Globalization and the Catholic Church: Popes Benedict XVI & Francis

Relogions of the worldGlobalization is such a powerful force that not even the Vatican can subtract itself from it.

Beyond its 1.2 billion followers, the global influence of the Catholic Church is undeniable. In many respects, it is a unique human institution. In addition to its sheer size, powerful traditions, and long history, the influence it exerts in many global affairs is evident. From a conventional perspective, Catholicism is the second oldest religion, after Judaism. The historic influence and contributions –though not always virtuous ones– of the Catholic Church to global society have been a constant throughout the past 20 centuries.

Even an ancient, relatively rigid religious institution as the Catholic Church, has recognized the increasing need to be more attuned with current and coming challenges and opportunities. Many paradigms have been broken, and much more is yet to come.

The unprecedented resignation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, was an almost incredible act of wisdom and pragmatism from former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. How in the world can anyone reasonably justify life-long tenures, be it the Church, the Judiciary –the US Supreme Court–, or anywhere else? The mostly negative feudal vestiges of contemporary society have to be overcome. Pope Benedict XVI showed how it has to be done. Hopefully that precedent will be replicated in the future within the Vatican itself and other institutions around the world. This is a most basic precept of best practices and of sound governance.

The election of Pope Francis as the new head of the Catholic faith is a recognition to the internal demographics of the church, a deference to the largest group of followers the Catholic faith has: the Latino community (42% of the world’s Catholics are Latin America, whereas only 25% are european). Catholicism has a particular stronghold in Latin America because of the Spanish and to a lesser degree, Portuguese influence (colonization of Latin America in the 16th and early 17th centuries). In a larger context, this stronghold is also extensive to the developing countries around the world, where major growth of new followers is taking place.

The selection of Francis is also a recognition to:

  • The need to show a re-energized and reloaded attitude of adaptation to the new realities, challenges, and opportunities of contemporary society, beyond the traditional reach of the Catholic Church.

  • The increasing influence of emerging societies in world affairs.


Lighting-VaticanThe election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, a theological conservative with a strong social conscience, as the new Pope sets many new precedents in one of the world’s most ancient religions:

  • The first Latin American to be elected.

  • Also the first Pope from a developing nation. Karol Wojtyla’s case can be visualized in a different light, being Poland an European country.

  • The first Jesuit in history to become Pope.

  • Francis is, for practical purposes, an outsider. Cardinal Bergoglio is a newcomer to the Vatican’s highest circle; a late-bloomer, appointed archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, and a Cardinal in 2001. In other words, the newly-elected Pope has relatively shallow ties to the Curia and the Vatican.

  • Cardinal Bergoglio’s decision in selecting Francis as his new name as Pope –after the legendary St. Francis of Assisi– sends a strong message of humility and simplicity, very distant from the otherwise pompous Vatican ways. He is a very modest and down-to-Earth person.

  • Yet, at the same time, by being a direct an immediate descendant of Italian immigrants, Francis should have a significant appeal to the Italian population, as well as to the rest of European traditionalists. Europeans have held the Pope position for most of the Catholic Church’s 20 centuries of existence.

  • Francis is the third non-Italian Pope in a row, after an uninterrupted four and a half centuries of Italian Popes. The fact that most of the world’s catholic population lives outside of Europe must have played heavily in this decision.

  • At the age of 76, Cardinal Bergoglio is above the Papacy’s ideal age. This can be interpreted as a strong conviction from the majority of the Cardinal College to designate someone of a certain profile, in spite of his relatively advanced age.

  • Last, but not least, the strong pastoral background of Francis can prove to a be a big plus. Having lived most of his life in Argentina, a more-often-than-not turbulent country, with a military Junta in power three decades ago, provides Cardinal Bergoglio with a different perspective from many fellow cardinals.

It is still too early to determine the most likely characteristics the new Pope will show in power. However, the outstanding traits of his personality paired with his previous track record can be a very good indication of what to expect from him as Pope.

The unprecedented decision reached in the March 12-13 Conclave of the Catholic Church at the Vatican is a very delicate balancing act of multiple interests and needs. It seems to have been pulled-off in a great manner. It is a very promising and hopeful sign of pragmatism and an effort to try to reach out to an increasing globalized society. The mostly positive implications of such a momentous selection of a new Pope bodes well for the future of the world at large.

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About Martin Marmolejo

Global Investment Manager | Founder & Managing Director at MMA Global Investment Management | Proud husband and father | Follow me @globalmarmolejo.


  1. […] “Globalization is such a powerful force that not even the Vatican can subtract itself from it.” This was last week’s post opening statement. And it can’t be more true. Now we see the extremely intertwined connections between the global society and one of the tiniest nations on Earth. […]

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