I welcome the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as Pope Francis, the new head of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is a change in a major global institution that marks another step in the progressive march of history towards a more inclusive world.

I am not Roman Catholic. In fact I am a severe critic of the institution of the Roman Catholic Church. Among many other of its stances theologically, socially, and economically to which I am passionately opposed I, like 16th Century reformist Martin Luther, believe it is fraudulent to institute that any person needs to mediate the relationship between an individual and their God.  But, its membership of 1.2 billion people, drawn from the poorest and the wealthiest on the planet, making the church among the wealthiest of institutions, means that it plays a vital role in the lives of a huge number of people and should be taken seriously by all of us.

Therefore, it is significant when even a small breech in its walls of conservative governance occurs, and this is an advance that should be affirmed by all who value inclusiveness as an important element of justice in our world. This comes in the same historical perspective as the election of a black man President of the United States of America.

This does not signal a shift in its doctrinal conservatism, but by shifting from the old guard of European white men, and selecting as pope a Latin American white man, identified symbolically with the poor, a new page has been turned in the history of the institution. And, more important, its members, particularly the young ones, will see that even the church, though it may move at glacial pace, changes when it needs to in order to survive.

It is no accident that the growth of the church outside Europe motivated this change. And that shows that the people do have power.

Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The Roman Catholic Church just entered a curve.


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