Raymond de Souza remarks on what the election of Francis I means to the Church:

How will he lead the Church? It is too early to tell, but he sent two clear signals last night, unmistakable to papal Rome. He appeared in the simple papal cassock, declining to wear the accompanying red shoulder cape that his predecessors have always worn. Benedict XVI’s preferred liturgical style thus did not survive the first minutes of the new pontificate.

Additionally, he declined to use the term “pope emeritus” for Benedict, referring to him instead as “bishop emeritus,” thereby taking sides in a dispute within the Vatican about what Benedict should be called. Small things? Yes, but deliberate choices from an experienced pastor.

Rome has a new bishop. The world has a new pope. Pope Francis has a new program for his pontificate.

We can always hope.

38 comments… add one
  • CStanley Link

    I don’t care much about the specific issue of what title to use for Benedict, but if that is a sign of Francis confronting the curia then it is a very hopeful sign indeed. More possible evidence here:

  • jan Link

    Simplicity and humility go hand-in-hand — traits the new Pope is displaying, at least early on. It’s too bad other leaders don’t demonstrate a similar inclination…..

  • michael reynolds Link

    A 76 year old man chosen by a college of cardinals so old on average that they could be Republicans? I know nothing about Vatican politics — a fact which, judging by cable news qualifies me as an expert — but I don’t think a gerontocracy picking an elderly man is a sign they’re looking for a new broom.

  • Icepick Link

    Simplicity and humility go hand-in-hand — traits the new Pope is displaying, at least early on.

    I’m not sure that’s the case at all. I’ve known very egotistical people that choose to live their lives simply. I’m not saying that’s the case here, just an observation in general.

  • According to Pew Research the average age of Republican voters is 50 and the average age of Democratic voters is 47.7. Voting at all means you’re middle-aged.

  • jan Link

    According to Pew Research the average age of Republican voters is 50 and the average age of Democratic voters is 47.7. Voting at all means you’re middle-aged.

    Touche, Michael!

    I’ve known very egotistical people that choose to live their lives simply. I’m not saying that’s the case here, just an observation in general.

    Time will tell, Ice.

  • michael reynolds Link


    At your age and mine 2.3 is a lot. It can mean the difference between Vi*gra spam and AARP spam.

  • CStanley Link

    I’m curious about what non-Catholics would see as a positive sign, and why. I mean beyond the typical carping about gender issues, homosexuality, abortion, birth control, on which we know the Church’s stance will not yield to popular opinion.

    But for thoughtful non- Catholics….what would positive change look like to you?

  • Icepick Link

    As a non-Catholic I largely don’t care. But the church will need to do something about the pederasty scandals for one thing, and it looks like it will need to do something to bring it’s finances more into the public light, from what I’ve heard about its problems in Europe. (Although I’m not really in favor of the demand that EVERYTHING needs to be open to government oversight and intrusion.)

  • michael reynolds Link


    The church will eventually yield on those issues. Every year they resist they’ll lose more of their grip and more of the money they need. They’ve already lost most of Europe, now they’re losing North America, and they’ll lose South America next.

    They may decide to take the tack on gay marriage of calling for a separation of religious and civil marriage, but they’ll yield. The current position on abortion and married clergy is already a change from earlier positions. Sooner or later they’ll find a way to change back or at least de-emphasize.

  • TastyBits Link

    @michael reynolds

    The Catholic Church is based upon doing the Will of God. A Church that bends to the will of man cannot do the Will of God.

    At times, the Church does get too involved with workings of the ways of man, and it goes astray. The Church as far too much involvement in politics. Politics is of this earth, and the Church should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”.

    The Church does not render scientific proclamations anymore. The Church believes that the soul is created at the time of conception. This gives the cells “personhood”. Abortion in any form will NEVER be condoned.

    The Church administers the Sacraments. Marriage is one of these, and the Sacrament will NEVER be administered to a gay couple. A marriage (gay or straight) performed in any other context has no relation to God.

    The Church needs to get out of politics. The laws of man are not God’s laws, and God does not need the government to enforce His laws. One can get an abortion or a gay marriage, but it will NEVER be sanctioned by God. We are all God’s children, and He loves all of us. There is no sin too great for God not to forgive. One need only ask.

    God does not negotiate with man, and the Church is not required to conform with opinion polls.

  • michael reynolds Link

    I love it when people say “never!” From that point it’s just a question of whether I’ll live long enough to be able to say, “Hah hah!”

    The very doctrine of infallibility is a change. So is celibate priesthood. So is opposition to torture and slavery. So is tolerance of dissent outside the church.

    In the end I think it will be a financial decision. Do you think Ghana and Peru are going to pay the church’s bills? They need income from the folks who have disposable income: Europeans and Americans. Otherwise the organization goes broke and I don’t care who you think is dictating doctrine, no organization — certainly not one that has survived for two thousand years — is going to let itself be starved of funds.

    The question I have is whether the church is still salvageable or whether they’ve reached the proverbial tipping point. (Of course eventually I think they give rise to the Bene Gesserit, but first we’ll need FTL travel.

  • TastyBits Link

    The Church is not infallible. God is. The Church has outlasted any of man’s creations, and there have been few theological changes. The Church does not need to become more secular to survive.

    The Church need only follow God’s Will. The Romans could not defeat God, and today’s secularists do not have the Roman stomach.

  • jan Link

    Strong and thoughtful comments, TastyBits.

  • michael reynolds Link

    The Romans? The Romans were the church during the final centuries of empire. The oppression of Christians was relatively short-lived and spotty. The Roman Empire is perhaps the institution most responsible for the survival and spread of the early church. (An inconvenient truth for fans of the book or movie, Quo Vadis.)

    Then of course the church continued its spread right behind the swords of governments — your various Goth, Celt, Frankish and “English” kings and so on, later riding on the backs of Italian city states, the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, the rump “Roman” empires, etc. etc.

    Opposing governments and their religions pushed them back, most notably the various Islamic waves that exiled them from the Holy Land, the ME and north Africa. But Protestants and Orthodox managed to reduce Catholic influence as well. Then there were the communists.

    So, no, the RC was not obliterated, it still exists, and is still very large, (17% of humanity, roughly) but it has effectively lost its homeland, Europe, and now is shrinking everywhere but some parts of Africa. Protestants are even contesting in South America, along with secularism. (Without an army the RC doesn’t spread so well.) The RC has gone from absolute dominance in Europe and South America – a dominance tied very much to political power – to becoming just one among several religions competing for the loyalty of poorer areas of the globe, and poorer populations within developed nations. The fastest rate of growth in the US is among the “none of the above” population, people identifying with no particular religion.

    So, what turns those numbers around? A long-term, serious effort to convert, I suppose, but so long as the RC is identified with pedophilia and an anti-female, anti-gay agenda, it’s hard to see where they make any progress in the US or Europe.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I regularly attend, but am not a member of a Congregationalist church, that espouses very vocally the types of liberal approaches to “gender issues, homosexuality, abortion, birth control” that michael would appear to advocate, but yet michael does not attend. Nor do other “michaels.” Such churches exist all over the country, yet their membership is declining dangerously.

  • TastyBits Link

    @michael reynolds

    The Church has been far too involved in the “affairs of men”. If the stories of the Borgia are true, Pope Alexander XI was probably the worst. Martin Luther was necessary to begin the Reformation, but the Church seems to be drawn back towards man-made institutions.

    The Roman attempt to eliminate Christians was a failure. How many secularists would need to be fed to the lions before abortion was outlawed? How many secularists are willing to die for something?

    All the instutitions you list have failed (or will). The Church has lasted 2,000 years, and it will last beyond the next 2,000 years. At that time, today’s countries, nations, etc. will only exist in history books.

  • steve Link

    Episcopalian. Go when work allows. Wife is on the vestry. What TB is not noting, is that the Catholic Church really does have an infallibility doctrine. It has been around unofficially forever, but was made official in 1870. (our minister was an Old Catholic before becoming Episcopalian.) I have no idea how well the Church can recover from its scandals, but I do think it needs to get out of the business of politics. When faith and politics combines, faith always loses.


  • TastyBits Link


    The First Vatican Council does include the infallibility doctrine, but this is not as simple as it may seem. The first principles of the Faith are infallible. There is a Papal infallibility, but it is a narrow scope. If the Pope declares Pluto a planet, it is not covered.

  • Michael Reynolds Link

    I don’t think any if us know how well the RC would survive without government. It’s never happened. The RC has been intimately entwined with government, generally as big fans of kings and autocrats – so long as the autocrat in question kept the money flowing. The church has very often been for sale, and has meddled in politics from the first pope to the most recent. In fact without the backing of governments and their armies the RC would never have made it out of Italy. Catholics proselytized with the sword. (As did other faiths.)

    The ideal you have of a church divorced from politics is not a Catholic idea, it’s a secularist idea derived from Enlightement thinking.

  • Andy Link

    I’m not a Catholic, but I see the choice as a good one – or at least one that signals that things are going to change. Hopefully this new pope can institute some reforms. While I don’t agree with the Catholic Church on a lot of issues, and am appalled at the child rape scandal, I respect their service to the poor and other good works. I hope Francis can change the Church for the better.

  • TastyBits Link

    @michael reynolds

    I would suggest the politicians have tried to co-opt the Church and Christianity. Constantine’s conversion may or may not have been sincere, but it caused many of the politicians to convert for politics. The Church has exerted its independence from the government to keep from being co-opted.

    Canon Law was for the Church’s internal jurisprudence, but it also was used as a claim against the soul. This claim allowed the Church to adjudicate religious matters of the individual. Blasphemy comes under Canon Law, and it allowed the Church to protect many adherents. It was also used in corrupt ways.

    Much of what has been done by the Catholic Church was done to insulate and protect itself from government. There is a complicated and technical argument for not turning in the pedophile priests. I understand some of it, but I think they should have been turned over.

    The Church can exist without government backing. Can a government exist without a religious basis?

  • CStanley Link

    The idea of promoting greater separation between civil and sacramental marriage is the solution I’d prefer but I wouldn’t consider that yielding- perhaps I should clarify that I meant that the Church will not yield by changing doctrinally on these issues. To the extent that the Church involves itself in the politics it should be (and usually is IMO) to prevent government from dictating the terms of the sacrament.

    As for the claim you stake on previous yielding…I think there’s a great deal to consider in terms of those changes happening in the Church’s early history, with a huge body of theological reasoning involved, and then those precepts becoming settled over time….much like we consider matters of Constitutional law to become settled over time. If Roe is now to be taken as settled law after 40 years, surely decisions made by Church elders a thousand years ago carry a tremendous weight.

    It also matters why changes have been made in the past. On a decision to proscribe celibacy, for instance, I hardly think that there were Pew type polls and mass media opinionators clamoring for the elimination of married clergy. The closest to the kind of yielding on popularity would be the coaptation of customs of local cultures into liturgy and worship, which is a much more superficial type of decision than one of doctrine.

    Certainly the Church has risked, and experienced, a shrinking and drying up of financial support, by digging in her heels. But if her motives were worldly power and wealth then we would have already seen the pandering to popular opinion. The fact that it hasn’t happened speaks volumes and what remains is to reclaim the authority that comes from living out a witness to a life apart from worldly priorities. Benedict conceptualized a smaller purer Church but wasn’t terribly successful at making this transition. I do think he laid some groundwork and it appears that we may now have a shepherd who can lead the flock in that direction through personal example.

  • sam Link

    “The Church can exist without government backing. Can a government exist without a religious basis?”

    Yes. But, of course, that all depends on how you define religion.

  • steve Link

    @CS- The church has clearly gone well beyond protecting its sacraments. It really needs to stay out of electoral politics. It needs to stop linking itself to particular politicians and parties. It is telling that it is willing to speak out to support or defend some beliefs, but not others. Wonder how well this Pope’s support for issues regarding the poor will play with the US church just as one example?


  • It needs to stop linking itself to particular politicians and parties.

    Could you give some examples of this? I sure haven’t seen it here. The only thing that I can see is the clergy going to great lengths to avoid taking Catholic politicians to task for espousing positions in conflict with Church teachings.

  • TastyBits Link


    It was partially a dig at @michael reynolds, but it is also an actual question. Most of the governments I am know about have claimed a divine basis to establish legitimacy, but my knowledge is far from complete. To my knowledge, Marx never developed a basis for communism. Today, many are trying to change the basis of the US government from God to nature. It is a complicated argument to make, and few can make it. The easiest basis would be power. “Might makes right.”

  • Michael:

    Could you explain this a bit for me?

    The current position on abortion and married clergy is already a change from earlier positions.

    I don’t quite understand what you’re talking about. Since Vatican II, the only change in social practice if not teachings in the Church that I can see is in the area of divorce—at least in the U. S. the Church has liberalized its granting of annulments considerably.

  • sam Link

    “Today, many are trying to change the basis of the US government from God to nature.”

    Well, for starters, our government is not based on God. Our constitution is not a statement of religious tenets. In fact, it’s rather explicit in steering our government away from religious entanglements. The writers of that document well knew the history of religious conflict in Europe and had no desire to see those sanguinary disputes rehearsed in the new nation they were creating.

    And besides, given our pluralism, to whose god would you make reference? The god of my Pentecostal grandmother? The Brahma of Hindu Americans? The G-d of Hasidic Jews? And if you say “The God of Christianity, to whom all Christians, no matter what denomination, pray, as Christianity is the predominant religion in this country”, are you not, then, arguing “Might, the might of numbers, make right”?

  • TastyBits Link


    The US Rights are derived from a creator, but there is no specific creator. It is assumed the founders were referring to a Christian creator, but any religious creator could be used. The founders did not create a “Christian Nation, and the “Judeo-Christian moral basis” is nonsense. Stealing is the only Commandment enforced.

    Using nature as a basis is more difficult than it seems. Because of Godel’s box, it is a complicated argument to establish the metaphysical and epidemiological basis. It is not impossible, but it is rarely attempted. Prior to Godel’s Completeness Theorem (and modern science) establishing an apriori was much less difficult. The world outside Plato’s Cave was assumed to be eternal. Without a beginning, there is no need to establish an apriori basis.

    Without a fixed point, “Might, the might of numbers, make right” is often the case. Divine Intervention is not the only way to establish a fixed point, but it is the easiest.

  • sam Link

    Uh, excuse me, but I really don’t think you know what your talking about.
    And it’s Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem(s) (the first theorem is the one usually brought up, mistakenly, in this context).

  • Cstanley Link

    I don’t know what I’m talking about either but just throwing this out there as a gut level observation.

    Even though our founders were basing the Constitution on Natural Law rather than commandments from God, isn’t it also ture that the population of the colonies was largely Christian and they knoew that? So that even as the intellectuals who authored the documents were either using secular or Deist principles, they knew full well that the religious institutions would provide a powerful “Amen,” so to speak, and that the citizenry would largely understand it in that context?

    It’s in that sense that I think Tastybits is right about the Judeo Christian heritage of our country (see also deTocqueville and Burke.) point being, do we know if this will all work (long term) if there isn’t a religious populace?

  • Cstanley Link

    Sorry for the typos….

    Also an addendum: is it not at least fair for religious conservatives to point out that we may be in uncharted territory here?

    Someone upthread asked if govt can exist without religion, personally I thinkthat it probably can but is likely to become more and more authoritarian in order to maintain it’s grasp. A government social contract which guarantees the freedom of conscience and worship as a first principle is a powerful safeguard, I think. When people don’t have that concern because they accept only their temporal nature, there’s less concern about loss of other liberties, especially when they’re being promised some neat sounding tradeoffs.

  • TastyBits Link

    Using Godel was a lazy way of making the philosophical argument. He was basically using mathematics to get to the same conclusions. It has been a long time since I have argued philosophy, and at that time, I was not aware of Godel.

    I am not sure what part I do not know what I am talking about.

    I have a knowledge of many of the large and some medium governmental entities throughout history. Of the ones I am aware, most have used the supernatural to establish their legitimacy. In a few cases, the ruler was the god.

  • TastyBits Link


    I am saying that there is no Judeo-Christian basis for the government. The founders referred to a Creator, but nothing beyond. They were aware of the philosophical discussions of the era, and they could have referenced rights being derived from nature.

    I have no problem with removing God as a source of authority from the government. This would start with printed money and the Pledge. I do not endorse eradicating religion from government. The Ten Commandments hanging on the wall may be OK, but they are a suggestion at best.

  • Cstanley Link

    Sorry to have misunderstood then, Tastybits.

    My reasoning is that it didn’t matter whether the founders were religious or not, but only that they knew their audience was. And, as it happens, the audience of citizens were by and large religious, and of the Judeo Christian variety. This remained true throughout most of US history…so I don’t think that the US should be used as an example of a government without that type of religious support for it’s authority. I think large majorities throughout all but our most recent history have understood the referencees to the Creator to mean Yahweh. Even that specificity doesn’t matter that much, but I’d argur that only a very small percentage have understood the references in the Declaration to mean what TJ would have meant.

  • TastyBits Link


    It is my understanding that a state religion was not a problem for many, but which religion was the problem. The Establishment Clause kept the other guy’s religion from being imposed upon you. The population was Christian, and that did have a strong influence upon government. The founders may have been “fundamental Christians”, but the founding documents were written from a Deist perspective.

  • sam Link

    “Using Godel was a lazy way of making the philosophical argument. He was basically using mathematics to get to the same conclusions.”

    Actually, no he wasn’t. Not in the slightest.

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