Francis: A New World Pope
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2013
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Reviewed by Tim Høiland
Ever since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected by the papal conclave this past March, becoming the 266th pontiff and the first to take the name Francis, it seems the whole world has been abuzz with prognostications about what new directions the Catholic Church will take with the “People’s Pope” at the helm.
Indeed, from the moment he first appeared on the balcony at St. Peter’s it became clear that Pope Francis was serious about trying to live up to his medieval namesake. Notably absent was the regal dress of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. And before he blessed the people, he instituted a powerful reversal by asking the people to pray for him.
As stories about the life of the new Bishop of Rome started to emerge, we saw that while these demonstrations of humility and simplicity may have broken with tradition for the papacy, they were nothing new for the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires. For years he had regularly visited the poor and the outcasts in his native Argentina, taking public transportation and walking through mud to get there. And just as he seemed determined to do in the Vatican, he had lived for many years in a relatively austere apartment. With “street cred” like this, the buzz surrounding Pope Francis has been understandable.
In his slim new book Francis: A New World Pope, French journalist and religion writer Michel Cool paints a portrait of Bergoglio’s path to the papacy and seeks to put the election of the new Pope into perspective.
As Cool demonstrates, Francis is seen by many as an outsider, and in important ways, he is. There has never previously been a Pope from the so-called “New World” and never before has the Pope been a Jesuit. Accompanying these unprecedented changes, some critics of the Vatican’s perceived stodginess hope he will bring sweeping changes, not just in style, but also in doctrine. Catholic faithful who recognize the Vatican’s failures and grieve over the recent sex abuse scandal, meanwhile, hope Francis will restore the Church to health and respectability.
Commentators have latched onto sound-bytes from Francis’s surprisingly candid interviews in which he has said, for example, that the Church can no longer be “obsessed” with the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Some of those commentators have, however, conveniently ignored his statements affirming the Church’s long-held teachings on these matters. For those outside the Church, the Pope’s seemingly contradictory comments have been vexing, but needlessly so, in my opinion.