News Martina Devlin

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Jesuit choice was a surprise, but don't expect reform anytime soon

Published 14/03/2013 | 04:00

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Pope Francis puts on his sash from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
Pope Francis puts on his sash from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican

A GROUP of men, all verging on elderly and mostly white, met to choose another man, definitely elderly and probably white, to lead the Catholic Church. No surprise, then, that a 76-year-old white man emerged as Pope.

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It was never going to be a young man, or even a middle-aged man, and there wasn't one chance in a zillion that it would ever be a woman. Not considering the Conclave of Cardinals' starting position.

Hamstrung from the start, you might say. Deliberately, obdurately, gladly so.

So much for modernisation. Forget about this being the 21st century. Reform? Don't hold your breath.

In short, this is not a church in transition. Nor is it likely to be a church ready to adapt its teachings.

Maybe the peculiar workings of the Curia, the administrative apparatus of the Holy See, will be put under the microscope by the new Bishop of Rome.

But I doubt if we'll see moves to introduce women priests or married clergy any day soon. Make that any decade soon. And the new Pope has already been outspoken against gay marriage.

Clearly, the Catholic Church isn't the least bit interested in modernisation or reform, and it has only marginal interest in the fact that the year is 2013.

Still, he has a kindly face, Pope Francis, the look of a man either ascetic by nature, or who has taught himself to be abstemious. The Jesuits have a good reputation.

When he received his cardinal's hat in 2001, he urged people not to travel to Rome but to give the money they would have spent to charity. And he has championed human rights issues in his homeland of Argentina, criticising unfair economic structures which give rise to social inequality.

I wish him well. I am relieved to see that he looks to be a fit and healthy 76-year-old.

But he doesn't exactly convince as a break with tradition, despite his nationality. While he may be a non-Italian, he's the next best thing as the son of Italian emigrants to a country retaining close links with Italy.

Still, I will say this. Well done to the Vatican for not tweeting the result first, and for keeping modern communication systems at bay.

It understands the value of pageantry: how momentous it would be to watch the centuries-old tradition of white smoke billowing from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel.

A choice had been made, now the wait would be concluded with the time-honoured Latin phrase 'habemus papam'. It didn't have to be said in 140 characters or less.

I admired the Vatican's ability to drum up anticipation and suspense. No goose bumps, though. That's because I felt no connection with what was unfolding because there was no sense it had anything to do with me.

How could it? This new Man In White's ability to be a reformer is hampered from the outset.

The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio may be the first Jesuit elected Pope, as well as the first Pope Francis.

But he's not the first elderly white man. And judging by his swift election, indicating a consensus in that creaking College of Cardinals, he probably won't be the last.

Irish Independent

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