Sue Burke (mount_oregano) wrote,
Sue Burke

Pope Paco

I found out that the new pope had been chosen on March 13 when I entered my 7:30 p.m. class to teach English to Spanish teenagers.

“Habemus papam,” several students announced, phone and Twitter feed in hand. At the end of the class, they checked to find out who it was: an Argentinian who had chosen a unique name. They immediately began calling him “Paco,” the Spanish nickname for Francisco.

They weren’t the only ones. A Twitter hashtag for “#papapaco” (papa is Spanish for “pope”) sprang up immediately, filled with wit and attempted wit.

News outlets had been covering with the process to pick a new Pope for a month, giving both journalists and the rest of us a welcome break from relentlessly dismal reports about Spain’s bad economy and political corruption. Instead we learned everything known or speculated about Vatican corruption, Joseph Ratzinger, the history of the papacy, the step-by-step election procedure for the new pope, possible candidates, impossible candidates, and the exact footwear for the Pope emeritus. It was a good time to be a theologian if you wanted to be quoted in the news.

The most famous chimney in the world was carefully observed by the RTVE live Sistine Chapel cam.

Spain is a Catholic country. It deliberately shares the same time zone as Rome in order to be even more Catholic. But what did the average Spaniard think about all this? The response was muted, with none of the enthusiasm seen in Argentina and Italy. Not surprisingly.

According to a December 2012 Metroscopia public opinion poll, the Catholic Church as an institution isn’t especially popular.

Its charitable work ranked well with a 77% favorable rating, a considerable rise over a year earlier. That may be because in the intervening year, its social services like Cáritas have provided essential support to unemployed families. Spain’s unemployment rate is 26% – Cáritas keeps a lot of people fed who would otherwise go hungry.

Parish priests earned a 47% favorable rating. To put this in perspective, government workers were rated 66% favorable, lawyers 61%, and major Spanish businesses 49%. The clothing store Zara is more popular than priests.

As a whole, the Church as an institution was ranked 41% favorable, about the same as a year ago. At that time, Pope Benedict XVI earned the same rating. (Polls haven’t asked about him since.)

But the archbishops had dropped to only 16% favorable – a year earlier they had enjoyed 31%. In fairness, the Parliament had dropped by about as much and was also rated 16% favorable. Public opinion has soured on many institutions. But only banks, political parties, and politicians came in lower than the archbishops, who routinely meddle in politics and rely on the public treasury.

In other words, Papa Francisco faces a big job in winning back the faithful, who are skeptical about Vatican intrigue and disarray, theological quarrels, and all the other issues we got to learn about during the month of non-stop media coverage.

And I learned this story from Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, a medieval Italian book:

A 14th-century businessman in Paris, Giannotto de Civigni, had a good friend, Abraham, who was a good man and a Jew. Fearing for his friend’s soul, Giannotto had long tried to covert him to Christianity. Finally, Abraham said he might consent to be baptized after he went to Rome to see first-hand the leaders of the Church. Giannotto knew what he would witness and feared: Roma veduta, fede perduta.

At the Vatican, Abraham witnessed all types of sin, decadence, corruption, and greed — most of all greed. And he decided that if the Church had survived 13 centuries in spite of such venality, it must be the true word of God. He would convert.

Pope Francis seems to be off to a good start at shaking things up, although at his age, will he last long enough to make a big difference? The Church has prevailed through worse times, that’s for sure. In Spain, we’ll all keep watching the news. In this economy, the only thing we can afford to pay is attention.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website,
Tags: religion, spain

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