Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Meet the new Pope, Same as the old Pope

by Salman Hameed

The Catholic Church had a chance to move into the 21st century, but it looks like it will wait another few decades to take that plunge:
But Cardinal Bergoglio is also a conventional choice, a theological conservative of Italian ancestry who vigorously backs Vatican positions on abortion, gay marriage, the ordination of women and other major issues — leading to heated clashes with Argentina’s current left-leaning president.

He was less energetic, however, when it came to standing up to Argentina’s military dictatorship during the 1970s as the country was consumed by a conflict between right and left that became known as the Dirty War. As many as 30,000 people were disappeared, tortured or killed by the dictatorship, and he has been accused of knowing about the abuses and failing to do enough to stop them.        
Read the NYT analysis here. Now it is still possible that the new Pope may change his stance on social issues ranging from women's clerical equality and gay marriage to issues of stem cells, abortion and contraception. I think one of the 19th century Pope's, Pius IX, moved from a relatively liberal position to a conservative one - so why not move the other way this time around? Otherwise, the Church will be taken over by the tide of time - as has been going on for the past several decades. All of this is of interest as the Muslim world also faces similar issues but without a comparable institutional structure. The lack of such an hierarchy is probably good as it may be more compatible with the fragmentary nature of the modern world. On the other hand, a religious leader like the Dalai Lama can also speed up the incorporation of a religion into the modern world. We'll see how things will go - but the Church certainly seems to be in no hurry.

And if interested, now we know how the white and black smoke is produced. The Vatican has given up its recipe - and now even you can make the announcement:

Both recipes are fairly standard pyrotechnical formulas. The white smoke, used to announce the election of a new pope, combines potassium chlorate, milk sugar (which serves as an easily ignitable fuel) and pine rosin, Vatican officials said in a statement. The black smoke, which was used Tuesday evening to signal that no one in the first round of balloting received the necessary two-thirds vote of the 115 cardinals, uses potassium perchlorate and anthracene (a component of coal tar), with sulfur as the fuel. Potassium chlorate and perchlorate are related compounds, but perchlorate is preferred in some formulations because it is more stable and safer. 
The chemicals are electrically ignited in a special stove first used for the conclave of 2005, the statement said. The stove sits in the Sistine Chapel next to an older stove in which the ballots are burned; the colored smoke and the smoke from the ballots mix and travel up a long copper flue to the chapel roof, where the smoke is visible from St. Peter’s Square. A resistance wire is used to preheat the flue so it draws properly, and the flue has a fan as a backup to ensure that no smoke enters the chapel.
Read about the recipe here.        

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