Pope Francis’s reputation as a back-to-basics leader continued to grow today after he had told the faithful in his homeland of Argentina not to come to his official inauguration next Tuesday but to save the money and give it to the poor instead.
The Pope’s austere credentials first emerged shortly after his election when he settled his own hotel bill, turned down the offer to be driven in the papal Mercedes and opted to take a minibus with the cardinals to the Vatican conclave residence. His actions have prompted talk of a “revolution” in the Catholic Church.
Robert Mickens, The Tablet’s Vatican correspondent, said: “This is a pope who’s going to take an axe to all the pomp and circumstance at the Vatican; the old guard with their fur and silk robes are quaking. This is a revolution in the church.”
But he warned those expecting policy changes on issues such as rights for gays and divorcees should not hold their breath. “He’s a hard-nosed, conservative Catholic bishop,” he said.
But it has not all been plain sailing for Pope Francis. The 76-year-old stumbled for the first time in his three-day-old reign this morning when he misjudged the step down from the dias in the Vatican’s Sala Clementina after he addressed cardinals, including those over 80 who had been excluded from the conclave.
He was promptly given a helping hand, and even joked about the age of his audience before noting that some men were like a good wine: “They get better with age.”
But the Vatican was on the back foot this afternoon when spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was forced to deny “defamatory” suggestions that the new pontiff had failed to oppose, or had even colluded with, the brutal Argentine regime of the 1970s and 1980s. He insisted that Pope Francis, while still a Jesuit priest in his home city of Buenos Aires, did much to protect the people during Argentina’s “dirty war”.
“There has never been a credible accusation against him,” said Father Lombardi.