By Jean H Charles
The white smoke came out of the Sistine Chapel in the evening of the ominous day of 03/13/13. A new Pope has been elected by the council of Cardinals of the Catholic Church after the resignation of Pope Benedict on February 28, 2013. But before he can be presented to the world he must accept the choice, choose a name and pass through the test of duos habet et bene pendentes.
Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former Vice-Dean of Students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
This practice goes back to the year 850 when a woman disguised as a man was able to be elected pope under the name of Jean VIII. The treachery was discovered when, on a day of Ascension while riding a donkey at the religious procession, Papesse Jeanne had a contraction leading to the delivery of a child. The crowd in horror of the subterfuge pilloried the mother and the child. Since then each and every pope must go to the test of showing the true male genitals well suspended to be seen by a cleric witness before the announcement of Habemus papum to the crowd!
The new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Jesuit, is also a first in the succession of the 266 popes since St Peter that came from the new world discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Although a cardinal from Brazil was a strong contender, it was the candidate from Argentina that receives the ultimate white costume of the Pope under the name of Francis. Already he has received the affection and the good wishes of the 1.2 billion-plus Catholic community, as well as those who do not profess that faith. He set himself as pious and humble man who will bring back the faithful to the true Christian doctrine of love and charity towards each other in the spirit of St Francis of Assisi.
Indeed, the Catholic Church in general, the Vatican in particular, is in crisis. The Curia, as the administration in most of the governments of the world, has become a haven of privilege and excess that includes corruption, sex, bank scandals, and indifference to the misery of the poor. The Catholic Church is losing its faithful to Protestantism, in particular to the Pentecostals that have no qualms in expressing their faith.
Crisis and the Catholic Church have always been bedfellows. Starting with the very founder of the church, Jesus the Christ was accused, judged and put to death on a trumped up charge of plotting to become king of the Jews in Israel colonized by the Romans. Later, Nero, the Roman Emperor, enjoyed persecuting the Christians including the first Pope, St Peter (33-67) who demanded to be crucified upside down. He did so in deference to the founder of the Church, Jesus Christ who was crucified from head to toe.
When later under Sylvester I (314-335) the Church rode on the back of the same Roman Empire governed now by Constantine the Great (306- 377) who converted to Catholicism, it became a Catholic Church, as such universal but closely linked to the kings and queens of the earth. The Pope and the Emperor almost became one. It was also around that time that Arius, a theologian priest from Alexandria, was propagating the doctrine that the Son was inferior to the Father as true God. It took the Council of Nicea (325) to rule on the doctrine of one faith, One God and One Church.
Constantine the Great had a fondness for Constantinople, his royal fiefdom outside Rome. It follows that the Bishop of Constantinople developed the idea that his seat was equal to the seat of Rome. The schism between Rome and Constantinople lasted until 680 under Constantine IV, who imposed the primacy of the Pope of Rome over the Patriarch of Constantinople.
During the first millennium and the beginning of the second millennium of the Catholic Church, some royal families such as the Crescenti, the Medicis and the Borgia family in Italy, the Otton dynasty in Germany and Charles and Napoleon of France made and defeated popes according to their whims. The popes used their spiritual power to excommunicate princes and kings and to conduct war against the Muslims to regain the Holy Land. Nepotism was the rule in naming bishops, cardinals and even popes. To raise funds to build the magnificent cathedral of St Peter in Rome, the pope resulted to selling indulgences. Martin Luther took the moral ground to defy Rome and opened a new schism in the Catholic Church.
Jumping into our modern era, Pius XI might have been the beginning of the modern popes, who created the city-state of Vatican as a regular state with full autonomy and with nuncio or ambassadors appointed to the different countries of the world. Pope Jean XXIII distinguished himself with openings to the Christian brothers who left the Catholic faith to open their own Christian brand of denominations. Through the Secretariat of Christian Unity, the olive branch was extended to the Anglicans, to the patriarch of Moscow. Jean Paul II was the good Pope, the one who facilitated the demise of communism in Russia and Benedict the scholar and the saint who chose to leave the privileges of the Vatican to go and pray in silence for this world.
The Catholic Church might be going today through the crisis of pedophilia amongst priests, cover ups by the bishops, desertion of the church by the faithful, yet the church remains a pillar that this modern society is looking to hold on to as an anchor. Pope Francis is setting the tone right at the beginning. The Catholic Church, in spite of its human failings, is the emanation of the conduct and practice that Jesus himself wanted to see from each man and each nation on this earth. Be caring for each and another.
It pains to see that most Catholic countries in this world are the bastions of corruption, mafia culture, ill governance and extreme poverty amongst the majority of the population. This vista can be seen in the Philippines, which is an exception to the booming nations of South East Asia. It can also be seen in Latin America, where the disparity between rich and poor is the largest in the world. It can also be seen in Catholic Haiti, where extreme poverty is endemic and intergenerational.
Pope Francis, as he did in Argentina, is not afraid to confront the rulers of this world, he will do so with the gentleness of St Francis of Assisi, who called the lion his brother, and the tree his friends.
There is hope, indeed, for the world!