First of all, let me say that I am not Catholic. In many ways I respect the Catholic Church and have attended a mass conducted by Pope Benedict. I also find the idea of papal elections to be fascinating and I have followed the events since Pope Benedict announced his retirement. But I have to wonder like so many people, what will Pope Francis do about some of the most pressing issues surrounding the Catholic Church?
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a 76-year-old Argentinean, was chosen as the first Latin American pope on Wednesday. He will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics as Pope Francis. While his selection may be historic, it may also mean more of the same when it comes to gay rights in the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis is a conservative who is anti-gay marriage and anti-gay adoption. He has described same-sex marriage as the work of the devil and a "destructive attack on God's plan." He has also said that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children.
In 2010, Francis championed against a bill for same-sex marriage and gay adoption, according to the National Catholic Register.
"[T]he Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family," he wrote to the four monasteries in Argentina. "At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God's law engraved in our hearts."
He went on to describe it as a "'move' of the Father of Lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God" and asked for lawmakers to "not act in error." In John 8:44, the Father of Lies is the devil.
Argentina approved same-sex marriage in 2010, making it the first Latin American country to legalize the union, the New York Times previously reported. The country is also progressive when it comes to contraception. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has promoted free contraception and artificial insemination, the Associated Press notes. In the past, Francis has clashed with the Argentinean government over his stance on these issues.
GLAAD President Herndon Graddick responded to the election of the new pope in a statement obtained by The Huffington Post.
For decades the Catholic hierarchy has been in need of desperate reform. In his life, Jesus condemned gays zero times. In Pope Benedict's short time in the papacy, he made a priority of condemning gay people routinely. This, in spite of the fact, that the Catholic hierarchy had been in collusion to cover up the widespread abuse of children within its care. We hope this Pope will trade in his red shoes for a pair of sandals and spend a lot less time condemning and a lot more time foot-washing.
Graddick also specifically addressed Francis' previous comments about gay adoption being a "discrimination against children."
"The real discrimination against children is the pedophilia that has run rampant in the Catholic Church with little more than collusion from the Vatican," he said.
Along with GLAAD, Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill responded to the new pope's election, saying: 'We hope Pope Francis shows more Christian love and charity to the world's 420 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people than his predecessor."
Despite the pope's prior anti-gay sentiments, Francis' official biographer, Sergio Rubin, defended him as a noble man.
"Is Bergoglio a progressive – a liberation theologist even? No," he told the AP. "He's no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes."
In 2001, he visited a hospice and washed the feet of AIDS patients, according to The National Catholic Register. That same year he spoke out in defense of those less fortunate, contrasting "poor people who are persecuted for demanding work, and rich people who are applauded for fleeing from justice."
Some people believe that his choice of "Francis" is seen as a gesture of what kind of pope he will be. Bergogloi is the first Jesuit to become pope, and Francis is a gesture toward the Franciscans. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi has confirmed that the name refers to St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order, often seen as the Jesuits' traditional rivals.
A Jesuit pope who chooses the name Francis seeks to be "the people's pope, a pope who cares about the poor, who wants to have solidarity with the people of the world," Chad Pecknold, an assistant professor of theology at The Catholic University of America, tells Melissa Block on All Things Considered.
At the Whispers in the Loggia blog , Vatican expert Rocco Palmo says that Pope Francis' name reflects "his desire to be a force of unity in a polarized fold, a heart for the poor, and his intent to 'repair God's house, which has fallen into ruin' ... that is, to rebuild the church."
That final phrase is a reference to St. Francis of Assisi, who legendarily heard a voice coming from a crucifix that commanded him to rebuild the deteriorating chapel of San Damiano.
St. Francis was also known for his strict stances against greed and wealth, and in favor of inclusion — an idea symbolized by the embrace of a leper that famously led Francis to reject the privileges he had been born into as the son of a cloth merchant in Assisi.
Pecknold says that for him, the name brings up two themes: social justice and a new evangelism. And he sees Francis leading the church into regions where Catholicism is on the rise, such as Africa, Latin America and Asia.