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The white smoke has billowed from the Vatican chimney, and not from the burning of documents incriminating the cardinals in the multinational sex abuse scandal.

That would require an industrial incinerator.

The new man on St. Peter’s throne is an old white man with a well documented history of anti-gay comments and a possibly too-cozy relationship with ultraconservative elements in his homeland. While this description could apply to the vast majority of the cardinals, in this care it applies to Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, henceforth known as Francis I.

Bergoglio was the runner-up the last time around in 2005, when Joseph Ratzinger was named pope. The only thing that changes is that Bergoglio is eight years older (76) and thus likely to be yet another transitional pope. His election suggests that the cardinals aren’t quite sure where the long-term direction of the Church seems to lie. With an Italian father, Bergoglio satisfies the Vatican insiders, most of whom are Italian, while his South American background appeals to those cardinals who want to make the Church more international. He satisfies multiple factions without requiring a long-term commitment.

Bergoglio is the first Jesuit to be named pope, but he’s clearly not the type of Jesuit that many Catholics would recognize. The order is famously liberal; in Latin America, it played a key role in promoting social justice and liberation theology. Bergoglio was part of the Vatican apparatus that beat the order back into line. His reward was being named a bishop in the Buenos Aires diocese, from which he began his rise. His tenure in Argentina has been marred by lingering resentment of the Church’s close relationship to the repressive and murderous government of the 1970s and 1980s.

Several victims have claimed Bergoglio was complicit in some of the regime’s outrages, including the arrest of two priests (a charge that Bergoglio’s defenders dispute).

And, of course, what would the papacy be without a history of homophobia? Bergoglio carries on the proud tradition of his predecessors, attacking marriage equality (legal in Argentina) and adoption by gays. He was so vehement about the latter that Argentinian president  Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said the church’s tone was reminiscent of “medieval times and the Inquisition.” Ah, yes, the good old days.

While the mainstream media will trumpet the change that Bergoglio represents, the fact is he’s just new wine in old skins. The hierarchy has taken a stand against the modern world and all it represents, including gay equality. Changing that will take decades, or a miracle.

Unfortunately, miracles are in short supply, even in the Vatican.

Photo by Aibdescalzo


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