The Roman Catholic Church selected Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — who will go by Pope Francis — as its 266th pope yesterday.
Four university religion experts from around the country shared their reactions to the news with USA TODAY College:
Jorge Mario Bergoglio attends his first Mass with cardinals as Pope Francis in the Sistine Chapel on March 14, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.
1. What was your initial reaction to the announcement?
Bill Thorn, Marquette University associate professor and Vatican consultant:
“I was stunned, first of all. I didn’t think it would be a Latin American, although it was certainly a possibility. He [Bergoglio] was actually number two last time around. I think this makes a lot of sense. In the end, they decided to go with all the qualities they saw last time. The next thing that hit me is that this is really the bridge to Latin America. We need to pay attention to Latin America.”
Monsignor Franklyn Casale, St. Thomas University president:
“I’m always pleased to see a new pope. I think it energizes the church. I was surprised like most people that it was cardinal Bergoglio. What I see already I like.”
James Bretzke, Boston College moral theology professor and Jesuit priest:
“Shock I suppose. I couldn’t believe that they had actually elected a Jesuit. He was ranked number 55 on one of the websites I looked at. Thirdly, I knew his age. I thought they would have gone with someone mid 60s to early 70s.”
Mark McGowan, University of Toronto religion professor:
“Absolutely delighted. It was an inspired choice. I was very pleased.”
2. Latin America has the largest Catholic population in the world. How do you think Pope Francis will represent this demographic as an Argentine?
“Buenos Aires is a very interesting Euro, Latin American city. Some of the things that we see in Europe will be reflected here. I think he will generate a lot of enthusiasm in Latin America. Argentina will be one Lollapalooza of church gatherings. I think it’s going to be one great celebration. Latin Americans will come with Francis. That will change some elements of the curia I think.”
“I think he’s a tremendous choice; it’s a great symbolic gesture on the College of Cardinals. People from Latin America and the Caribbean will feel their spiritual life energized.”
“This [the Catholic Church] is not necessarily going to be a European lock anymore.”
“Very well. His language fluency, his experience in Latin America has been valuable. Given his social justice stance, his ability to articulate the needs of the poor.”
3. In addition to being the first Latin American pope, what are your thoughts on Pope Francis being the first Jesuit pope?
“(Laughs) I think people have been afraid of Jesuits. They were the forefront of where theology and the church were going. I think he represents the best of the Jesuit broad education that undergirds everything. At the university [level], he has taught chemistry, he is pretty broadly educated. He is, I think, an interesting combination of living out of that vow of poverty and that concern for social justice. He will prop directly to the Latin American community. I think we are going to see one surprise after another after him; he is not going to do things the Italian way. This is a guy who has a spine of steel.”
“He’s a smart person. The Jesuits are smart people. I think he brings an intellectual perspective to the papacy that comes out of the great intellectual traditions of the Jesuits.”
“Supposedly, an early warning sign of the end of the world is when a Jesuit is elected pope (laughs). The Society of Jesus has had its difficulties with institutional hierarchy the last couple of decades. I think they’re all going to be seen in a different light. He is a child of Italian immigrants, he speaks Italian quite well, he has very good grammar. I was impressed with his comfort in Italian; he was clearly speaking in a conversational manner. He is known as a conservative cardinal, so that isn’t surprising. He’s committed to the poor, which I think is key, so that wasn’t surprising. So, I had surprises and things that made sense.”
“I think that’s interesting. The Jesuit order is highly educated. They’ve been constantly at the forefront of theological questions. I think this is a good thing. He comes from a religious community with a deep spirituality. [It will be] a defining characteristic of his own spirituality.”
4. What are the new Pope’s biggest challenges moving forward?
“Curia. Followed by youth. I think the youth will sense in him the same authenticity with Pope John Paul II. I think that’s what going to come through here with Francis, they’ll see the authenticity of his way of life.”
“Proclaiming the message of the Lord in a way they [Catholics] understand and make their own. I also think he has some administrative challenges; straightening out some of the issues we’ve been hearing about, especially in the Vatican.”
“I think getting a handle on the Roman bureaucracy (curia). That’s not a moral judgment, that’s a business model judgment. That needs to be reformed, whether he can do it, I have no idea. How he is going to deal theologically with systemically structural evil? (Social sin) That’s a challenge for any pope; it’s going to be a challenge for him. The sexual abuse crisis, that will stay with us. How is going to continue to do cleanup? We’ve rounded the corner, the number of cases isn’t going to mushroom up, but it remains a problem.”
“It all depends on how you define what it means to move forward. He’ll have a vision and a specific agenda. He’s going to have to tackle the ongoing misery within the curia. He’s from basically outside of that world. He’s also have to deal with the sex abuse scandals, those are the things that really hurt the church’s reputation. He has the capability to be frank and just on these issues.”
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