Will a new Pope really mean a new start?

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, said Edmund Burke. And it is with Burke’s thoughts in mind that I’ve felt great concern this week. On Wednesday, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis I, the attitude of international leaders was apathetic; that of “good men” (and women) willing to “do nothing”.

pope flickr Catholic Church (England and Wales)Photo: Flickr/Catholic Church (England and Wales)

It was US President Barack Obama who proclaimed, “I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security, and dignity for our fellow human beings,” a sentiment which was echoed by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, and Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. However, considering previous popes’ contempt for “dignity”, is this really possible? Or is the change of pontiff – rather like the much-anticipated white smoke which rose over St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday – merely hot air?

Unfortunately, I suspect the latter. Recently, it emerged that the Catholic Church in Los Angeles will pay out $10m to settle four (more) cases of child-abuse. Not only was Cardinal Roger Mahoney – the man accused of covering-up the abuse – allowed to participate in the Papal Conclave, but neither he, nor his accomplice Michael Barker (an ex-priest) accepted any wrongdoing as part of the settlement. Seemingly, $10m is the cost of maintaining the Catholic Church’s stubborn refusal to accept responsibility for its own failures, typical under Pope Benedict XVI.

If Pope Francis I is to prove my pessimism ill-founded, then this must be his priority: to reverse his predecessor’s policy of half-baked, insincere “apologies” to the victims of sex-abuse. But I doubt that will happen.

Similarly, I doubt whether homophobic bigotry – Pope Benedict XVI’s other favourite pastime – will be assuaged under Pope Francis I. In 2010, when same-sex marriage plans were afoot in Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglio said, “[it is] a destructive attack on God’s plan.” How is it, then, that Ban Ki-Moon said on Wednesday, “We [the United Nations and the Holy See] share many common goals,” among which he named “human rights”.

It was irresponsible of Ban Ki-Moon to overlook Article 16 of The International Declaration of Human Rights (the Right to Marriage). It was equally irresponsible for Moon to ignore the Catholic Church’s failure to protect its children from “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” (Article 5) in its care.

It is unthinking rhetoric – like that of Ban Ki-Moon and Barack Obama – that will abet the Catholic Church’s unrepented injustices, and will only assist “the triumph of evil.”


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January 2022
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