The god of irony is everywhere and never sleeps.  Who would have guessed that the first pope from the global South would be an ethnic European, from the most European southern country? …that this third non-Italian pope in several centuries would be from the most Italian country outside Italy and have Italian parents?  Who would think that he would be right about poverty (against it, woo hoo) -  and wrong on every other social issue, along with a dirty war  history that, let us say, has not been trotted out by the Vatican flacks for our admiration.

If he’s not what the church needs, of course, it won’t be stuck with him forever, as he’s only nine years younger than the guy who just ran out of steam and resigned.

Popes can be surprising, like Earl Warren. But I’m not betting the farm that the church stops taking on water.




Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

39 thoughts on “Francis”

  1. I understand the incoming pope has actually in the past been rather into public displays of humility (commuting by bus, etcetera). Still, there’s a goddamn reason no prior pope has had the unmitigated gall to name themselves “Francis”. Dude’s going to be wearing fancy robes and living in a palace decorated with renaissance masterworks, atop a museum full of priceless jewelry and a library containing unique works looted from across the western world. “Francis”, indeed.

    1. I regret but I have an eruditeness deficiency so I don’t understand the significance of choosing the name “Francis.” Could you please help me with a hint? (Neither snark, nor an attempt at clever repartee. Just asking)

      1. The first thing one thinks of when one hears of a catholic Francis is the famous renunciate Francis of Assisi, members of whose order famously had no possessions. Hence the contrast with the opulence of the Vatican.

        1. Thank you. I think that’s a valid criticism, although every pope has lived in such splendor. If his choice of name is an indication of the direction he intends to take his church, I suppose that one might say that if he ultimately lends some comfort and support to the poor and powerless then perhaps the affront to your sensibilities (which I agree is reasonable) might be forgiven.

        2. When a Jesuit says Francis, I think of Francis Xavier. The Jesuits and the Franciscans had fights in the mission lands. (Do you respect local culture and therefore serve Communion by caste.)

          A few years ago I saw an opera, “Don Igancio”, written in the Jesuit run lands of South America. It had a beautiful counter-tenor duet where Ignatius Loyola says goodbye to Francis Xavier. It should be Pope Francis theme song.

          1. Two for the price of one. A dog-whistle to jesuit-philes, and a head fake for the rest of us.

    2. …a museum full of priceless jewelry…

      Don’t forget all the beautiful putto paintings in their gold frames…

  2. “and wrong on every other social issue,”

    One is hardly going to expect a pope to be elected who disagrees with almost the entirety of Catholic doctrine. Apparently your complaint is that he’s going to be the pope of the Catholic church, rather than some other church you’d like to see replace it?

    1. Fair snark. But you could put it differently. Michael’s complaint is that Francis is going to be pope of the Talebanic Catholic Church, rather than the John XXIII Catholic Church. But hey, even the Taleban are better on poverty than Opus Dei.

      1. Please point out any of the statements made by John XXIII that depart from, well, any other pope on the “socail issues” referenced above.

        John XXIII is like a great big Mary Sue figure for folks of a politically liberal bent commenting on Catholic matters. It doesn’t matter what the actually, historical John XXIII thought or said. What matters is that there is a fantasy John XXIII in their heads that somehow agrees with their worldview but never got around to telling anyone.

        1. John XXIII is credited by some observers for having played a useful role during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Kennedy and Khruschev were not exactly communicating very well, and when JFK sent a message to John XXIII, the latter sent a message to Khruschev which may have given him some wiggle room to find a way out of the situation, by presenting Khruschev with an opportunity to come across to the world as a man of peace.

          There are multiple versions of the missiles of October, many of them controlled by the Kennedy family and followers, and multiple interpretations of what got us not blown to radioactive rubble. The Pope gets some of the credit in some of these interpretations. It was a close enough call that if John XXIII facilitated the resolution of the confrontation in any way, he did us all a service.

          No need to project onto him any ideas about ordaining women as priests, or any notions that it is just as cool to go surfing on Sunday as it is to go to Mass, as Pope John Paul Peter George believed; see

          Fifty years ago, it was progressive to acknowledge ex cathedra the legitimacy of many other religions as paths of faith. So the people who are looking for a progressive attitude today are putting it in the context of 2013, not 1963.

          1. Fifty years ago, it was progressive to acknowledge ex cathedra the legitimacy of many other religions as paths of faith.

            It’s worth pointing out that Benedict XVI wasn’t exactly comfortable with this idea you feel was progressive 50 years ago, and that the new pope may be venerating St. Francis Xavier, an icon of disagreement with that notion (and used as such in more recent times).

          2. “and that the new pope may be venerating St. Francis Xavier, an icon of disagreement with that notion”
            From all available reports, he is said to work and play well with other religions and was the co-author of a book with a rabbi from Argentina.
   gives a few details.
            If he as Pope opens the Vatican archives from that period, that will be a sign that he is not exactly modeling himself on Francis Xavier. Time will tell.

    2. The Catholic Church and the lay members of the Catholic Church are not in agreement about all the doctrines either.
      e.g. birth control, condoms, death penalty, etc. Are we wrong to favor the faction we agree with more?

      (and since the Pope generates new doctrine by virtue of his office, even doctrine is not insurmountable.)

  3. So essentially he’s unlikely to win back any of the people who have been leaving the church because it offers little or no usable guidance for their lives, and he’s going to alienate the conservative rich catholics who have been becoming ever more devout (see Opus Dei)? Hmm.

    If he doesn’t make serious changes in the Curia, he’ll be mostly J2P2 without the cool backstory.

  4. Michael, you call Argentina “the most European southern country”. How is that true, given the existence of Australia and New Zealand?

    1. “Global South”, meaning developing countries, mostly in the geographic south; Australia and NZ are OECD members and much richer than Argentina. Though I could have mentioned that Argentina is a borderline “southern” country; having a pope from there is not much like a pope from the Philippines or west Africa

      1. My main concern was that I didn’t want a pope from a country that hadn’t dealt with the sexual abuse issues yet. I have suspicions that that is still going on in lots of places (where they perhaps tell themselves it’s a Western problem). Though it would be nice to be wrong. And I don’t know the situation in Argentina on sex abuse.

          1. Well, I’m not sure we can pin the blame on celibacy per se. I’d say, a good chunk of the problem — not the existence of the pedophiles, but their being left alone to hurt people — is just good old fashioned spinelessness. My gut says, somebody usually knows — or suspects — and doesn’t do jack about it. Like UPenn. And I’m only talking here about the stuff with minors. (Although, it is still wrong to mistreat adults, of course.)

            And if you’re from a place without a vigorous free press, and maybe also some sort of justice system, well then you’re basically toast, imho.

            Then too, there *is* the considerable sexual squeamishness, ignorance, and frat-boyishness of many in power in the Church, which doesn’t help.

            I guess I’d say, it’s due half to spinelessness, and half to the squeamishness. But ime, this was the case with all of US society, up until recently. It’s not just the Church. It would have been nice if people raised to believe in original sin had been a little quicker on the uptake, but, better late than never.

          2. Like UPenn.

            Uh-oh. You’re going to get in trouble.

            But on celibacy: I don’t get that argument at all. Priestly celibacy leads to pedophelia? Can someone explain the mechanism? Especially since much of the abuse has been with boys. Father O’Bronzino can’t marry a woman, so he turns to boys for gratification? I’m afraid that really does not compute.

          3. I wonder how many enter the priesthood hoping for theological castration, a spiritual cure for their undesirable sexual proclivities.

          4. Herschel,
            A lot of people have argued that people who are struggling with socially unacceptable or transgressive sexual urges have sought refuge from these desires in the clergy and its pledge of celibacy – what CharlesWT calls theological castration. This is true both for inclinations towards homosexual liaisons between consenting adults (which were completely unacceptable a generation or two ago, most everywhere, and are now seen as completely unobjectionable in our more enlightened societies) and for much darker sexual urges. Thus: a lot of closeted gay priests, perhaps not successfully fighting off their sexuality through their vows, and also (allegedly) a disproportionate number of pedophiles wearing clerical robes. Because it turns out that pledging celibacy may not be an effective way to repress these urges, neither those now seen as normal nor those no-one can condone – and, of course, a Priest winds up in pastoral care of a lot of confused people, with emotional power over them.

          5. Warren, a lot of what you say makes perfect sense to me (and isn’t anything I haven’t already considered). What I fail to see is how ending the celibacy rule is going to eliminate or alleviate the problem of sexually predatory priests. The suggestion above, by NY-Paul, implies to me that the sexual predations were caused by celibacy; if not, how would ending celibacy eliminate them?

          6. The idea is, I think, that these people enter the priesthood because they believe the vow of celibacy will save them from their urges. If there’s no vow of celibacy, they won’t seek this path to escape those desires, and may instead seek more effective help (or, at least, won’t be in a position of power as God’s Representative when they do succumb to their longings, and won’t automatically be entrusted with strangers’ children because of their position in society.

            This won’t happen, of course. Even if the Catholics were to relax on priestly celibacy (which hardly seems likely, but might help them with their priest shortage), there will almost certainly continue to be celibate priestly orders, and people fleeing their sexuality will seek them out – or even enter the no-longer-celibate branches of the clergy, because their idea of the priesthood will remain what it’s been for a thousand years, even if the rules have in fact changed. Also, it is my (fairly ignorant, admittedly) impression that the Anglicans, who have for some considerable time eschewed a celibate clergy, have a fairly strong expectation that their clergy will break from celibacy only in the context of marriage, and so people looking for escape from sexual urges inconsistent with marriage might still seek refuge in membership of a non-celibate clergy of that sort.

      2. I think my point may have been that using “south” and “southern” this way is kind of silly. So Albania is in the south, and New Zealand is in the north? As for the OECD, Argentina isn’t a member, but Chile is. Is Argentina in the south but next-door Chile isn’t? See what I mean? I know this isn’t very important, but this sort of thing bugs me a bit.

        1. Of course, references to the Global South and North are popular in a way that we used to refer to East and West – although Australia and perhaps Japan were in the West and Cuba and Nicaragua were in the Eastern Bloc.

          1. I remember seeing a reference, years ago, to Greece as being in western Europe, which I found rather odd. Not a reference to Greece as being in the Western Bloc, mind you. I think north, south, east, and west do better service as geographic terms than as cultural, economic, or emotional ones. I also remember being at some kind of big group lunch of employees of the university where I worked in the mid to late 1980s. Several of the people there, whom I knew and with whom I was friendly enough, were from Iran. I made some kind of reference to something sounding like X “to Western ears” — contrasting with Iranian ones, and all of the Iranians were offended enough that they all told me they were offended. They considered Iran and its culture to be Western. (Presumably the ayatollahs back home wouldn’t have agreed.)

          2. The potential for offense is of course the key thing. The reason the “Global South” moniker is popular is precisely to avoid “Third World” or even “Developing World”, which people find to be demeaning or (comparatively more) inaccurate.

    2. An interesting point. It never would have occurred to me to include Australia or New Zealand because I don’t think of them as having been settled by “Europeans” but as having been settled by the British. When I lived in England, people there typically spoke of the French, Italians, Germans and other countries located on the continent as “Europeans” but spoke of themselves as English or British (To anticipate, this linguistic tick seemed pretty universal to me and I actually got it from my housemother who was a Communist but always thought that the Europeans were the people who lived on the Continent).

  5. “If he’s not what the church needs, of course, it won’t be stuck with him forever, as he’s only nine years younger than the guy who just ran out of steam and resigned.”

    IF ????
    Am I to take it that even Catholics are Deists now? So God doesn’t step in to ensure at all times that the Church is run according to some divine master plan?

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