Scientists are researching the idea that women approach religion more emotionally than do men. This concept is similar to how my wife and I viewed last week’s election of the new Roman Catholic pope.
Neither of us is Catholic, but the selection of a pope should be of interest to everyone. In the first place, the “white smoke/black smoke” form of announcement is intriguing. More importantly, a pope’s pronouncements carry weight in public policy. And if you are Catholic, his words reflect the voice of the Almighty.
As a male, I viewed the papal succession as a major news event. I didn’t get teary eyed about Pope Francis being the first Latino pope and the first non-European pope in 1,300 years. I didn’t get shivers when I heard one of his first acts was personally paying his hotel bill. I didn’t personalize the pope.
Rather, I see him as facing an enormously difficult challenge. The fact is, many American and European Catholics are “cradle Catholics,” raised in the faith but who now ignore doctrinal dictates. Even Catholic Radio observers acknowledge that most Catholics stray from the teachings of the faith (i.e. prohibition of birth control and stem cell research and support of gay marriage). The ties between Catholics and the church are closer in Latin America, but even there, only about 20 percent actively attend church services. Church scandals have made Catholicism in Europe more withering nostalgia than active faith.
I question whether a pope can significantly alter this drift, no matter how personable or beloved he is. While I wish Pope Francis well and give him respect for his positions and his past support of the poor, my male genes make me more analytical than seeing him through the lens of personality and likability.
This is the Pope we’re talking about here, not Justin Bieber.
Maybe it’s a yearning for the mystical in a slice-and-dice kind of world. Maybe it’s a love of pageantry when more and more people find pajamas acceptable attire when they are out and about. Whatever it is, I love papal elections.
It was even more exciting last week for a couple of reasons. First, it wasn’t preceded by the death of the previous pope, so the celebration didn’t feel so heartless. Second, the fact that the first pope from Latin America was elected added an extra kick to the event.
When you toss in the remarkable humility evidenced by Pope Francis, after eight years of the staid and bland papacy of Pope Benedict, the election of the newest Catholic leader was nothing less than riveting, even for non-Catholics.
Growing up LDS, the most pomp you get is the monthly Cub Scout meeting and somehow the “round of applause” doesn’t hold a candle to the conclave of cardinals. For tradition and show, the Catholics corner the market.
However, it’s not all about the spectacle. Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant world. He not only demands that the poor not be forgotten, he preaches against the evils of capitalism running amok. As far back as 2007, the future pope called upon the church to purge the sin of chronic poverty and economic inequality.
I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe in the infallibility of the new Pope Francis and I don’t even agree with his stand on many issues. But I do think that religious leaders can be a force for good. I am always interested in what motivates people and many times it is a religious or spiritual belief. In his first Sunday appearance, Pope Francis stated, “A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.” And that should be motivation for all of us.