A Pope for a New World: On the Significance of the Choice of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis


“The manifestations of so many men and women of Venezuela, of the whole world, and the presence of the heads of states are worthy expressions of appreciation from those of us today who say goodbye and thank you wholeheartedly. To the vast multitude of men and women who prayed for the president and continue to pray for him, we say to them that their prayers did not fall into the void, instead their prayers are like the grain of wheat that falls in order to bloom, and now bears fruit in the gift of life eternal that we pray for him. By clinging to Christ, who wanted a special dedication to the poor and the little ones in society who now raise a song of gratitude and loving prayer so that Christ may take hold of him for eternal life. “

[Monsignor Mario Moronta finally gave greetings to the national authorities on behalf of the Venezuelan bishops and Church.] “Mr. Vice President, Members of the National Government, the various powers, members of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, the followers and friends of President Chávez, we send a greeting of solidarity from the bishops of the Catholic Church in Venezuela”.~Monseñor Mario Moronta, Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbal, speaking for the Vatican at the state funeral for Hugo Chávez Frías

Those of us who followed the live feed for the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías last Friday (March 8, 2013), might have paid attention to the very interesting remarks made by the Vatican’s delegate and speaker at the funeral. The message was one of unambiguous support for the preferential option for the poor and for social justice, reminiscent of a time when, within the context of the history of the Roman Catholic Church, there was a radical shift under Pope John XXIII in the 1960s. I personally sensed a change being announced or previewed at Chávez’s very funeral, the right location and time to signal such a turn. I told those following the funeral with me that I would not be surprised if the next Pope to be chosen would come from Latin America. Chávez, who was himself a devout Roman Catholic, was also honoured with a mass held in the Vatican itself, led by Jorge Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas, and the Vatican had sent its condolences to Venezuela as well..

JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIOAnd now we have the news: Argentina‘s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, has a few moments ago been announced as the next Pope, taking the name of Francis, in tribute to Saint Francis of Assisi, famous for his love of nature, and his consecration to poverty and charity. The Jesuits have probably been the most socially progressive, at times almost radical element of the Catholic Church in Latin America (which does not necessarily translate into an accurate summary of Bergoglio’s career). Bergoglio is known for his “personal humility, doctrinal conservatism and a commitment to social justice.” Like the President of Uruguay, José Mujica (a former guerrilla, an ally of Chávez) who is hailed for his humble lifestyle, Bergoglio was also known for preferring, “a simple lifestyle….He lives in a small apartment, rather than in the palatial bishop’s residence. He gave up his chauffeured limousine in favour of public transportation, and he reportedly cooks his own meals.” The point is that Bergoglio is part of a new alignment, a pattern, a framework that first broke onto the Latin American political and spiritual scene in the 1960s with Vatican II and the “preferential option for the poor,” accompanying the rise of Liberation Theology, all of which seemed to have been stemmed by the now defunct Pope Benedict XVI, the right wing theologian also known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The choice of Bergoglio for Pope is a major political and strategic decision taken by the Roman Catholic Church, a decision to begin to refocus on specific parts of the world where a majority of its following is to be found. I thus thought that U.S. news commentators, interviewing Americans in Rome, all hoping for a U.S. Pope (the expansionist nationalism never far away), were being quite unrealistic. Why would the Church wish to cater to a small and troublesome minority? Why would the Church wish to present itself to a world in fragmentation as yet another type of Bretton Woods institution, another symbol of U.S. power, as if to suggest that U.S. domination was absolute, eternal and divinely sanctioned? Well, we have some answers then after all.

Understanding that a socialist tide that has swept across much of Latin America, accompanied by the encouragement, aid, and leadership of the indefatigable Chávez, the Church was forced to reevaluate where its interests and a plausible future ought to be rooted. To reorient itself to Latin America, it could not opt for a high-handed, angry elitist snob, but for a new Pope that does not stand starkly opposed to the continental Bolivarian alliance–the assemblage of secular powers with which the Church must necessarily work, and whose messages overlap in some key respects with those of Bergoglio over the past few years. More important than Bergoglio the man, is the fact that the world is already one that is beginning to fragment into distinctive power blocs, and with the formation of numerous integrative institutions, led or motivated by Chávez and Venezuela, Latin America is gradually becoming a world of its own. This is a world that could also easily subsist without the rest of the planet, fully self-sufficient in everything it needs or could want. I believe we are witnessing the formation, anew, of plural world-systems, and the Church has chosen to integrate itself with one of the largest and most dynamic, and the home of most of its followers. This may then really be a new Pope for a New World.

9 thoughts on “A Pope for a New World: On the Significance of the Choice of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis

  1. spaceandpolitics

    Max, I’m sorry, but I completely disagree with your celebration of Bergoglio as a progressive, quasi Chavista Pope. The OPPOSITE is actually the case. Those of us who know his background and actions in Argentina know very well that he represents nothing but the most reactionary, right-wing faction of the Argentine Church. He has been consistent in his hostility toward Liberation Theology, his full support for the state terrorism of the late 1970s and early 1980s (he has been accused of delivering people to death squads), his homophobic crusade against gay marriage, etc, etc, all, of course, nicely presented in the package of an “austere” man. Do not let that misleading package fool you! This “Latin American” Pope is a tragedy for progressive causes, and confirms that the Vatican has long been a profoundly reactionary institution, and that it just keeps getting worse. Unfortunately, most of accounts and articles online documenting Bergoglio’s dark past are in Spanish. Let me simply quote what a friend posted on facebook a few minutes ago: “Bergoglio is personally responsable of the kidnapping and killing of two people that he personally delivered to the death squads and oversaw that priests were present during torture and assassinations at concentration camps. It’s a terribly, terribly sad news to many of us.”

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I won’t debate details of his past, whatever the truth of those details may be. I think you are reacting more to a tag line I entered in Facebook, than to what I actually wrote above, about the strategic nature of the decision to select a Latin American pope, especially at this time, and especially one who is openly critical of the IMF and neoliberalism. The story you relate of the two kidnapped priests…are they not the same two that were freed because of his personal intercession? And did he deliver them to be tortured? Anyway, I would like to see more of an evaluation of what this choice means in the present context, especially since I know that I am not same person I was in 1976.

  2. Maximilian Forte

    Am I being too hopeful? Perhaps so…these are some of the various assessments that are being passed around out there, aside from those I linked to in my article above. Some should give us a lot of reason to be alarmed, if they are proven to be true.




  3. Maximilian Forte

    I think that people need to clarify what exactly it is they are analyzing, and what they think or hope their analysis will reveal. My analysis had to do with the choice of a Latin American Pope, now, in the Latin America of today, and what that could signify in more global terms, being optimistic for greater Latin American independence and prominence. Others are preoccupied more with what Bergoglio did or did not do, may or may not have done, when he was in his 30s, over 40 years ago.

    Let’s assume that we just ignore everything in the article (join a growing club) and we stick with the second narrative: Bergoglio is a reactionary abuser of human rights implicated with the worst excesses of the military junta in Argentina in the 1970s.

    Assuming that ALL of the allegations are perfectly true, does that mean “end of story”?
    1) Did history just stop for this man in the 1970s? If not…
    2) What has changed, if anything? If NOTHING, please explain.
    3) If your answer to 2) includes his positions as articulated over the past few years on social justice, the fight against poverty and neoliberalism, and apologizing for the role of the Church in military-ruled Argentina, then what do we make of those positions? Do you (a) dismiss them? or (b) take them seriously and try to see where they fit in a broader context, even a geopolitical context?

    Nobody here is arguing that the Roman Catholic Church is a Communist Party. Nobody is arguing that the Church has clean hands…indeed, not even the Church leadership itself argues that.

    However, before being led by the nose through yet another round of social media slander, easy accusations, and fast dismissals, as has been the norm over the past few years, consider the following uncomfortable facts:

    1) Malcolm X was once a boozing philanderer, by his own account. Should we just stop at that?
    2) Muammar Gaddafi was trained by the British military–he sought that training, even not long after the British had finished massacring thousands in nearby Kenya. Was Gaddafi a puppet of the UK?
    3) Hugo Chavez served in the Venezuelan military, an arm of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, equipped and financed at least in part by the U.S., and guilty of human rights abuses. To the end, Chavez often appeared in his military uniform. Is Chavez to be called a right-wing reactionary enthusiast of U.S. imperialism?
    4) Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were unapologetic anti-Communist right wingers. Both condemned the U.S. war in Iraq. Do we ignore their condemnation? John Paul II would end up delivering scathing critiques of modernization, capitalism and the poverty that was generated. No good? Move along now?
    5) Those of us who are academics are complicit in maintaining a dominant institution of the capitalist state. And everyone reading this is also complicit in maintaining the capitalist system. Are you happy if the analysis stops there?

    So if all of these other cases can be more complicated than what they seem at first blush, if there can be unpredictable outcomes, and if we prefer our own biographies to be treated in a nuanced fashion…what makes Bergoglio’s case an exception?

    I am interested in how different minds carry out analysis. And these latter points are only really relevant if we stick with the second narrative…when the first narrative of the article went beyond the politics of a man.

    That’s all from me.

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  5. John Allison

    OK, I just watched the interviews on Democracy Now on the new Jesuit Pope. I have read all the above. I tend to come down on the side with Max, with the caveat that Francis, like Obama, is the best compromise, or the lesser evil. So much depends upon the context of his efforts more than what he believes or would like to implement.
    We cannot know; and our analyses can only be based upon what information we can access.

    If the Royals want us to know something, even if it is something that is untrue, they put on a show.

    If we the people want to know what is really going in inside the Royal Bubble, we gotta get inside. When we get inside, the re=education required to get there makes us somebody other than what we were.

    So, it all comes down to playing with the presented images of the characters in the show on stage, which might not at all resemble what is going on outside the Truman Show stage set.

    I like the choice because of two aspects of Francis’s presented image. Jesuit, and “Francis”, the compassionate one.

    He refused to live in the Mansion. Jerry Brown, also once a Jesuit student, also refused and again refuses to live in the government mansion.
    In addition, the apparent fact that he “took the bus to work” as a Bishop; I like that.
    He visited the homes of people unable, and gave them confession and sacrament.
    I mean to say: I like this IMAGE.
    Like all things in our virtual access to a world we believe to be there and to influence us in understandable ways, I can’t really know this fellow, the same age as I, but, I like the Image.

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