Rather like just over a month ago, the front pages, and most of the middle pages, have been flooded with news surrounding the papacy. Last month it was the controversial resignation of Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), however this time around the news is that his position has been filled by Pope Francis I (Jorge Mario Bergoglio). The former Cardinal from Buenos Aires is 76 years old, and is the first Pope to elect for the name Francis, as well as being the only leader of the Catholic Church to originate from The Americas. Nevertheless his employment in the role has come with some similar criticisms and comment that surrounded Ratzinger who took up the post eight years ago.
The controversy starts with a movement that originated in South America known as liberation theology. The concept of this movement was that Jesus was very much a man of the people, and the Bible should be experienced through the eyes of the poor. The BBC describes:
“Most controversially, the Liberationists said the church should act to bring about social change, and should ally itself with the working class to do so. Some radical priests became involved in politics and trade unions; others even aligned themselves with violent revolutionary movements.”
At the time, this group of revolutionaries provided a real threat to the dictatorship in Argentina. Two advocates of this movement, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, were found badly beaten after being tortured in 1976, due to their involvement in the revolution. Both men accused Bergoglio of handing them over to the authorities, stating that by not declaring that he supported their work, he submitted them to this torture when he could have intervened. On the contrary however, there is an alternative theory that Bergoglio was the reason that their lives were spared:
”Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them, including persuading dictator Jorge Videla’s family priest to call in sick so that Bergoglio could say Mass in the Junta leader’s home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives.”
Regardless of whether or not Bergoglio was the saviour of these Jesuit priests, or the cause of their pain, he has been placed in charge of the Roman Catholic Church, and it is likely, in a similar vein to the accusations about Hitler Youth made about Ratzinger, that this won’t have much of a bearing on his period at the helm. What will affect this reign are his views on some of the issues that are currently topical.
Gay marriage in the church is one particular debate which has been raging for quite some time. Bergoglio holds a similar view to his predecessor on the issue and is not for same sex union in the church. The New York Times reported back in 2010 that: Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, had declared it a “destructive attack on God’s plan.” Further to this stance on gay marriage the new Pope has some strong views on abortion, contraception and euthanasia. In 2007 he stated:
“We should commit ourselves to ‘eucharistic coherence’, that is, we should be conscious that people cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act or speak against the commandments, in particular when abortion, euthanasia, and other serious crimes against life and family are facilitated. This responsibility applies particularly to legislators, governors, and health professionals.”
Numerous reports in the follow up to Bergoglio’s election said that the most prominent problem within the church that he must deal with is that surrounding claims of widespread child sex abuse. Ratzinger before him was unable to reduce this abuse and was accused on a number of occasions of standing in the way of investigations into the abuse of some children at the hands of the Catholic Church. Alongside these there were some revelations that he ignored letters about supposed sex abuse before starting his papacy. It remains to be seen if Pope Francis I will be more successful in stamping out this problem which is currently plaguing the image of the Catholic Church.