Local Explains It All: The New Pope Francis I

Dear all Catholic believers, your brand-spankin’-new pope is…another white guy! Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Francis I, took charge of the Catholic Church (and more importantly the Twitter handle @Pontifex) yesterday. Surprising? Not really. But you there, wait! There’s more.

Once referred to as the “quiet thunder” of Argentina, he’s the first Jesuit Pope and the first to hail from the Americas. He reportedly came in second place during the last conclave, which elected Benedict XVI. [Freshly] Pope Francis I speaks Italian, Spanish, and German. And he only has one lung.

Read the breakdown of his street cred and refresh your memory of recent papal shenanigans after the jump.

While Francis I has been touted as a moderate within the College of Cardinals, he’s not exactly progressive. You know that whole issue of homosexuality that the Catholic Church isn’t a big fan of? Welp… Francis I isn’t going to change that. In the past, he has been an outspoken critic of not only gay marriage. During the battle over its legalization (it was eventually deemed perfectly legal), he championed the opposition saying:

“[T]he Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family,” he wrote to the four monasteries in Argentina. “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

He is also opposed to the rights of homosexual couples to adopt children, calling it “discrimination against children.” In response to this, Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez likened his tone to “medieval times and the Inquisition.” He has also faced fire for never publicly opposing the military dictatorship that ran the country from 1976-1983 and was reprimanded by the press for failing to protect two priests who faced imprisonment for their work in the slums.

For all those negatives, though, Francis seems to be a pretty decent guy. In Buenos Aires, he never lived in his official residence, instead choosing to live in a single room apartment, where he cooked his own meals on the same stove that heated the room. The media has noted (see above TwitPic/possible Instagram) that he would typically take public transportation to work.

Some media critics have suggested the selection might have purposefully landed on one of the older members of the College so as to make the choice more of a temporary one (Now, that’s a bit grim, isn’t it?). Francis I is 76 years old. In comparison, Benedict XVI was also elected at the considerable age of 78. John Paul I and II, the two before him, were respectively 61 and 58 when they were made Pope.

Fordham University Theology Chairman Dr. Terrence Tilley mentioned to The Wall Street Journal that Pope Francis I in his first blessing “gave people an indulgence; time off purgatory for their sins.” While this is not that unusual within Catholicism, it’s still a wacky idea.

This time around, the papal conclave took 2 days. For the past five conclaves–the last was back in 2005 for Benedict XVI–the College have only taken 2 or 3 days to pick their Pope. Apparently, it once used to take years (YEARS) for the conclave to pick the Pope.

One of us attended a solid 12 years of Catholic school and, so for the sake of a complete background, here’s a little crash course in the levels of power in the Catholic Church. The Pope can theoretically be selected from any male in the Catholic church, but in practice, you have to be in the College of Cardinals to have a shot.

Deacon is the first position of note, followed by the priesthood. The bishops lie one step above. Rather than a directing a single church, bishops control a diocese–think administrative district. The difference between them and priests would be like that of Representatives versus Senators. Finally come Cardinals, who kinda act like old members of the same golfing/country club all in line for the same pot of inheritance, waiting to cash in on the last guy’s death (or in this case, resignation). Cardinals are technically bishops who are given more authority, making them Princes of the Church. If you want to get official, the Pope is one of them (the Bishop of Rome). To throw another metaphor at you, it’s kind of like the relationship between scotch, whiskey, and alcohol: all Cardinals are Bishops, but not all Bishops are Cardinals and they all fit the lowest common denominator of priest.

As for the name Francis, there are two possible references. The first is St. Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuit order (of which Bergoglio is a member). The other option is St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order, originator of the nativity scene and patron saint of animals, the environment and Italy. No matter who the Pope intends to reference, both men were missionaries who gave up personal wealth to follow God. Like the latter St. Francis, some church historians have called his approach “pastoral,” and have said that they believe “his simplicity can fix all the problems of the Church at once.”

Only time will tell the legacy Francis I will have. Whether he is a modernizer, pushes the Church back in time from a policy perspective, or remains somewhat moderate is something that only he knows. For now, all we can say is enjoy your swanky new setup, Francis, and we hope you give us some good tweets.

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