New Pope from the New World: Pope Francis I Elected the Next Head of the Catholic Church

Erica Smith, Writer

The Roman Catholic Church was rocked in February when Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in 598 years to resign from his divine position. The 85 year-old felt that his “advancing age” would inhibit him from carrying out his papal duties, and sources close to him claim that it was his “right” and “duty” to resign. As he steps down, his title of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will be restored, and he will take up residence in a monastery at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict’s supporters will have much sadness as his reign comes to an end, but the world won’t forget that his track record with the church has been shrouded in a cloud of scandal, even in his role as a cardinal. Before being chosen as the 265th pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of taking action in church discipline, which included defrauding priests who molested children, but he was notorious for not moving quickly enough or helping to cover up some cases completely. He is also infamous for swatting the hand of a reporter who asked of the cardinal’s involvement in delaying the pursuit in a child abuse scandal in 2002. Ironically, he was also the first pope to officially apologize to victims and call for “zero-tolerance” against sexual abuse by priests.

With all of this pain and mystery left by the previous pope, the church and those affected by these scandals might finally start its healing. On March 13, 2013, the Roman Catholic Church elected their 266th pope, Francis I. Born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the new pope chose his papal title to pay homage to St. Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis is the first leader of the church to come from the Americas, and the first non-European in over 1200 years. Francis I formerly served as both a cardinal and archbishop to Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013.

Pope Francis I is seen as a doctrinal conservative, keeping true to the church’s most basic beliefs and rituals. However, he contrasts to his predecessor in that he has fully embraced humility, focusing his efforts to helping those whom Jesus called “the least of these.” The new pope wasted no time with his goals to help the world’s poor, skipping his formal installation to do acts of charity. He has also showed his humility by wearing simple clothing rather than the elaborate garb adorned by his predecessor, and he prefers public transportation instead of limos and private modes. Recently, he even washed the feet of twelve inmates at a Rome youth prison, two of which were women.While this has won the new leader of the Catholic Church the hearts of many already, it has also sparked criticism from European traditionalists, who claim that the washing of feet should be limited to men, just as Jesus only washed the feet of his twelve male disciples.

Pope Francis I is far too new to completely stereotype him just yet, but it seems that he is off to a great start. He has never had any major public scandal, which is more than the former head of the church can say. He also is winning over the hearts of millions with his “plea for peace” and his dejection of “worldly possessions.” The Roman Catholic Church seems like it can breathe a sigh of relief for now, and it could even see a few new members coming to give their new leader a try.