Let’s begin with the first group. A pope that takes the name Francis is starting out on a good foot from a social justice perspective. At least that was reaction of many progressive Catholics. Jubilee USA executive director Eric LeCompte, for example, released a statement with the headline, “Pope Francis; Pope of Peace, Justice and the Poor.” LeCompte said:
Pope Francis will preach that we need to promote access to food, water, education, employment, and healthcare for every person, without discrimination….This Pope will stand up for the rights of poor people, migrants and, workers.
Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis (not a Catholic, but a prominent Christian progressive) was similarly hopeful, praising the cardinal’s warnings against “a self-referential church” and noting, “In Buenos Aires, the cardinal showed real compassion for HIV victims, and he sternly rebuked priests who refused to baptize children born out of wedlock.”
Those who share these sentiments also note Bergoglio’s personal humility. The cardinal lived in a modest apartment in Buenos Aires rather than the archbishop’s mansion; he took public transportation rather than using a church limousine; he cooked his own food. Yes, these are symbolic gestures. But symbolism matters.