When Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope in March of this year, he surprised the world by not only taking the name of St. Francis of Assisi but also by moving quickly to do away with many of the trappings and formalities of the position he was chosen to fill. Following the example he started as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he moved out of the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace in favor of simpler accommodations of the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse. The Pontiff has also chosen relatively simpler dress than his predecessors. The most shocking move, and one which has many American conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh wondering aloud if the Pope is a closet Marxist, has been his moves to reorient the Church Universal away from a focus on being anti-abortion, anti-contraception and anti-homosexual and focusing more on ministering to those in need and bridges to all levels of society. This Franciscan emphasis on the Biblical roots of the purpose of the Church has confused and frightened many people.
Though an out-spoken critic of liberation theology in his South American home continent, the Pope also recently stated, “Marxist ideology is wrong. But in my life I have known many Marxists who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
During the reigns of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Church moved back from some of the excesses of post-Vatican II period which included the joining of Marxist analysis with Catholic social doctrine to create liberation theology. The pendulum which had swung towards a more liberal and open Church moved back towards a more conservative, rules-oriented with the election of John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI, who had served prior to his election as the Papal “watchdog” as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
With the latest changing of the guard, there has been a shift back to a more pastoral message coming from the new occupant of the See of St. Peter. The vision for the Roman Catholic Church has moved to more of an emphasis on helping and ministering than ruling and punishing. Looking at the pronouncements in the past nine months, what can be seen is a respect for the traditions of the Church’s teachings but also a remembrance of the beginnings of the Faith over two thousand years ago and also the hopes and aspirations of the reformer from Assisi whose name the current Pope has taken for his own.
Mr. Limbaugh is wrong in looking to the writings of the 19th Century German philosopher as the source of Pope Francis’s deeds and words. Rush would do better to look at the recounted works of the 1st Century carpenter from Nazareth(we are talking the one in the Middle East and not the Pennsylvanian one) and works of the early 13th Century Italian friar. Sometimes, the Pope IS Catholic and not Che Guevara in disguise!