New Pope, New Ground

Following celebrations for the historic election of Argentine Pope Francis, it's time to look at the business of leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics — bureaucracy and all. Host Michel Martin discusses the Pope's future agenda with Reverend Jose Hoyos, of the Diocese of Arlington, and religion professor Anthea Butler.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, we sample the sounds of this year's South by Southwest festival in Austin. That's often a showcase for up and coming talent. It turns out that there are some exciting performers from Latin America and we're going to tell you about some of them later in the program. But first the Roman Catholic Church has broken new ground with the election of Pope Francis who is the first of many things.

The former cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, became Pope Francis yesterday. Not only is he the first non-European pope in centuries, but he's also the first Jesuit and the first South American leader of the Catholic Church's 1.2 billion followers. Now that the white smoke has cleared, questions remain, though, about whether this new papacy will have actually change the course of the Catholic Church and what this leadership means for the faithful around the world.

Joining us to talk more about this is the Reverend Jose Hoyos. He's the director of the Spanish apostolate of the diocese of Arlington. Also with us is Professor Anthea Butler. She teaches religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and she's a practicing Catholic. Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for joining us, and in your case, Professor Butler, thank you so much for joining us once again.

ANTHEA BUTLER: Thank you.

MARTIN: Father? Father Hoyos, are you there?

REVEREND JOSE HOYOS: Thank you. Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Can you just tell us your personal reaction when the announcement was made?

HOYOS: I think that was wonderful. First of all, I was personally surprised. This was wonderful for us and for the Hispanic Americans. It was a great example of, you know, of holiness and that's what we were waiting for - something new in the church.

MARTIN: You oversee 36 churches with largely Latino congregations in the Arlington, Virginia area. Are you hearing from people about this? And what's the reaction among your congregants?

HOYOS: Well, I want to be honest with you. We are crazy right now. We are celebrating. We are just enjoy. We are shocked. We are fully, you know, like, so excited. Because we were not expecting that this was going to happen for us and we believe it's some lesson. So celebrations are all over Virginia, all over United States, all over Latin America. And I still celebrating myself.

MARTIN: And do you mind if I ask also - he's also the first Jesuit to be selected as pope. You were trained by the Jesuits. Is there any particular significance to that in your view?

HOYOS: Yes. They have a lot of significant - significant event for us. Because as a Jesuit trained, I believe that we are going a little ahead of the church in many of our thoughts and the actions of the gospel, because we are more into the social issues. We are - we are raised to be a teaching community, a teaching order in many universities and high schools. And that, that really means a lot.

It means that the Jesuit community, Franciscan community, Dominican community, the Capuchin community, has a chance to be new popes and new clergy who can give us a new way to represent the church in a good way, in a positive way.

MARTIN: And probably some of your congregants wanting to way in, Father.

(LAUGHTER)

HOYOS: Yeah. They're writing. They're calling us like crazy.

MARTIN: They're calling you like crazy. So...

HOYOS: Not just on the cell phone, but in the Twitter and also in Facebook. We are just-this is a very good expression of joy.

MARTIN: OK. Well, maybe we want to ask if maybe they wouldn't mind waiting just a minute until we finish our conversation. But Professor Butler, we spoke with you last month and there was a lot of talk about the need - the desire, among many, for the church to look beyond Europe for its next leader, to look to Latin America, Asia, or Africa. Now that is has what are your thoughts about this selection?

BUTLER: Well, I think in a way they split the difference. You have a man who had an Italian father but was born in Latin America in Argentina. So I think they've got the best of both worlds. I will say, though, I was very shocked that it was a Jesuit, I have to say. And the reason for that is because Jesuits do not normally go after ecclesiastical offices. They are a, you know, teaching and preaching order. They're also the great missionaries of the church.

And if you get appointed to an ecclesiastical office you have to ask the permission of your provincial, and perhaps also the general. So this is very interesting, I think. And it's also interesting because the Jesuits also pledge a special vow of loyalty to the pope. And now you have both the black pope and the white pope together, both Jesuits.

MARTIN: Who's the black pope? I'm sorry.

BUTLER: The black pope is the Jesuit general, the leader of the Jesuits.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

BUTLER: That's inside baseball.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. Well, thank you for, sort of, clarifying that. But on matters of doctrine, you know, Pope Francis is understood to be very conservative on social issues, including contraception, abortion, and gay marriage. He described Argentina's legalization of gay marriage as an attempt to destroy God's plan.

I am wondering, Professor Butler, as a person who's had your own differences of opinion - I don't want to trivialize it, but just to say differences of opinion on some of these issues with the church - how do you think this will sit with American Catholics who are divided on this question?

BUTLER: Well, if you're a Catholic you know one thing - you know that the church moves at a very slow place - pace. And I think in one sense, American Catholics may be happy that this is somebody from the Americas. They might not be happy that he is against gay marriage and all these other things, but we expect this, because we know this is the church. I mean, there are a lot of women protesting out in the square in front of St. Peter's.

And I, you know, I understand why they're protesting. I agree with a lot of what they're saying. But I think this pope has been chosen for something particular, and that is two things. One is to present a better face of the church to the world, and they need a better face right now. And secondarily to probably try to clean up some of the problems within the curia right now. And those are very big.

MARTIN: Anthea Butler is professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Reverend Jose Hoyos of the diocese of Arlington, Virginia is with us. We're talking about the election of Pope Francis. We talked about outreach and the need to, sort of, reach out and revive and refresh the church, particularly in some parts of the world. I just want to play a short clip of one reaction to this choice from a young woman. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLIP)

CARLOTTA FERTARI: It's just been amazing. Amazing. Like I was born here and this is an amazing feeling. Now the image of the church doesn't give us something to believe in. So actually, I think that his way of speaking to us, his preaching, that was very meaningful.

MARTIN: This is a young woman named Carlotta Fertari. She's 23 years old. She's an Italian Catholic, as she said. The question, I think, for some, is whether this pope would be more effective in reaching out to younger people in the same way that perhaps John Paul II was considered a master of doing. What do you think? Do we know anything about how Pope Francis might - how effective he might be in this area?

HOYOS: I think...

BUTLER: Well, I think...

MARTIN: I'm sorry. I'm asking Father.

HOYOS: Go ahead. Go ahead.

MARTIN: No, Father Hoyos. Go ahead.

HOYOS: Well, I have a chance to meet for the first time, Cardinal Bergoglio, in Buenos Aires three years ago. And the time that I went to visit him, there were a couple of young university students visiting him and asking him many questions, especially about abortion and social issues. And I was very impressed about him, how the youth in Argentina are very pro-Francis now. And they were really very attentive, very happy, very open for many questions, many answers.

So he's a man of all ages, and I believe that he's somebody and a great example that we need right now. So I agree with the doctor, you know? Yeah, the church has faced many challenges. One of the challenges right now is to preach the gospel, to reach the Catholic faith to the young generations.

MARTIN: And I think that many people have noted that they particularly appreciate his lifestyle. It's been well reported that he lives very humbly in an apartment.

HOYOS: Yes.

MARTIN: He even cooks for himself.

HOYOS: Yes.

MARTIN: He uses public transportation. He's been - many people have seen him, you know, on the bus. He rejects a lot of the comforts that are available to leaders of his position, and I think many people feel that that would be a refreshing change of tone or a refreshing signal, along with the name that he chose.

But Professor Butler, there's also the question, I think, that, you know, in this country, people who have reached leadership - particularly men who reach leadership at a certain age - are often asked, what was your role in Vietnam? Where were you in this conflict? What side were you on, as it were.

You know, and Pope Francis reached prominence in his vocation at a time of the military dictatorship in Argentina. And what do we know about what role he may have played there, how his time there is viewed? Do we know?

BUTLER: Well, I think it's a very complicated role and I think that's still - that story's still going to evolve. I mean part of what has happened is there was a book written about him - I believe a couple of years ago - with the title "El Silencio," where he - they accuse Cardinal Bergoglio of not taking care of two priests who had been kidnapped and being complicit with the junta. There's also talk about problems that he had during the time that he was a provincial in Argentina and his stance against liberation theology and how he cracked down on the Jesuits who were being trained there.

So I think that this is going to be a complicated story about him. The question will be is, how far are people going to dig? This whole situation in Argentina is still evolving with people trying to find out what happened in the late '70s and if he was a part of that in any kind of way and in a negative way. That story's going to come out.

MARTIN: Father Hoyos, do you have any insight on this?

HOYOS: Yeah. When I went to school and I hear many things about what happened before in the military, a situation that (unintelligible) Bergoglio he was living, but I think that they have been clear and we have many opinions who will favor him and who are against him. But I want to tell you and to everybody which one of us have not a black side(ph) in our life and have a sin, and I believe that the cardinal has to learn something and he learned already, something that happened in his past.

He's already a man of - full of love and compassion, and as you know, his heart holds a special place for the most vulnerable among us and he's very sensitive about the problems and the situation that the people in Argentina are live in right now. So people really forgive him in that way if something happened, so I don't think that that can be a huge problem or something negative that is going to obscure maybe his mandate at the Vatican. On the contrary, it's going to help him, make him very positive and he would understand that not any one of us is really worthy to be a pope right now.

MARTIN: Well, we'll speak with both of you again. Thank you both so much for your insights. Reverend Jose Hoyos is the director of Spanish Apostolate of the Diocese of Arlington. He was kind enough to join us by phone from his very busy offices. You can hear that his congregants are still weighing in and wanting to talk about this historic choice. Anthea Butler is a professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and she was kind enough to join us from Philadelphia.

Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

HOYOS: Thank you so much.

BUTLER: Thank you.

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