As with his predecessor, the accession of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio to the papacy as Francis should prove to benefit the Church in Louisiana.
In his nearly eight years, Benedict XVI brought needed stability to the Church increasingly under pressure that came from both within and without for it to become something that it wasn’t through demands to alter its core principles. At the same time, he also had to tackle the internal problem of escalating incidents and numbers (even if just a tiny fraction of the whole) of priests and religious committing sexual abuse, introduced when the Church let its guard down post-Vatican II, that was allowed to fester.
The response wasn’t altogether satisfactory because of the hidebound nature of bureaucracy, which the Vatican, like any large organization created by man, is not immune to suffering its implications. As an insider, Benedict had certain strengths to tackle the decay from within the church (where, unfortunately America has been a leader in this regard) that begins in the seminaries and extends from there, and correction should be on its way.
But with the immediate problem identified and in the process of corrective action, now the systemic condition that exacerbated it, the slowness of the Curia in response, needs tackling, and Francis seems the servant to do it. He largely is an outsider to the Vatican establishment and, unlike Benedict, less demonstrative of erudition (perhaps a given for anyone, as Benedict was perhaps the most erudite pope in history) but more demonstrative of practical application of doctrine. Benedict had to make sure the course was correct; now Francis can take the helm and proceed decisively in that direction.
That’s a course of relief of those who have suffered because of the errors of a few but one that those who wish to remake the Church into a social service agency first and spiritual leader and vessel through which to commune with God second will discomfit, as Francis gives every indication that’s the direction in which he will lead his flock. The faithful may hear more and see more public actions about serving the poor, and witness more symbolic gestures from Francis to show he will wash our feet, but expect no changes from the fidelity to Church teachings that Benedict so ably promoted and defended.
For Louisiana, this promises continued helpful selections of church leadership, but also potentially invites some changes in other ways. Interestingly, Francis was ordained in the Society of Jesus (who take a unique, fourth vow to serve the pope), who sometimes have let hubris get in the way of authenticity in carrying Christ’s message. One Catholic and Jesuit institution in Louisiana that has fallen prey to this tendency is Loyola University, which once styled itself as “Social Justice U.” and continues to have several programs with “social justice” themes as part of their titles. While Loyola, at least publicly during Benedict’s reign, seemed to have dialed down its concern with things of this world where they conflict with Catholic teaching, it will be interesting to see whether Francis becomes more involved in this aspect of Catholic ministry, both specifically to Loyola and the several Jesuit elementary and secondary education institutions in the state, as well as globally to all such institutions.
Louisiana Catholics should feel reassured with the new Pontiff, and expect the reinvigoration and refreshment of the authentic Church that began slowly under Blessed John Paul II and accelerated under Benedict will proceed with Francis.