Initial Thoughts on Pope Francis

The newly elected Pope Francis I waves to the crowds from St Peter's basilica.

Pope Francis I

I’m not Catholic. I have no interest in ever becoming Catholic. With that said, they’re the largest institution of Christians in the world so a new leader clearly impacts all of us (even non-Christians in indirect ways). Here are some thoughts expressed somewhat at random and Jamie Arpin-Ricci of – a fellow MennoNerd and author of the book The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis, and Life in the Kingdom – will be guest-posting a bit more later.

Let’s start with the name (if you couldn’t tell, that’s also why I asked Jamie to guest-blog). I love the name choice. I’m not sure if it is officially confirmed yet whether he is named after St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis Xavier, or some other Francis, but either of the first two would make me very happy. Pope names are chosen very carefully and are meant to embody what they want to accomplish. Both of those Francises accomplished things which would be valuable for the Catholic Church (and all the Church) to emulate.

Francis of Assisi started the Franciscan Order which is known primarily for their desire to live simply so they can give generously – a motto that is common in Anabaptist circles as well. Some of the stories starting to be written about the new Pope demonstrates his commitment to this form of spirituality. Apparently he is known to have rejected the option to live in a small mansion – his right as a Cardinal – and instead lived in a small apartment heated by a cookstove. He also always travelled by public transportation, again rejecting the perks of his job that he was entitled to.

St. Francis Xavier was one of the founders of the Jesuit Order, which is typically considered the intellectual branch of Catholicism. They also basically reinvented evangelism after over 1000 years when the church hadn’t really bothered with such things since being a European was the same thing as being Catholic. Speaking of, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit Pope, which is pretty cool for the highly-respected Order to finally get the top job.

He’s also the first South American Pope and the first non-European Pope since sometime in the 700’s before the Great Schism (the divide between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic). Yes, he is a white male, but he comes from a place where liberation theology is very strong and he clearly has a strong desire to help the poor so I predict it will come through to a degree. Because of his name choice, I think that this will be a huge emphasis of his time as leader of the world’s largest church.

Pope Francis is theologically conservative on most issues. He opposes abortion (as I do, at least in most cases). He opposes same-sex marriage, at least in the church but I’m not sure about the state (I support same-sex marriage in both). He opposes female leadership in the church, which any regular reader knows is something I will disagree with him passionately about. He opposes contraception; I am ok with contraception but do acknowledge it is a more complicated issue than we usually think it is.

If you were hoping for anything else, as many progressive Protestants on Twitter seemed to be, I don’t think you were paying much attention to the Catholic Church. Many Catholics at the grassroots level are ok with same-sex marriage, female leadership, and contraception especially (abortion I’m guessing is still a minority) but the leadership is older and it isn’t surprising to know that they are less progressive than average. That’s just the nature of their institution. Some churches are the opposite, like the United Church of Canada I grew up in. There are pro’s and con’s to both so I’m not really interested in judging either as good or bad; I just want to always be seeing spiritual growth no matter which institution you’re a part of.

In short, then, I think we got about as good of a Pope as was possible: values work with the poor to the point that he will sacrifice heavily to make it happen, has the intellectual element, represents an Order never represented and a continent never represented.

What are your thoughts on the new Pope?

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.