Unless you avoid interacting with anybody, live under a rock, or live in a cave that lacks TV or internet access, you know that there is a new pope in the Vatican.  The above image shows two pictures of this new pope, Pope Francis.  This blog post is meant to inform you about the new pope and hopefully answer some of your questions about Catholicism and what has been going on in the last few weeks.

Just so you know, I am not a Catholic, I have never been a Catholic, and I will never be a Catholic (I have a time macheen so I know this for a fact).  My interests in Catholicism are purely academic.  I am a religious studies scholar who focuses on interactions between Catholics and Native Americans in the Great Lakes region.  So most of my knowledge about Catholicism is historical and within an American context.  I am not a theologian or a philosopher, so I don’t really care about beliefy thinky stuff.

Also, I’m not really good at what I do and I don’t actually know much about Catholicism (most of what follows came from Wikipedia), so much of what I’m about to tell you probably isn’t true.  However, that shouldn’t stop you from spreading that false information to everyone you know and claiming that it is definetely true and from a reliable source.

  • What’s with Pope Benedict XVI resigning?  I thought the pope held that office until he died.

Normally this is true.  However, this is not the first time a pope has resigned.  There have actually been a number of popes who have resigned.  Many “resigned” because they were deposed or coerced into resigning.  Many resigned because there were multiple claimants to the papacy.  Pope Benedict IX actually resigned from the papacy 3 times (meaning that a bunch of idiots kept electing a guy who clearly did not want or could not keep the job).  Celestine V resigned from the papacy in 1294, but more importantly, he issued a decree stating that it was okie dokie for popes to resign, something no other pope who had resigned had done.  The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.  He resigned because there were actually 3 claimants to the papacy at the time.  So, although it’s been a while, this is not the first time it has happened.

  • Is this the first non-European pope?

No (When the news first broke CNN incorrectly claimed that he was the first non-European pope.  They have begun calling him the first non-European pope in modern times since catching the error).  There have been a number of North African (mostly modern Libya) and Syrian popes.  The last non European pope was Syrian-born Pope Gregory III in 741, so it’s been awhile.  However, Pope Frank (can I call him that?) is the first pope from outside Europe/the Mediterranean area.  He is from Argentina, making him the first American pope, but his parents were Italian immigrants.  He also lived in Germany for a while.  So he still has a lot of European connections.

  • What’s a Jesuit?

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope.  The Jesuits, or the Society of Jesus, are a Catholic religious order founded by the former Spanish soldier, Ignatius of Loyola.  He and others, like Francis Xavier (the Francis the pope did not name himself after), applied military principles to the Church, acting as “God’s Marines.”  They are very active in missionary work, stress education, and adapt themselves to the cultures they are ministering to.   I recommend watching Black Robe or The Mission (with a young Robert DeNiro) if you want some entertaining portrayals of Jesuits in old-timey America (Black Robe takes place in 17th c. New France and The Mission takes place in….I want to say Paraguay).

  • Francis?

Jorge Bergoglio (the guy now known as Pope Francis) chose the name Francis because of Francis of Assisi, seen here fighting unseen bears?, dancing?, signaling an airplane?:

Francis of Assisi was a Catholic saint and founder of the Franciscan order.  He lived during the 12th and 13th centuries and is known for his service to the poor and voluntary poverty.  I think he also spoke to animals like Dr. Dolittle.  It is unusual for Pope Francis to choose this name because it is the first time since Pope Lando (one of my favorites) in the 10th century that a pope has chosen a name that was not used by a predecessor.

I could go on and talk about how a pope is elected or Pope Francis’s involvement in Argentina’s “Dirty War” or the ongoing scandals in the Vatican or the prophecy that he’s the last pope, but I think I’ll end it there for now.

Fun facts: Francis knows 6 languages and only has one lung.