Sunday, 17 March 2013

Is he or isn't he?

How much ink has been spilled on the subject of Pope Francis in less than a week? Most of this has been speculation, on what kind of pope he will be, what signals the Church is sending with his election, whether he supported the Argentina dictatorship, whether he is a right wing homophobe or a closet Commie sympathiser.

As the first Latin American pope Francis' place on the democracy-dictatorship-o-meter is important, not only because of the region's history over the last half century. As this Salon piece suggests, Francis may or may not represent the continuation of a thirty year counterrevolution in the Church, a reaction to Vatican II whose intellectual father was the former and now-retired Holy Father.

Pope Frank's actions thus far send mixed signals. Perhaps because the context is so different today, and the Church is more threatened by corruption than Communism, the signals seem to be that Francis will try to rein back the splendour and concentrate on the poor. This, together with Francis' Latin American roots, have led some to wonder wither the new pope might not be a secret adherent of Liberation Theology. But, as this article, sent to me by my friend Pablo Bello (@pablobello), suggests, things may not be so simple. Just because Francis is worried about the poor doesn't make him a liberal, much less a liberation theologian. Just because he favours good relations with Jews does not make him a fan of Vatican II. Just because the pope is not a capitalist doesn't make him a communist.

The whole debate seems so last century. But there is a deeper point and one that is more relevant for Latin America, and it pertains not only to how 'left' and 'right' mean different things than they did a generation ago, but how they also mean different things in Latin America. Is a pope who ministers to the poor, but is also a homophobe, left, right, or is he just Hugo Chavez? Does taking the bus to work make you humble, or a populist?

These are issues that have come up in Chilean politics. President Piñera, for example, took exception to the opposition calling itself progressive, saying that he, too, believed in progress. His government has been far more active in establishing regulations on things like second-hand and drunk driving than were the four 'progressive' governments of the Concertación, and he is likely to get a civil partnership law passed by the end of the year. Confused? Try being a chilean voter.

So far, the only thing that seem quite clear is that Francis is leaving the red slippers to Dorothy.

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