A pontiff for the down and out
Religion and politics inevitably mix. But the Roman Catholic Church’s choice of a new pope known as a champion of the poor brings a fresh reminder that neither side of the partisan fence holds a monopoly on moral principles.
Wednesday’s news about Pope Francis, who had served the last 15 years as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, predictably included details about his strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
The coverage also cited his testy relationship with Argentina’s current left-leaning government — and lingering allegations that he was too compliant with the military junta that ran Argentina from 1976-83 as it waged a “dirty war” on dissenters (see Andres Oppenheimer’s column on today’s Commentary page).
But under his given name of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he also earned a reputation for sticking up for those who are down and out.
He even chose his papal name in honor of another tireless advocate for the materially disadvantaged — St. Francis of Assisi.
As the first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit pope and the first pope named Francis, his admirable long-time focus on aiding the impoverished seems likely to continue in his papacy.
And to a significant degree, that exalted quest would transcend politics.
Unfortunately, partisans from both left and right often demonize each other’s judgments — and even motives — regarding the poor.
But you don’t have to be a conservative to recognize the folly of ineffective big-government excess in the name of the poor — and the crucial role charity should play on their behalf.
Nor do you have to be a liberal to recognize that government should — and can — provide practical assistance to the poor.
And you don’t have to be a person of faith to accept the fundamental ethical obligation to help those who need it most.
Pope Francis faces numerous challenges in replacing Pope Benedict XVI, the first “Vicar of Christ” to resign since 1414. For example, there are still unresolved issues related to the church’s disgraceful, long-term cover-up of pedophilia among its clergy. Pope Francis must strive to correct that outrage and heal the horrendous wounds it has inflicted.
As the first pope from Latin America, he also should bring a new perspective to the hierarchy of a church with 1.2 billion members around the world.
And he will surely set an inspiring example for helping the poor.