David M. Perry: What the Name 'Francis' Means for the Modern Church

tags: Roman Catholic Church, popes, papacy, Francis



David M. Perry is an associate professor of history and director of the Catholic studies minor at Dominican University in Illinois.

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam ... Qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum. "I announce to you with great joy: We have a pope. ... Who has taken for himself the name Francis!"

There are two immediate messages to take away from the election of Francis. First, this quick vote reflects a clear unity of purpose among the cardinals. Second, his selection of the name Francis speaks volumes about his potential approach to the coming papacy.

First, while the median number of ballots cast since 1830 is only 6.5, and this time it only took 5, I and many others had the sense this time it might take longer. Pope Benedict's resignation was so unexpected and the scandals plaguing the church so acute, that here seemed a moment for a radical shift in direction. But history tells us that a conclave has to drag on for awhile so that the two (or more) camps reach an impasse and choose a radical new direction. That did not happen here. By report, Bergoglio was the runner-up at the last conclave and considered a "papabile" this time around, if perhaps a little old for a church seeking new energy and a change in direction. And that's exactly right. This is not a change in direction.

So why Bergoglio? He is a first-generation Argentinian, of Italian descent, who has been in Italy and involved in the governance of the Church for many years. He must have excellent relations with his fellow cardinals. He can simultaneously serve as a symbol for Catholicism in the global south and assuage any concerns of the Italian cardinals that they are losing control over the papacy with a third consecutive non-Italian pope. He is relatively old, but now that Benedict has set an example of voluntary retirement, Pope Francis can choose to follow his predecessor's path as needed. Whatever one thinks of Benedict's reign as Pope, part of his legacy will be that he enabled his successors to resign without drama....



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