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.
Published: March 14, 2013
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.