2013, the first Jesuit was elected Pope by the college of cardinals. That has no direct effect on me. Various people who are also not Catholic have expressed hope this surprising choice of the cardinal from Argentina, a man who champions the poor and seems not to think too highly of himself, will make a difference in the ancient creaky bones of an essentially medieval institution. On the other hand, those who are gay activists or advocates of women point out he will not make changes for them within the church. We won't see gay marriages or women priests for example.
Of course were there any in the group of cardinals who would dare such sweeping changes? I doubt it. Perhaps a humble man who works to change the difficulties of the poor and follows that aspect of Jesus is more than most had hoped for. So as an outsider, I'd say the glass is half full, maybe even 3/4ths full. I wish him well. The institutions, including his church, that work against justice and change in our economic systems need shaking up.
Consider this. The secular governments, most of which I have supported, have chorused together to cut government spending and enter an era of austerity which leaves many of the western world's poor without the security they have become accustomed to. There are more homeless, more unemployed, more people without expectations. That generally is a mistake. The mistake is exacerbated when the upper echelons, the privileged few, grow richer by means of the same policies. These policies will in the short run destabilize the same governments. The rich will find themselves increasingly unpopular and besieged. It is out of this sort of unrest revolutions are made.
We think, sitting here in our USA comfort zone, that European revolutions are impossible. They are not. Greece, Italy and perhaps Spain are on a front line of unrest which could tip either way. There are large groups of young people whose education has been interrupted by economic hardship, who have no clear idea of what work is available to them, who are ripe for upheaval. Even in Great Britain, young anger simmmers. If their governments are unresponsive to them what have they to lose?
In the 60's, that is what happened here. The poor mobilized. They camped out on the Washington Mall between and among the monuments. They were peaceful because Martin Luther King Jr. was peaceful. It could have been otherwise. All over American cities, people were beaten and killed demonstrating for civil rights and economic justice. Legislation was put in place to address these concerns because Congress wanted to forestall a revolution. They were smart. It was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.
However, even then Congress only funded the War on Poverty to the extent needed to keep the lid on the fomenting revolution. They did not put money or legislation in place that would fundamentally change the market place in the interest of economic justice. Systematically over the next four decades, the legislation they did put into place has been eroded. When controls were lifted on utilities and banks, the dogs of greed were loosed.
Now the world has entered a monetary tailspin. We pretend the burst housing bubble in the USA is unconnected to the world crisis, but that is simpley not true. We started the economic crumble with our lending policies and a couple unfunded stupid wars. The collapse continues while the rich get richer as a matter of world fiscal policy. Can this Pope do anything about that? Yes he probably can. The Nuns on the Bus hope he will write to Republican Paul Ryan and tell him his budget ideas are unjust. They are. Ryan is a Catholic. He might listen. Then again, he might not. If the Pope appealed to the European Union, specifically Angela Merkel of Germany, might the crisis in Cyprus be avoided? What might a 10% tax on bank deposits in Cyprus do? Some of those deposits belong to speculators from Russia and other nations who need to pay taxes. But what about the fishers who would suddenly see their savings evaporate by 10%? The tourist industry? The hoteliers and restaurateurs. Can they afford to fix the fiscal crisis out of their own hides?
I appreciate the hopefulness of the nuns. There are other voices who question the courage of this Pope when it comes to flying in the face of power. Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post reported incidents from 1976 when then Cardinal Bergoglio threw priests following liberation theology to the dictatorial wolves when they would not cease their advocacy work for the poor. That is apparently documented by human rights advocate Emilio Mignone and journalist Horacio Verbitsky. As Robinson asks, has the Pope learned from that mistake? Has he changed?
I do not know the answers to the heavy fiscal problems the world faces. I do know that efforts to box the middle class, the workers and the destitute into a corner together will be like cornering rats. Rats come back fighting tooth and claw for their survival. That is no disrespect to the rats. Rather it is a warning to the foolish men who think they can box the common folk in and keep their treasures.
Can this Pope see that? Is he brave enough to offer world solutions that might actually change how we do business? I guess we will wait and see. This much I do know. If you tell someone who has lost half the water in their glass through forces outside their control that they should be thankful they have something left, you are likely to find the water thrown back in your face.