Thursday, 14 March 2013

Pope Disappointment

I'm just a little nobody in the back corner of nowheresville, and my opinion doesn't count for much.

I cannot, pretend, however, that watching the Habemus Papam yesterday, that I wasn't a little disappointed. Not only did the stream from Balcony-cam seem a little out-of-time and bungled, and the announcement was made predictably without much flair or style on the part of Cardinal Tauran (whom I like very much, by the way), which makes a change; I suppose it doesn't have to be a theatrical performance all the time, although the Extra omnes theatre the day before was absolutely perfect.

My principal disappointment, however, was in the name. There's that half a second or so when you think he just mispronounced Bagnasco (and got his Christian name wrong at the same time), for whom I was rooting a lot, and then you realise that he actually did say Bergoglio. Then you spend a second or two thinking, maybe I think Bergoglio is someone else. Maybe there is a different Bergoglio from the one that came second last time round (maybe). Nope: it's the one you are thinking of. The Cardinals actually chose Cardinal Bergoglio. There wasn't much screaming (of joy) to be heard; certainly not like 2005. The shouts and applause then were rapturous. This time, you could almost feel the sensus fidelium: who?

Then the second disappointment (for me anyway; and given I'm writing it, I'm not expressing anyone else's opinion). The name he will henceforth use. Franciscum. Er...okay. I was thinking maybe, Gregory (Gregory I and VII were great reformers, and holy saints), or John (50 years since his death; I like John XXIII).

Now, don't get me wrong, I like St Francis. But it's not really a papal name. He is the first to use it. John Paul I used a new name, but it wasn't brand new: it was in honour of both his predecessors. The last pope to pick a brand new name was Pope Lando. He died in 914. Though there were a lot of '2' popes in the 12th century; to them, the name might have been very new, I suppose. I suppose I'd just got really excited about being able to write lots of X's V's and I's.

My first thought at the name was: a break with the past. Rupture. Change. Discontinuity. However lovely the name is, and the idea of 'rebuild my church' popped into my head immediately. But picking a brand new name is more like: rebuild my church, but use new bricks and mortar. The dissenters and heterodox are going to love this. In one word, it seemed, all the continuity work of Benedict has been swept away.

There's a few seconds to look him up on Wikipedia (not changed yet), to see what he has said, and what he has done. A bishop, a pastor: that's a good thing, though we must remember that curialists are pastors as well in their own way as well. The best theologians and religious thinkers tend to be good pastors, St Augustine, St Francis de Sales, St John Mary Vianney, Benedict XVI. Jesuit. Erm, okay. First Jesuit Pope. Jesuits haven't had a good press when it comes to the whole pope-obedience-tradition thing (as a rule). Hasn't said anything crazy: against abortion, gay marriage etc (then, really, any man that would realistically walk out as pope will think the same, so that was never going to be an issue). A kindly and simple man, humble, I thought, just like Benedict XVI (who walked to work, lived in an apartment, preferred to go incognito around Rome, fed the cats, ministered to the people - so humble and gracious, in fact, that he was one of those good bishops that always puts on whatever vestment is on the vestment press. Now that's priestly humility). So my Wikipedia conclusion was: okay, not a crazy pope, but a bit of an odd ball.

Then the wait for him to come out. There was that little accidental camera shot on the inside, and the unmistakeable view of resplendent cardinals, there was Mgr Marini wearing that very fetching mantelletta he had got out yesterday. But, what's that: the pope in just his house cassock? No choir dress? Maybe he'll put it on now. No. You can just about glimpst Mgr Marini trying to put on the stole just before the curtains go up. Pope Francis is having none of that, thank you very much. It seemed like a bad omen.

Up go the curtains, here he is. I thought I saw a ghost, as the little white figure looked exactly like John XXIII. Then I decided it looked like the actor Jonathan Pryce, crossed with Jim Bowen.

I was greatly disappointed in the outfit. I know it's not really important; the crisis in the world and the church vastly overshadows little things like that, but, you know, as a little unimportant layman like me, I like my bishops to look like bishops, one way or another. Moreover, he made everyone else look absolutely ridiculous, which I thought wasn't very gracious. I also felt very sorry for all the people - priests and laypeople - that have spent their vocations making everything perfect for the pope; all the preparations, all the effort of the tailors and seamstresses, all the effort of the people, like Mgr Marini, trying to make everything perfect and look beautiful, thrown out the window, along with that continuity stuff that last pope we had - whoever he was - always talked about.

It was cute he decided to wear his own pectoral cross, I suppose, but it wasn't very pope-y. It doesn't make me angry, but just a little sad, I suppose. He just stood there. I liked that. Not all showy and hand wavy. Just himself as he is. I felt Benedict XVI waved his arms about very uncomfortably in 2005; I suppose he had always seen it done, so he had to do it; he's humble like that, you see.

It all looked a bit unreal; space age, even. It was probably the bad lighting - and the shock hormones.

He spoke. He had a nice, gentle smile. Still looks like Jonathan Pryce. I've got enough Italian to make out what he was saying. 'Good evening'. That's nice, but it did make him sound a bit like a maitre de'. He had his hand on the microphone - this is a man who likes to be in complete control of what goes on around him, I thought. 'They went to the end of the world to find him'. He thanks the people of Rome. He will be their bishop, first and foremost. He prays for his predecessor, Bishop (not Pope: another alarm bell went off) emeritus Benedict.

He started to pray; everyone joined in the ol' three. That's a good thing. Making them pray. That's what priests are there fore, I suppose.

I will bless you. Here we go, on the knees.

'I ask you to bless me'. Er. Okay. Well, that's...ok, I suppose. It's always good that the people ask the Lord to bless things and people, but I always get nervous around priests that start to say things like that; it's the same nervousness I get when priests who bless say 'May almighty God bless us' (not you). It demonstrates a sacramentology that's a little skew-whiff.

Then the urbi et orbi wasn't sung (at least he put a stole on; I thought he was going to shun it). But it was said prayerfully, I thought, and it seemed to have a certain effect on the people (not on me, alas my thoughts were decidedly uncharitable at that point); he kissed the cross on the stole when he took it off, which is good. All clergy should do that with their vestments. That's why there is a cross there.

Then he spoke again. He is going to visit Our Lady, and he will see them soon.

My feelings were mixed. A holy, Marian man. Always a good sign. It kind of cancels everything else out. And a man who is bishop-y: 'with you I am a Christian, for you I am a bishop'. Bishops should always know his people, and love them, and, according to his ability, be amongst them where possible.

On the other hand, it seemed a bit odd. Why is he breaking these traditions? It's nice he can walk amongst the people, but he needn't do it with contempt for his institution.

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