By Erin Drushel

[avatar user=”ErinDrushel” size=”thumbnail” align=”left”]Erin Drushel[/avatar]

On Wednesday last week the Catholic Church elected Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis I to replace the retiring Pope Benedict XVI – the first Pope to retire in 600 years.

Not even a week has passed and the Vatican already had to defend the new Pope against controversy. In his former role as head of the Jesuits in Argentina, Pope Francis has been accused of not doing enough to protect the people of Argentina from the atrocities carried out by the military government during Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the late 1970s. Needless to say, it’s never a good thing when right off the bat your “people” have to come out defending you. Seeming to have something to hide does not bode well in a Church already plagued with scandal.

Putting that to one side, Pope Francis appears to be taking a very different path from that of his predecessor.  In appearance, he is doing away with the pomp and frippery-style clothing traditionally worn by the Pope.  So far indeed he is less scripted and less ritualistic.

As he is being labeled a conservative, I’m not surprised by his general stances on modern social issues such as abortion and gay marriage; stances which are unlikely to change.  However, the topic, which intrigues me, is his stance on poverty.

Over the years one of the continual slights against the Catholic Church has been the issue of how the Vatican holds many riches while preaching the virtues of poverty.   Pope Francis has said that he wants a “poor church for the poor.” Is this a signal that the new Pope is ready for the Vatican to practice what they preach?  Pope Francis seems ready – and taking action on a long-standing complaint would be beneficial in uniting a disjointed Catholic community.

Although he may not be flexible on modern social issues he does seem to be more in touch with everyday people.  Pope Francis’ desire to speak off-the-cuff and still conduct himself – or at least try – as an “equal among men” makes him more approachable than the position of Pope tends to allow.  This quality will be invaluable and possibly endearing to the reluctant and jaded population within the Church.  The simplicity of the message and an open mind has a greater potential for healing than lofty and judgemental dogma.

If Pope Francis truly is who he seems to be – a simple, down-to-earth, and flawed man – this should be an interesting time to watch the Catholic Church.  A leader does not need to be above it all to lead.  You are a better leader by being one of the people.

And if he is not all he seems… it soon will be revealed.

– Erin Drushel