The surprising election of Pope Francis plainly was no surprise to the people who really counted: the cardinals, that is, who swiftly chose him on the first full day and fifth ballot of the conclave. While not a speed record, the timing showed the electors had no difficulty agreeing that the archbishop of Buenos Aires was the man for the job.
|Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square|
for his inaugural Mass
Despite the favorable omens, though, Pope Francis showed up on few pre-conclave pundit lists. The best explanation is that journalist don't think like cardinals – and vice versa, of course. This arguably is a good thing for both groups.
Now that he's been elected, what will Pope Francis do? We are told he will be a "pope of the poor." No doubt, but what does that mean?
That he's a man of simple lifestyle will continue to be the case. Furthermore, every pope since at least Blessed John XXIII has actively championed the cause of the oppressed, and Pope Francis will be no exception.
Will he criticize the libertarian economics of the capitalist West, including the United States, as Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI all did? And if he does, will Americans who've been saying "Isn't that nice?" about his lifestyle shut their ears to his message? How many will adopt a simple lifestyle themselves?
Blessed John Paul II did pope-watchers a favor by setting out the agenda of his pontificate in considerable detail in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis ("Redeemer of Man"), which appeared in March 1979 only five months after his election the previous October, and which he thereafter largely followed. Absent something like that from Pope Francis, it will be best to leave punditry aside for a while and simply watch what our new pope says – and, especially, does.
Personnel choices will be of prime importance in the early going. Beyond the staffing of his own household, the first and most important of these is likely to be for the position of Secretary of State, the Vatican official with the crucial task of overseeing the operations of the Roman Curia.
It would come as a great surprise if Pope Francis chose to retain Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in the job. But will he step outside curial ranks to find a successor – and if so, who will it be? Whoever it is, the choice will have a powerful impact upon the much-discussed issue of Curia reform.
No less an open question is what approach Francis will take to the Society of Jesus. The election of the first Jesuit pope was greeted with consternation by some conservatives who view Jesuits with alarm. But it's entirely possible that as a Jesuit himself, Pope Francis will have a better understanding of conditions in the Society than an outsider would have and will be better able to address the situation. Here, too, we can only wait and see what he does.
The current honeymoon phase will pass quickly. The pope's opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion will bring criticism from gay rights and pro-choice groups, and the media will line up with them. To belabor the obvious: The story of this pontificate has just begun.
Russell Shaw is an OSV contributing editor.