Thoughts at the End of the Conclave

It is, perhaps, funny that I’m writing my thoughts on the end of the conclave a week after the conclave actually ended. I’ll be more timely after I retire.

Last week at this time many of us were glued to our electronic devices. I was at a meeting at work and I got word shortly before noon that we had white smoke. It was a long hour or so before I heard the name Jorge Marion Bergoglio of Buenos Aires (who I had never heard of). My first reaction was hopeful that a non-European was chosen.

I continue that hope. When the Cardinals entered the conclave I was more than a little concerned because all 115 of them had been chosen by either Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI and I feared that they would choose yet another leader who was well liked by that group but not well suited for the job. I was also concerned that they would choose someone who would continue to reinforce fortress walls at the expense of the people of God.

The election of Pope Francis has calmed many of my fears. By all accounts this week he is determined to bring a renewed sense of simplicity and preferential option for the poor. I was impressed that he took the bus with the rest of the Cardinals back to his hotel to pay his hotel bill. I wonder if the airline will refund his plane ticket back to Buenos Aires.

As someone born in Georgetown Hospital (a Jesuit hospital) and educated at Boston College I’m fairly fluent in Jesuit. I’ve had countless discussions with dozens of Jesuits on a host of subjects. I’ve always been impressed with their emphasis on education and reason; I haven’t always agreed with their conclusions but I’ve always felt that I was heard and respected and more often than not I’ve learned something from the discussion.

I’m also encouraged by his choice to be named Pope Francis. There is no way around the knowledge that he chose his name after Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) who left an easy life and chose poverty as a spiritual value. In his life before last week, Cardinal Bergoglio did the same: he eschewed a palace and chose an apartment. He declined a limo and rode the bus to work. He dressed simply. All this points to an understanding of the world through the eyes of the poor and marginalized.

I hope this continues. This is no secret for readers of this blog, but I believe the Church needs to update its teaching on birth control and celibacy. The prohibition on artificial birth control may make sense among elderly celibate men, but among the poor it enslaves families (and primarily women) to children who overwhelm available resources. It’s easy to claim that married men should respect their wives in matters of sexuality, but allowing women control over their fertility is the only realistic way to make this happen.

In terms of celibacy, I’ll eagerly confess my bias here. Sixteen years ago I found myself a Catholic priest who loved being a priest but no longer felt called to (or capable of) celibacy. I left active ministry not because I didn’t like being a priest, but because I couldn’t imagine a God centered life without Nancy. I still can’t.

My name is legion. The shortage of priests lands directly on the demand that priests be celibate males. This has little or no impact on the number of priests in the Vatican but it dramatically impacts most of the rest of the world. Simply put, the sacraments that are reserved to priests (Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing) are denied to large areas of the faithful who feel the priest shortage most acutely. In other words, the Church is choosing celibacy over the sacraments.

Francis is getting some pushback from the LGBT community who is unhappy that he has opposed gay marriage. To be fair, none of 115 Cardinals would have progressed this issue. The dragon of discrimination is difficult to slay; hopefully Francis will elect the Cardinal who will succeed him and slay this homophobic dragon.

In the meantime I remain hopeful that Pope Francis will carry on the prophetic word of his namesake.

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