The first clue was the white smoke. Then the cardinals all paraded out of the Sistine Chapel wearing little "I voted" buttons. The choice was Jorge Borgoglio of Argentina, a decision nobody predicted. As I've been saying for more than eight years: Don't trust Diebold
The new Pope is a Jesuit
. They're the smart ones, and they're also the ones most likely to cause the Alex Jonesian paranoids to go into full-body conspiragasm. That
. Even better, the new Pope took the name Francis I as a nod toward St. Francis, the epitome of humility and poverty.
I'll probably have more to say about Things Catholic a little later. Right now, let me express a view that many of you will consider unfathomable: The Pope isn't important.
the Church, he isn't nearly as important as the news media will have you believe.
Both traditionalist Catholics and fervent anti-Catholics conspire to promote silly ultra-Montanist fantasies which picture the Pope as an all-powerful temporal leader -- a prince, a sultan, an emperor, Darth Vader, the Queen of the Borgs, the ultimate programmer of the robot factory. Bullshit. All bullshit. People keep telling me: "But...but...you can't
say the Pope unimportant. He has HIS OWN STATE!" Yeah, and that state is about one-third the size of the Los Angeles Zoo. Vatican City can't even provide its own electricity and garbage pick up. The Church isn't rich, despite popular fantasies.
My point is this: We no longer live in medieval times, and in today's world, nothing the Holy Father says can truly affect the laws of any country (other than Vatican City, which is really just a big art museum). I know that the previous sentence will infuriate people both inside and outside of the Church Everyone Loves to Hate, but it's true, and your hallucinations to the contrary simply do not matter.
The Pope's main job is to keep the world's Catholics on the same page theologically, a task at which all recent popes have failed miserably. You'll find far more rigor, and far less tolerance for novelty, among the Southern Baptists. The Catholic Church has liberal and conservative wings, while the Baptists are all conservatism, all the time
Take, for example, the issue of keeping abortion legal in the United States: Catholics are split nearly 50-50, the same split we see in the country as a whole, give or take a few percentage points. Meanwhile, nearly all
Baptists are anti-abortion. Yet when advocates of legalized abortion want to screech against the malign influence of religion, which denomination do they target for special hatred? Which denomination do they talk about as if it were An Extremely Powerful Entity foisting unwanted dogmas on everyone else? You got it: The Church Everyone Loves to Hate. That's because anti-Catholic fantasies are an acceptable
form of bigotry.
Pope Francis looks to be quite conservative
. Don't expect any changes when it comes to clerical celibacy or the ordination of women. Besides, even if Francis I were disposed toward liberalism, the Pope's personal opinions have little significance, because he has very little room to maneuver. Believe it or not, the leader is manacled by the laity. In the Catholic Church, as in American politics, conservatives gain the upper hand by constantly threatening to revolt or to secede. The Church's conservative wing prevails because the long-simmering sedevacantist rebellion scares the Vatican hierarchy, while the snarlings and sneerings of outsiders or disaffected liberals pose no threat whatsoever.
Liberals who have drifted away from the Church won't drift back if the rules are changed to allow (for example) the ordination of women. Liberal ex-Catlicks may say
they'll come back, but they won't, and everyone
knows that they won't. On the other hand, allowing the ordination of women would cause the conservatives to scream and yowl and exit en masse
. They'll find new homes within those ultra-right-wing sedevacantist enclaves -- the wacky breakaway churches that gave us Mel Gibson -- and pretty soon sedevacantism will become more popular (and infinitely
more dangerous) than anything offered by the "official" Church in Rome.
We've seen the same pattern elsewhere. A similar progression happened within the Nation of Islam, when Farrakhan's ultra-conservative splinter group became far more popular than the more "bourgeois" Nation run by Elijah Muhammed's son. (Most people don't know that Farrakhan was not the chosen successor.) In the Protestant world, ultra-conservative fundamentalist churches -- once considered fringe -- became extremely popular during the '70s and '80s by preaching Hellfire, creationism, political paranoia and Apocalypse-any-day-now. Meanwhile, mainline Protestant denominations suffered from Empty Pew Syndrome.
So you should expect the Catholic Church to change at a glacial pace, if it changes at all. Does that situation bug you? Then do as I do and don't attend services in a Catholic Church. Problem solved.
As I said: The Pope has no real power. The Church is a purely voluntary association
. No-one has a gun to his or her head. Yes, I know that many of you want to pretend otherwise. That's because many of you are delusional haters.
Because I know that certain topics cause certain knees to jerk in certain ways, I can guess what you're dying to tell me right now. And that's the problem: I can guess every word of it
. After the age of 50, one puts a lot of effort into avoiding discussions that one has had a zillion times in the past. So don't expect me to publish any comments filled with cliches (or puerile ad hominem attacks). Disagreement is fine, but say something new
. Astonish me.
(Also, please do me the honor of responding to what I've actually
written, as opposed to what you imagine
Otherwise, read Roger Ebert's piece here
. It's the only intelligent thing I've recently read about the faith -- by a man who no longer seems to have
much in the way of faith.