Someone asked the question recently:"What do you think about the new pope?'
My answer was a simple one.
"I'm not Catholic. I really don't care."
I wasn't being dismissive of anyone's personal belief or religious faith, just honest. What I meant was because my parents didn't chose to raise me in the Catholic church, the naming of a new pope in Rome to lead Catholics across the globe doesn't have much significance for me other than being just another big news story.
I realize, with about 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, that's really big news.
I figure many Milwaukeeans who aren't Catholic feel the same way when mainstream media starts reporting on secular activities that don't apply to all readers or viewers. When it comes to naming a new Pope, some of us don't get all the hoopla, no offense intended.
We don't really understand the spectacle of the white smoke at the Sistine Chapel or the conclave called to pick a new pope. We don't really appreciate the history or the grandeur or the intense spiritual implications that surround picking this one particular man to become one of the most powerful religious leaders in modern society.
As non-Catholics, we don't understand much of the tradition or the ritual that comes with being Catholic even as we can accept that many religions carry around the same sort of dogma.
The local media angle for Milwaukee was the reported possibility that former Milwaukee archbishop and current New York City Cardinal Timothy Dolan was in line for the top spot. Dolan has lots of friends in Milwaukee and elsewhere who have followed his meteoric rise in recent years. He would have been a media friendly pontiff with a gregarious and welcoming personality. Still young enough to be considered for pope again one day, many still have him pegged as a rising star.
Like other Catholic leaders, Dolan also has his critics who don't think he's done enough to address serious concerns about pedophile priests who operated with seeming impunity for decades. By inserting himself into political battles over President Obama's health care program, Dolan has also been perceived as being more controversial than some expect from a spiritual leader who is expected to relate to people of all political affiliations.
I think most people would like to believe there are no Republicans or Democrats in heaven.
As it turned out, Milwaukee had its local angle with the new pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, being a member of the Jesuit order, closely affiliated with Marquette University. In a news release, Marquette president Scottt Pilarz called the choice of Bergoglio "energizing" and cited the long connections with the university and the Jesuit's relationship with the pope.
I would likely have been more personally excited if the new pope had been Peter Turkson, the archbishop from Ghana, who would have become the first black pope and the first from Africa. More than 270 million people of African descent are members of the Catholic church, by most accounts.
But a blow for more diversity was struck with Bergoglio's choice; he becomes the first Latin American pope and a symbol of the changing demographics in religious groups across the globe.
I have several friends who are Catholic, including African-Americans who attended Catholic schools and churches growing up in the inner city. Some of my Catholic friends tell me that they regularly use birth control, reject most of the anti-gay teachings of the church and have even been divorced multiple times.
As a non-Catholic, what that suggests to me is being Catholic is probably similar to what I learned as a young boy who regularly attended Baptist church on Sunday because my mother insisted. That's where I first noticed that most of the fiery sermons delivered from the pulpit criticized the same type of personal behavior I knew many in the congregation indulged in all the time.
A religious leader can deliver the message but that doesn't mean everyone in the flock is going to obey him. That's why I know, despite all the attendant publicity, picking a new pope doesn't mean as much to me as it does to all of the people he's supposed to be leading in the same direction.
Granted, it's probably hard to get 1.2 billion people all on the same page.
Eugene Kane is veteran Milwaukee journalist and nationally award winning columnist.
Kane writes about a variety of important issues in Milwaukee and society that impact residents of all backgrounds.