Thursday, March 14, 2013

don't cry for me argentina

In light of recent (and not so recent) sex and child abuse scandals, allegations of corruption, and a centuries long history of bloodshed and genocide, the Catholic Church might have considered a more contemporary public relations approach to its current predicament in order to present a more modern, progressive, gentler image to the world. But with the new Papal selection, the Catholic response seems to have been to grasp ever tighter to its conservative positions on social issues. We just saw the first resignation of a Pope in 600 years with Benedict (Ratzinger). Ratzinger (Benedict) entered his Papal career amid allegations of being a Nazi sympathizer and stepped down steeped in allegations of corruption, with knowledge of (and apparently playing an active role in) covering the tracks of predatory priests accused of child abuse. Now, we're seeing the introduction of Francis, who seems to have a problematic and questionable past of his own. 

Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Francis) is the first non-European in 1200 years and also the first Jesuit ever chosen to be the Bishop of Rome and the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church. That Bergoglio hails from Latin America is a promising development, especially considering that more than a third of the world's Catholic population lives in Latin America. Also, his being a Jesuit, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church known for their work in education (founding schools, colleges, universities and seminaries), intellectual research, and cultural pursuits is encouraging. This choice would seem to imply that the Church is at once attempting to embolden education while at the same time reaching across the ocean to the Americas in order to help develop a more modern Catholic Church, which might better represent the impending global needs of the 21st century. A prospect that might prove difficult to maintain for long considering the new Pontiff has only one lung and is 76 years old.

Particularly in light of the allegations that Ratzinger came (and left) with, it's somewhat surprising that Bergoglio doesn't come with a squeaky clean record. His positions on same-sex marriage, gay adoption, abortion, women in the clergy, celibacy, and contraception are, not surprisingly rigidly conservative. He's called gay marriage "the destructive attempt to end God's plan." And has referred to adoption by gay couples as "the envy of the devil." Argentine President Cristina Fernandez once compared Bergoglio's stands on abortion and gay rights to "medieval times and the Inquisition." So if you had any hopes that the Catholic Church was going to hop on the gay marriage bandwagon anytime soon, get ready to be gravely disappointed. 

Bergoglio has had a long clerical career in Argentina where he's had the opportunity to work closely with President Fernandez. And while their relationship has sometimes been argumentative, this should indicate that he knows what it means to work with and have respect for a strong woman in a position of power. He also knows what it means to work with the poor and impoverished in terms of healthcare and education. 

Perhaps most troubling, and surprising in light of Ratzinger's Nazi allegations, are the allegations that Borgoglio was involved with the abductions and kidnappings of liberal priests during a military junta in 1976. 

As events unfold, it becomes clear that the unfortunate truth about the institutional behemoth that is the Catholic Church is that its primary motivation is to uphold its institutional power and position. The Church, as an institution, appears to be more concerned with doctrinal dogmaticism and the retaining of its power, rather than any practical application of the teachings of Christ.