Habemus Franciscum

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio shortly after being elected pope by the College of Cardinals. He is the first pope from the Americas and the first to take the name Francis.

Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., T. Marie Chilton Professor of Catholic Theology, has long been a close observer of the Vatican. He has written 19 books including “Pope Benedict XVI: An Introduction to His Theological Vision,” and more than 200 reviews and articles. He talks about what the election of a Jesuit as pope and the agenda that Francis likely will face. Rausch was interviewed by Editor Joseph Wakelee-Lynch.

Was it surprising to you that the cardinals would choose someone who is a member of what is probably the church’s most prominent order of priests?
I was very surprised because his name was not mentioned as among the papabile even though he was the runner-up to Benedict at the last conclave.

What does it mean for Jesuits worldwide that the cardinals elected a Jesuit pope?
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — Pope Francis — is no longer under Jesuit obedience. He has not been since he became a bishop. Once a man becomes a bishop he becomes the pastor of a local church, and he is part of the hierarchy of the church. On the other hand, his formation certainly is Jesuit, his spirituality, I suspect, is largely formed by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and the values of the Spiritual Exercises would be very much a part of his own thinking.

Is there anything we can conclude from his being an Argentine Jesuit?
I really don’t know the answer to that. On the other hand, he has lived in Cordoba, which is one of the poorest cities in Argentina, and he did pastoral ministry there and he’d be very well aware of the problems of the poor.

Do you think that in the eyes of the world, Francis’ moral credibility will be measured in part by how he deals with the sexual abuse issue?
Certainly, the new pope is going to have to take a clearer position in regard to sexual abuse. My sense about the American bishops is that although they learned late, they learned. We have protocols, policies and procedures in place, from the Zero Tolerance policy to fingerprinting not just for clergy but for anyone who works in a school. I have been fingerprinted three times on all 10 digits. There has not been the same kind of movement in Europe to deal effectively with this. The Vatican said, “Oh, this is an American problem” 10 years ago, before it blew up in Germany, Ireland and other countries. That certainly has to be part of his agenda, but it’s one of many.

What are some of the other issues?
He has to clean up the Curia. He has to find some way to call back those who have strayed from the faith. He has to find some way to make the Gospel and the life of the church credible to people in the modern world who seem to feel they don’t really need it. He also has to represent the concerns of the Global South, which are very different from the concerns of the West.

Based on what you know of Pope Francis at this point, what do you find appealing?
The way he presented himself. He humbly referred to himself as Bishop of Rome. He asked the crowd to bless him instead of starting with his blessing of the crowd. That’s a way of saying, “I need your blessing, I need your prayers. Your prayers are as important as my prayers.” It was moving to hear him say that. And his name: The fact that he chose Francis, which is absolutely unprecedented in church history, is a clear sign of one of the directions he would like to see his papacy move in — greater solidarity with the poor. He chose the name of Il Poverello, the little poor man of Assisi. I suspect that says something about his agenda as pope.


Thu, 03/14/2013 - 10:10

Thank you, LMU, for showing more awareness of and respect for a major event in the Catholic Church -- a new pope, the first from South/Latin America, the first who is from the Jesuit order, the first to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi, etc. I remember my theology classes with Father Rausch, S.J., and appreciate his perspective on this momentous occasion. Viva el Papa!

Thu, 03/14/2013 - 10:24

Well put. I only hope the new pope is not tainted by his earlier association with abuses in Argentina, including the charge that he condoned human rights violations by the military who took over the government. A more loving attitude toward those who are gay would also help heal some deep wounds. But we can hope for much from one who, as cardinal, lived in a rented apartment, rode the bus, and cooked his own meals. A prayer said for Pope Francis is truly a prayer said for us all.

Thu, 03/14/2013 - 10:41

Father, thank you for the information you provided during the interview on Pope Francis. I still enjoy your books and articles, as I did when I was one of your theology students at LMU in 1978. Please keep writing and inspiring!

Thu, 03/14/2013 - 12:06

We’ve heard every talking head on TV say that Pope Francis is named after St. Francis of Assisi. But is that really true? Or have the Italians usurped the proper TV spotlight. Has Pope Francis actually said he took the name for Francis of Assisi? Could it be that he took it for St. Francis Xavier, a contemporary of Ignatius Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits? That makes just as much sense, if not more -- the first Jesuit pope with the name of one of the first Jesuits. I’m happy either way, but this looks like an assumption, based on the cardinal’s work with the poor. I just want the truth.

Thu, 03/14/2013 - 13:51

It is always a pleasure to hear what Fr. Rausch has to say. His insight on the new pope is enlightening. The first Jesuit pope! What a joy and opportunity. I usher at the 8:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Lawrence Martyr in Redondo Beach. Fr. Rausch says this Mass a couple of times a month. I really look forward to his homily. No one can capture the church audience like a Jesuit.

Thu, 03/14/2013 - 20:05

OK Don, since you are an usher at the 8:30 a.m. Mass at my patron saint’s church I guess I’ll have to start going back to Mass. I have been somewhat fallen away since my days at LMU but now with the first Jesuit as pope I should probably try and come back.Thanks!

Fri, 03/15/2013 - 18:29

It is beyond expectation that all the Catholic church's issues can be corrected at once. Perhaps the Holy Spirit guided an election towards a man with the obvious integrity to start the process. How many of your friends will now see a leader who will stress that the church needs to eliminate the pomp and circumstance. People around the world want the church to lead and walk the talk. Perhaps reliability and integrity seemed to be lost. Now the pope can allow his flock to look up again take pride and regain the grace that allows us to join together and be proud. We all try to lead a good life and at times it is easier when our leaders reflect what our hearts know is right.

Fri, 03/15/2013 - 19:00

Fr. Rausch has great perspective on the history of the papacy from Vatican II through the present installation of Pope Francis.

I had the privilege of sitting in on one of his talks on this topic, during the Catholic seminar series at the new Catholic Christ Cathedral (formerly Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Orange, Calif.) last month. After listening to his predictions on the direction the Catholic Church is moving toward, it's truly remarkable to have these firsts in the papacy: a first South American, a first Jesuit, and a first Francis to become Pope.

St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises are the Jesuit's foundation teachings for all of us to become God's spiritual servants. I'm so appreciative of my formal LMU foundation and education in theology and the teachings of the Society of Jesus.

"Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve You as You deserve: to give, and not count the cost; to fight, and not to heed the wounds; to toil, and not to seek for rest; to labor, and not to ask for reward, except that knowing that I am doing Your Will." Amen.
--Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Post new comment

* is used to mark required fields.