Papal blessing: Nothing can excuse the failures of the modern Catholic Church. But Pope Francis has made an impressive start

Francis has thrown open the Vatican windows and let in fresh air

Share
Related Topics

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope in March, the deeply conservative College of Cardinals imagined that it had chosen a safe pair of hands. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio espoused radical views on some social questions but appeared reliably hard line on key Catholic dogmas and thus unlikely to disturb the legacy of his doctrinally rigid predecessor, Benedict XVI.

How wrong the Cardinals were. Nine months on, the 77-year-old head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics has reminded us that age is no bar to youthful thinking. To the dismay of many of his original supporters, Francis has thrown open the Vatican windows and let in fresh air. Gone is the old culture of secrecy, and the dictates from on high by the Vicar of Christ, who, naturally, had the answer to everything. Asked what he thought of gay clergy, Francis responded that he did not know. “Who am I to judge them?” he inquired. That the Pope should even use such a phrase was novel.

Many Catholics, who long ago abandoned all hope of reform of a Church that seemed to be dying on its feet, are wondering if they didn’t succumb to feelings of despair too soon.

It is a sign of how quickly things appear to be changing that a whole range of sexual and gender-related issues that were completely taboo only a year ago are now talked about openly. At the same time, Francis has refused to tone down his sharp criticism of the distorting effects of modern capitalism, and has championed the cause of the poor in a manner that other international leaders could and should learn from. There have been other popes like this, although not many. Angelo Roncalli was a safe pair of hands who decided not to be safe once he was elected Pope John XXIII in 1958. Jettisoning the imperial symbols of authority, such as the papal tiara, he championed the poor and called a reforming council, Vatican II, which not only abandoned the Latin Mass but, more crucially, transformed relations between Catholics and people of other faiths, notably Jews.

Alas, following his sudden death in 1963, most of the reforms were mothballed, which one suspects is what a number of Vatican bureaucrats and conservative Catholics anticipate happening this time, too.

We must hope that Francis is not similarly outmanoeuvred by a combination of ill health and hostile Vatican bureaucrats. Whether we are religious or not, all of us must recognise that the Catholic Church remains a force to be reckoned with. Its vast membership alone guarantees that. Under Benedict, it became regrettably hidebound, the prevalent siege mentality symbolised by the Church’s grotesquely inadequate response to the scandal of child abuse among the clergy.

It will take years, not months, to change that culture and transform the way the Church sees itself in relation to society and interprets its own authority. Whether Pope Francis has the time and energy to surmount the tremendous challenges that lie ahead remains to be seen. But the fact that he has made a start is encouraging, as is his manifest desire for the Church to become what it could yet be: a force for good, not the enemy of change.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?