The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church are hardly a liberal lot. They've doubled down against abortion and gay marriage (or even acceptance of gays). Church hierarchy has verbally slapped down nuns who have gently challenged the priorities of the church. So it really says something when the GOP last year nominated a white guy named Mitt to run for president, while the cardinals—who could be described as the tea party caucus of the Catholic faith—picked a South American guy named Jorge.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is from Argentina and speaks Spanish. That alone makes him a more 21st century choice for leadership (although he is a staunch social conservative, being vocal in his opposition to gay marriage). And it may well be as much about demographic strategy as it is about merit; the Roman Catholic Church, after all, does a better recruitment job in Latin America than in, say, the U.S. But the very fact that such a conservative group would pick a Latin American to be the public face (not to mention the spiritual leader) of the worldwide faith shows that they are way ahead of the U.S. Republican party.
Bergoglio, notably a Jesuit, took the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for his vow of poverty. House Republicans, on the same day Francis became Pope, pushed through a bill to ban the granting of waivers on the work requirement for welfare—in other words, toughening up rules on the poor whom St. Francis wanted to help.
Many Republicans realize they need to do a better job with outreach. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of the young stars of the party, noted humorously in a dinner speech last Saturday night that he was hamstrung by his image. How could a skinny guy with dark skin and a funny name ever dream of becoming president?, Jindal quipped, as President Obama sat nearby. It was meant to be a joke, but the Republican candidate slate last year was, mainly, a slew of white men. The voter outreach and get-out-the-vote strategy was similarly ill-focused. The heavily traditional and old-fashioned church has made a move to join the 21st century. The GOP ought to consider following suit.