NEWS BLOG (WSAU) News coverage of choosing a pope is almost like covering the NFL draft. We speculate endlessly about who is going to be chosen, and the various strengths and weaknesses of the possibilities. And just like mock draft-boards are ultimately wrong the moment the actual selections begin the papal speculation is also wrong.
Not only is much of our pre-conclave commentary simply inaccurate, I think a lot of the selection criteria that we talk about is ultimately not what the College of Cardinals considers. We think in terms of conservative or liberal. In truth, anyone who rises to the position of Cardinal is conservative on issues of church doctrine. Almost all of the voting Cardinals were installed by doctrinal-conservatives John Paul II or Benedict.
I think there may be some discussion at Conclave of outsider vs. insider… Pope Francis is indeed an outsider who’s spent almost none of his ministry at the Vatican, in contrast to Benedict who was very much an insider. I also don’t think there’s as much emphasis on geography. We’re caught up in the novelty of a ‘Pope from the Americas’. It’s more likely the selectors debated and prayed over who among them is most likely to reflect the face of Jesus in the modern world. Against that yardstick, Francis is an excellent choice. Christ taught the poor. He healed and comforted the sick. He ate with outcasts and prostitutes. He rejected the earthy trappings of wealth and privilege. Pope Francis seems to reflect those Christ-like values perfectly. As a Jesuit, education is a cornerstone of his ministry. Many of his priests in Argentina are ‘shoe leather Fathers’ who go out into the countryside to evangelize. Francis lived in a small apartment in Buenos Aires, cooked his own meals, and took the bus to work. (He declined the lavish Archbishops residence, with servants and a chauffeur.) The cross he wore as he appeared on the balcony was a simple wood carving, not a jewel-encrusted crucifix.
As an outsider, Francis will have a fighting chance to clear out some of the graft within the Curia. He doesn’t have personal ties to church administrators in Rome where much of the corruption and scandal reside.
Francis is not a conservative or a liberal. He’s a servant. Reflect upon the opening words of his papacy: “true reform takes place in our hearts.” His emphasis on the poor does not make him ‘a liberal Pope.' The Roman Catholic church is the largest charitable organization in the world. Unlike governments that may forcibly collect taxes and redistribute it to the poor, the Church is funded by the voluntary contributions of its members. The faithful expect their offerings and tithes to be used to help build God's kingdom on Earth. That kind of charity is in the best tradition of conservatives.
I’m a Protestant. All of the faithful will be strengthened by Francis. May God bless his leadership.