Catholics have a new pope!
The new Pontiff is Pope Francis from Argentina – the first Latin American pope in history. Pope Francis will not have a number with his name. That only comes when there is a second pope Francis – then he will become Pope Francis I.
The new pope takes control of the Catholic Church at a time when the sex abuse scandal looms as the perhaps the church’s biggest challenge. This is also a time when many Catholics, especially in the United States, are hopeful that the new pope will lead the Church in a more progressive direction.
My first reaction to the selection of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who is 76, was that the Catholic Church has selected another pope who begins his reign over the Church at an advanced age and this must be a sign that the Church is not interested in becoming more progressive. But then, I had another thought.
Pope John Paul II was 58 when he became pope and he was hailed as a younger pope who would steer the Catholic Church in a new direction. Pope John Paul II was actually a very conservative pope and in the face of cries for change essentially maintained status quo.
I have always tried to judge people, not by their age, but by their personality and that’s the way I will judge this new pope. Paul McCartney is 70 – just 6 years younger than the new pope and many of the Baby Boomer rock stars have hit their 70s. I am proud that Baby Boomers, as a generation, have redefined what it means to mature and they continue to influence the world. Though Pope Francis, at 76, is technically not a Baby Boomer, he is close enough to give me hope that he will be an open-minded pope and not just adhere to rules because they are rules.
I know people in their 30s and 40s who act older than many people I know from the Baby Boomer/Rock Generation. Age is measured more by attitude than by years alive. So, while the new pope may appear to be older on paper, there is no reason to believe at this point that he will rule the Church as an ‘old man’.
As I wrote in a previous blog, it’s time for the Catholic Church to eliminate certain ‘rules’ that reflect an outdated mentality of mankind rather than what God may intend. It was ‘man’ who decided that priests could not marry. Many Biblical scholars teach that it is important to consider the social and political times in which the Bible was written and to respect the progress we have made as a species on this incredible planet. That would certainly mean a change in attitudes toward women in the Church.
I have seen people get older and become more reticent to change. My hope is that Pope Francis, who becomes pope at the age of 76, will serve as a vibrant pope who is open to only the change that will make the Church as much a home for spirituality as it is a bureaucracy.
The Latin world is celebrating this first pope from Latin America and like the Republican Party is doing now, the other cardinals are trying to figure out what they can do next time to attract the Latin community!
I was also hopeful for another sign that the new pope would be progressive. Since two popes have taken the names of their two favorite Beatles – John and Paul – I was hoping for Pope George Ringo!
There are 78 million Catholics in America – that’s about the size of the Baby Boomer Generation. When the white smoke poured out of the chimney at Vatican City today, all of the news channels and the networks went to live coverage of the historic moment. I was at the dentist when the new pope was announced. Following this blog is a picture I took of my dentist, Dr. Stephanie Phillips, a few of the staff and a patient at CBD Dental, who gathered around to watch the announcement live! This was indeed one of those moments.