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Saturday, November 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 44.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Citizen Dave: Hope for Pope Francis
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Pope Francis
Pope Francis

They could have done a lot worse. At the very least they picked a guy who gets mass transportation.

Yesterday, the College of Cardinals chose Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina to lead the Catholic Church. Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, rode the bus to work in Buenos Aries, though it has not been reported if he paid his own fare or had a special Vatican ride-for-free card. He also sold a mansion once occupied by the archbishop of the city and instead lived in an apartment, even cooking his own meals.

So, there seems to be a refreshing eschewing of the trappings of office, which makes for a good start.

Probably the most compelling thing about the new pope is that he emphasized work with the poor in Argentina. In my view, the Church, which could be such a source for good in the world, squanders its capital on an obsession with sex. Abortion, birth control, pedophile scandals -- when you think of the church, you think of all the wrong stuff.

If Francis can get the church focused on a social justice mission instead of a preoccupation with sex, that would be a huge accomplishment.

However, any real progress on important fundamental issues such as ordaining women and married men as priests or accepting homosexuality seems like it will have to wait for a future church leader. Francis seems as locked in on those traditional ecclesiastical positions as his predecessors, which means that the Church will continue to lose ground in the developed world.

And then there's the concern that Bergoglio may have been complicit in Argentina's "Dirty War" of political repression and torture. He has been accused of knowing of abuses and not doing enough to stop them.

So, Pope Francis isn't everything you could ask for in the leader of one of the most powerful and influential organizations on Earth. But given that the two previous very conservative popes appointed all of the cardinals who selected him, it was almost impossible that a true progressive reformer was ever in the cards (pun intended). Still, you have to be encouraged when anyone who recently rode a bus achieves high office.

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