|News that Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would become Pope Francis I revealed "two significant surprises," says Father Charles E. Curran, a Southern Methodist University professor who is one of the nation's foremost experts on Catholic theology.
The first surprise? Pope Francis' age: "He is 76, and will be 77 this year," Curran says. "Every bishop and archbishop is expected to retire at age 75, so his age is older than what people thought the new pope's age would be. Perhaps a precedent has been set with Pope Benedict XVI, and most Cardinals weren't afraid of going beyond retirement age."
Next, his name: "His selection of the name 'Francis' after Saint Francis of Assisi reflects that he's obviously a very simple man," Curran says. "He gave up the archbishop's big house in Buenos Aires to live in a modest apartment. He takes public transportation to his office. That says he's not very high on the trappings of the church." What's more, Curran notes, "Everybody loves St. Francis, whether Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. Francis is universally respected for his commitment to peace, poverty and ecology, so one would expect those to be significant issues for the new papacy."
While Curran doesn't expect Pope Francis I will try to change any great teachings, "I do think he will be more open to dialogue about issues of social importance," he says. "Having been a Jesuit priest and superior, he is used to having a collegial, brotherly relationship with others — and taking a less down-from-on-high approach to decision making."
Read Curran's op-ed on the selection of a pope.
||William B. Lawrence
||"At first glance, this is an extraordinary turning point in the Roman Catholic Church," says William B. Lawrence, dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology. "The election of Pope Francis I gives the immediate impression that the Church will be led by an individual who brings a rare combination of gifts to the Holy See.
"He is a scholar trained as a Jesuit and he is a pastor who humbly washes the feet of hospital patients suffering from AIDS. He will bring the wisdom that comes from a long career in ministry and the experience that Christians in Latin America can offer spiritually to the whole church," he says.