle.

If you are not sure what I mean, pay a visit to the Jesuit website eurekastreet.com.au. You might as well be reading Crikey!, or the Melbourne Anglican. Just as with those outlets, you know in advance that the position taken on any social or political issue will be that of the Labor left/Greens. An organisation that offers an encomium on the virtues of Hugo Chavez, and quotes Bertolt Brecht while doing so, has lost any capacity for rational thought.

The Jesuits in South America may be different, but while a cardinal, Pope Francis made some worrying comments about the redistribution of wealth, comments which resemble the inane demands that people who have taken risks and worked hard all their lives to produce value for others have an obligation to ‘give something back’ to people who haven’t. Popes are not infallible on matters of economics, but they may be influential.

The third and decisive factor was that he has no experience in Rome. It seemed unlikely that someone would be elected as Bishop of Rome who has little familiarity with the city and its people. Even more important, given the wide publicity given to claims of a need to reform the Curia, it seemed unlikely that someone would be elected who has no detailed knowledge of the Curia and its functions. If there really is a need for reform, Pope Francis will be in the position of having to rely for advice on the very people in need of reformation.

Having said all that, it is important to point out that Pope Francis has a wider educational background than most of his predecessors; he has a Master’s degree in chemistry, and has taught psychology and literature. He has a reputation for prayerful faithfulness and unpretentious care for others. He has resisted the temptation to lapse into the cesspool of liberation theology, and has been courageous in his opposition to some of the policies and pronouncements of Argentina’s obstreperous leftist government. For example, a few months after current Argentinian President Kristina Kirchner’s husband (her predecessor) was elected in 2003, then Cardinal Bergoglio pointed out the damage done by the "exhibitionism and strident announcements" that had come to characterise Argentinian politics.

All this suggests intelligence, humility, strength and common sense.

Maybe the cardinals know better than me after all.

Peter Wales is a former Anglican clergyman who now runs an IT consultancy business on Kangaroo Island in South Australia