Saturday, 22nd September 2018
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The announcement last week that Cardinal Jose Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was to be the next Pope was met with enthusiasm from many members of the Catholic Church. The first Pope from outside Europe in 1,300 years the Cardinal is also the first Pope elected from the Jesuit Order. The name he has taken, Pope Francis I was also taken as a sign that his leadership of the world's largest religion was also going to be a very definite departure and in some ways a return to the humility and basic tenets of the Church. As soon as his name was made public from the conclave journalists rushed to find out as much as possible about this man who is going to have a huge role in world affairs. On being appointed as Cardinal of Buenos Aires Bergoglio made a significant departure by not residing in his official residence and instead lived in a one room apartment where he cleaned and cooked for himself. Not for him the significant pomp and pageantry of the office. Journalists and commentators time and again, perhaps as a result of having very little to say, told the public that this new Pope was not a Vatican insider and was also a very humble man. The name he took was representative of this, Francis the Saint who turned his back on a worldly, sophisticated life to live in poverty, close to nature. It is the first time that any Pope has taken this name. Over the next couple of days as more and more information came out about the new Pope it turned out that when he was a very young teenager he had a girlfriend and that he had wanted to marry her and that he wrote in a letter to her that if he couldn't marry her then he would become a priest. How much of this was strictly true is open to conjecture but it does have to be said that he was only 13 at the time, not an age given to much introspection and long term plans. Whatever the man's history the fact remains that he is now the head of the world's dominant religion and one of the most influential people on the planet. He might not have taken up residence of the Archbishop's Palace in Buenos Aires but there is no question that he will live in the Vatican Palace in Rome. What is also without question that he is head of an organisation that is going through some very severe troubles at the moment. There are the ones that take up the headlines such as the horrendous sexual abuse that the Catholic Church hushed up quite effectively and for a very long time in order to shore up its own position of power and then there are others that while they do make the papers for some reasons they don't really cause that much comment. One of those is the position of the Vatican Bank which has been under close scrutiny in recent years. There have been huge financial irregularities, so bad that the American and Italian governments have accused the Vatican of laundering money for the Mafia. There have also been unexplained deaths of employees of the bank. It is clear that something is seriously wrong with the workings of the bank and it seems that the onus of trying to get to the bottom of everything will fall on this new Pope. Outside of this there are also huge questions about the nature of the Church that the Pope will have to face. The issues of contraception, the role of women in the Church, the position of celibacy for priests, these are only three of the issues that the Pope will have to address. Also there is a broader spiritual question whereby at least here in the West the Church is given allegiance by its members who then go off and live their lives in an increasingly secular manner directly opposed to the fundamental teachings of the Church. The rise of secularism, directly related to capitalism, will perhaps be Pope Francis' greatest challenge here. Although elsewhere in the world the Church has a stronger hold in traditionally more conservative countries. Rest assured that this Pope has much to wrestle with and how far and how adroitly he manages the task will be interesting to see.


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