The Vatican Spring?


Over at the Immanent Frame, various scholars weigh in on the shift at the Vatican:

The retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the subsequent elevation of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the throne of St. Peter involves a number of “firsts” for the Catholic Church: the first papal retirement in 600 years, the first election of a non-European pope in the modern era, and the first Jesuit pope ever. Even the papal name chosen by Bergoglio—Francis I, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi—is a first. Many observers both within and outside the Church have interpreted these “firsts” as a sign that the papacy of Francis I will mark a departure from his most recent predecessors and will bring much-needed reform to a Church hamstrung by the sex abuse scandal, a rigid and opaque bureaucratic structure, concerns about the role of women in the Church, and the ever-dwindling ranks of the faithful.

Early actions and statements suggest that, in keeping with his namesake, the new pope will adopt a more humble, ascetic style, and work to reorient the church toward a fuller embrace of its mission to serve the poor. But critics have also pointed out that Francis remains bound to the same conservative positions on questions of sexuality, gender, and reproduction upheld by his predecessors. Moreover, questions have been raised about the new pope’s relationship to the military junta responsible for Argentina’s “dirty war” in the 1970s and 80s, when Bergoglio served as provincial for the Jesuit order in Argentina.

Does the election of Francis I signal a major shift in Vatican policy, structure, or doctrine? How significant is Francis’ status as an “outsider” to the Roman Curia, especially his background as a Latin American and a Jesuit? Is this status likely to position him as an agent of change within the Church, or do his theological continuities with his predecessors and the entrenched Vatican bureaucracy guarantee that any reform he initiates will be largely cosmetic?