Habemus Papam: Why We Should Care About the Selection of the New Pope

Steve Russell
March 14, 2013

Why care about who heads a fantasy world of wealthy child molesters?

We have to. From the time Constantine made Catholicism the state religion of the Roman Empire until the Treaty of Westphalia, the history of Western Europe and Church history were one in the same. The Americas were mostly settled by Western Europeans. Their history and myths have become as important as our own.

The Roman Catholic Church survived the Great Schism, Henry VIII’s libido, and the Protestant Reformation.

Today, as Church authority in the Northern hemisphere is as imaginary as the Holy Trinity and transubstantiation, people in the Southern hemisphere have rushed to put themselves under the Church's thumb, er, umbrella.

For American Indians, the Valladolid debate of 1550-1551 either rendered the Church irrelevant for all time or the opposite, depending on your view of what transpired.

Personally, I have this guilty pleasure that I should have to confess to a priest if I had that relationship. Since I don't, I'll confess to Indian Country Today that I enjoyed very much a novel called Vicar of Christ.

When I tell you what happens to the protagonist, you'll know why I feel guilty and why it's not likely to be confused with great literature. It's about an American who wins the Medal of Honor, becomes Chief Justice of the United States (where he writes the Roe v. Wade opinion in a counterfactual direction), and finally becomes Pope.

This fictional GI/lawyer/monk names himself Pope Francesco I, after St. Francis of Assisi. And proceeds to ask himself "What would St. Francis do?"

He notices there are lots of hungry people in the Catholic part of the world, and so he begins to sell off the artwork the Church takes to be its patrimony to feed them. I mean, this Communist takes that whole fishes and loaves story to be about feeding the hungry rather than a cautionary tale about inviting too many guests to your party!

You can imagine how that goes over with the Church establishment.

So, being a fan of that book, imagine how I felt today when the red hats elected:

a Jesuit (always the sharpest knives in a drawer of dull tools)

from Argentina (like Che)

who called himself Francesco I.

Since he is a Jesuit, he's well aware of what St. Francis symbolizes, and being from Argentina he knows that poverty is not having to rely on dial up Internet and rabbit ears TV.

It’s plausible to some that the new Pope may have selected the name after St. Francis of Xavier, the first great Jesuit (after Ignatius Loyola), but the man is from South America, making it seem unlikely he would prefer the famous missionary to the monk who cared for the poor and stray animals.

Unless Pope Francesco I is playing a cruel joke, the Church may be about to jump all the way from the 16th Century to the 19th. 

They can't enter the 20th Century without rethinking the marginalization of women and ridding themselves of St. Paul's sexual obsessions.

As Pope Yoda would say, happening anytime soon that is not.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.