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Times are changing with the election of the first South American Pope. What should the role of the pope be in today’s world? Is it time for the church to update its positions on social issues like birth control and gay marriage?
The Cardinals are smiling in Rome with the election of a new pope. He is the first pope who is not from Europe, but is South American (where 40% of the world’s Catholics live), from Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is a sign of new times for the 1.2 billion Catholics in his huge world-wide constituency.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has taken the name Francis – drawing on the connection to St Francis of Assisi who saw his calling in working for social justice, working with the poor and living a simple and humble life. As a cardinal, Pope Francis did not live surrounded by luxury, and is expected to continue to take a low profile, traveling by bus rather than chauffeur driven cars, cooking his own meals and visiting slums. In his view, pastoral work rather than doctrinal battles is the work of religion in the modern world.
But is this feasible? Can Pope Francis be a reformer by emphasizing the needs of the poor without taking a clear stance on secular issues e.g. the financial scandals in the Vatican and sex offences by priest? Can the Church separate itself from political or social laws and doctrines? Although seen as a modernizer of Argentina’s Catholic Church, Pope Francis is a Jesuit who is committed to traditional Church beliefs and values. He has spoken clearly against same-sex marriage, gay adoption, abortion and ordaining women as priests.