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 Blooming Stars

Papal Dynamics – 6

            As I was going to write that an autocratic, authoritarian papal electoral system can beget only its kind as a pope, the news of the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as pope came. The report of his simplicity and humility in contrast to Vatican splendor touched me deeply even in my skepticism related to papacy. The fact that he is the first Jesuit pope also warmed my heart as I was a Jesuit for 25 years, and as I think of Jesuits as eminent men as a whole. His selection of the name, Francis, – evocative of two great saints: Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier who surrendered themselves totally to God - as his name also bodes well. He is conservative, and is not without controversy related to murderous dictators between 1976 and 1983. We do not know his circumstances, and we want to wish him the very best to make the urgent changes he needs to make in the Catholic Church.

            The history of papacy is horrible and scandal-ridden. Some of the popes such as Alexander VI and John XII have been very immoral. Pope Sixtus IV who built the world-famous Sistine chapel in Vatican named six of his nephews cardinals. Pope Innocent VI was denounced by St. Bridget of Sweden as a persecutor of Christ’s flock. Pope Urban VI was so unstable and abusive that an anti-pope was elected to replace him causing the great Western Schism with three claimants to the papacy. Boniface VI was elected after having been twice defrocked for immoral conduct. Pope John XI was the illegitimate son of Pope Sergius III and Marozia, the head of the powerful Theophylact family. The list goes on.

            The distinction between religious and secular, lay and religious, profane and sacred, clergy and laity, and politics and religion is getting blurred. As humans participate in divine nature, every conscious act of human is profoundly spiritual as it is made with a view to sustain the spirit. Only the spirit/soul in human is eternal. A truly spiritual person is always guided by the Holy Spirit and purity of intention. The whole world is charged with the presence of the Spirit. Nobody has any special privilege or special access to the Spirit. It is not right that a pope selects the cardinals who elect his successor. The machinery for selecting a pope has to be set up by a truly representative Church Council. What is required is not secrecy and tactics but the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ. That is what brought down the mighty Roman Empire. The Gospel is plain and simple; it does not need to be wrapped in attractive worldly wrappings. It is perennial and eternal. It stands by itself. It does not need Cardinals who are known as princes of the Church in outdated red costumes and other paraphernalia. All monarchical, pompous names should be abolished outright. They do not befit men who follow the man born in a manger in utter destitution. The Church elders such as pope, cardinals and bishops should be recognized by their love, mercy, compassion, truth, transparence, holiness, and humility. The Catholic Church needs to make a fundamental option for the poor. It needs to be guided by the spirit of sharing and communitarian living (Acts 2 and 4). The Church needs to be a fortress of holiness and transparence in its spiritual and material dealings.

            Pope Francis, lacks legitimacy in that he was elected by a non-representative body of the Church (115 cardinals selected by conservative Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI). However, I want to forgive that grave error, and ask other reform-minded persons to do the same. I want to give the Pope, who began extraordinarily well compared to previous popes, 5 to 7 years to put the Church in order. He may have a maximum term of 7 years to do his job and resign. First of all he needs to call a representative General Council that includes all the segments of the Church to set up a democratic process to elect a pope (his successor) in the future who really represents the entire Church. It is not anymore going to be a pope who is interpreting God’s will, and who appoints cardinals and bishops in descending hierarchical order to govern the Church.

            It is going to be all the members of the Church who discern God’s will and decide the future of the Church. The electoral process can be very simple for a General Council. Each diocese in the world can elect 3-5 clergy and lay representatives to elect the pope. For the election of the pope all do not have to go to Rome either. The General Council can set the agenda for the Church that the Pope and a few representatives (a cabinet – equivalent to the Curia) chosen by the Council can put into practice. Much can be written about the shaping of a New Church administration according to the mind of Christ that can even be a magnificent model for a new political World Government of all the nations. The New Church striving for Unity of Christianity characterized by love, compassion, truth, freedom, and tolerance, needs to be non-judgmental, and respects everyone’s conscience in a multi-cultural world. True love can work only in freedom; and only truth can set us free or help us achieve salvation. And Christ, above all, came to teach compassionate love and freeing truth. The New Church needs to set guidelines and policies according to the teachings of Christ in the Gospels.

            There need to be periodic General Councils every 10 or 15 years to discern and identify problems facing the Church, and formulate guidelines and policies to meet the challenges according to the signs of the times. Trained as a Jesuit, Pope Francis is well aware of the calling of (1) periodic General Congregations in the Society of Jesus to keep abreast with the changes in the world in order to minister to that world, and (2) discernment of spirits to make the right choices (elections) in spiritual life. Let Pope Francis use all his training and pastoral experience to reform and modernize the Catholic Church. Let him guard against all authoritarian and autocratic impulses. We are watching his every step. The world needs solid transforming deeds and not pious platitudes. Let the New Church be a fortress of spirituality, that goes beyond all religions, and that is for all God’s children paving the way for the urgently needed Unity of Humanity.


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