After just the second day in conclave, cardinals of the Roman Catholic Chuch elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina — the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and a Jesuit — as the new pope. And while it is certainly significant that Bergoglio — who has taken the name Francis — is from Latin America, Catholics should not put too much stock in his ability or desire to force social changes within the church.
The cardinals were clearly trying to send a message of inclusion to Latin America, which makes up a significant plurality of the world’s Catholics. Francis is the first pope from the Americas, the first non-European pope in almost 1600 years and the first pope to choose the name “Francis” — a name that carries intense significance as a symbol of service to the poor.
Pope Francis has certainly lived up to his new name in the past. Known for eschewing the luxuries many cardinals enjoy, he chose a simple one-bedroom apartment over the lush palace in Buenos Aries that John Paul II stayed in when he visited the area. He is known to cook his own meals, take public transportation and spend significant amounts of time in the slums surrounding Buenos Aries.
And while this is a refreshing return to the Biblical roots of the Catholic faith and Christianity in general, there isn’t much more refreshment to be had. Francis sings tired tunes when it comes to homosexuality and birth control — two stances on which the church is becoming increasingly out of touch with their faithful. According to a recent Gallup poll, 82 percent of American Catholics believe birth control is morally OK, and a Pew Research Center poll found that almost 60 percent of Catholics approve of gay marriage — a higher percentage than the U.S. population at large.
Bergoglio strongly opposed legislation on same-sex marriage in Argentina, calling it “a ‘move’ from the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.” He also claimed that gay couples adopting was a form of discrimination against children, a stance Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said reminded her of “medieval times and the Inquisition.”
Women religious in the United States did receive the appointment of Francis well, and there is a glimmer of hope the new pope may open the doors for women to become more active in the Church.
“There’s a lot of promise in that (he’s a Jesuit),” NBC News quoted Erin Saiz Hanna, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, which promotes women’s ordination as priests. “It’s a breath of fresh air,” she said, adding that Jesuits “are known to be more progressive.”
The best Catholics can probably hope for is that Francis will redirect the Church’s message back to a biblical call to serve the poor, and push attention away from hugely unpopular orthodoxy on gays and women.