Padre Jorge Hopes Are High for Pope of the Poor

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Part 3: A Long List of Challenges

The decision was reached during a pasta lunch on Wednesday, at about 1:30 p.m., at least according to information the Turin newspaper La Stampa claims to have obtained. After the third round of voting, when it was clear that neither Scola nor Scherer could win, and a compromise candidate from Boston, Cardinal Patrick O'Malley, could not prevail against the votes of the African cardinal-electors, Bergoglio established himself as the unbeatable front-runner. In the fifth, decisive round of voting, Bergoglio reportedly received substantially more than the required 77 votes.

When the name Francis was mentioned for the first time, Cardinals Scherer and Schönborn, sitting across from each other in the Sistine Chapel, looked at each other and broke out laughing. Bishops from São Paulo and Vienna respectively, the two had run into each other in Assisi while on their way to the conclave. Scherer says that the two men had wondered "why a pope has never named himself after St. Francis."

Berlin's Cardinal Woelki, one of the youngest at the conclave, who, by his own account, entered the Sistine Chapel "with wobbly knees and sweaty palms," was sitting a little farther away. He immediately thought: "Francis -- the name says it all!"

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, a man known for his occasional radical critiques of turbo-capitalism, felt that the new pope was a spiritual brother. "A completely different figure, a completely different style. Not a man of the Curia," Marx said. "His emphasis on simplicity will be good for us all."

The German cardinals did not, of course, mention the new pope's pronounced conservatism on all questions of theology. But Bergoglio's rise could indeed spell a new beginning. His election is seen as a revolutionary event, not unlike Benedict's resignation. "A fresh wind has prevailed," says Vatican veteran Marco Politi, who argues that the election proves that the Roman church reacts with much greater flexibility than Italy's political system.

Disastrous Curia Management

On the evening following the election, the new pope gave a reception at the Santa Marta guesthouse. "May God forgive you," he reportedly said in jest. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan was so enthusiastic about the pope's exclamation that he later posted it on his blog. Before the reception, Francis had a long telephone conversation with Benedict, who is still at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo and who was reportedly deeply moved over the choice of his erstwhile challenger.

An almost unprecedented number of problems came to a head within the church during the eight-year pontificate of Benedict XVI. Under former Pope John Paul II, the various crises were more or less defused. This included the many abuse cases and the failures of the disastrously managed Curia. But neither of the last two popes were skilled administrators. The former spent most of his papacy on the road, before becoming mortally ill. The latter preferred to be alone at his desk. Hardly anyone in Rome still believes the explanation given by Benedict's spokesman that the pope emeritus resigned solely because of age and infirmity.

How, though, does Francis intend to fight the "filth in the church" that Ratzinger deplored, but which he was ultimately unable to eliminate? How will he deal with the Vatileaks scandal, leaks in the Curia and money laundering at the Vatican Bank?

All of the cardinals who had traveled to Rome were in agreement that the Curia needs comprehensive reform. The topic dominated debates leading up the conclave with the daily meetings of the general congregation lasting much longer than normal. The cardinals noted that there had never been this much discussion of the problems in the church, about corruption and intrigues in the Secretariat of State, the lack of power in the episcopal churches, the role of women, the church in China, and the church's handling of the child abuse cases and its relationship with the Society of Saint Pius X. According to the cardinals, the discussions had never been this open and critical.

In the pre-conclave, four cardinals, including German Cardinal Walter Kasper, asked for information about the report on the Vatileaks investigation, which has been shrouded in mystery. The report, said to be 300 pages long, was written by three retired bishops, all over 80, and is kept locked in the papal safe. It reportedly contains background information on the scandal surrounding documents from the pope's desk that a butler, apparently working on behalf of others, had stolen and passed on to the media. There was much media speculation of corruption, cronyism, gay networks in which positions are traded, intrigues and even the threat of a schism within the church.

Not Enough Time

In their last debate before the beginning of the conclave, the cardinals also discussed the Vatican Bank, or IOR, which is accused of money laundering. Cardinal Bertone delivered a short report on the bank's activities and the introduction of international standards for financial transactions. The cardinals actually wanted to know much more about the affair. The Americans, in particular, asked for more access to the investigative report by the Vatileaks commission, which reportedly contains longer passages on the IOR. But there wasn't enough time left for that.

For years Italian politicians used accounts at the bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion, to obscure their financial assets, partly because the Vatican Bank does not publish its financial statements. Until recently, the institute was only answerable to the pope. "Perhaps we'll no longer have a Vatican Bank in a few years," said a German cardinal's spokesman after the election of Pope Francis. A group of non-Italian cardinals led by Viennese Cardinal Schönborn wants to dissolve the institution altogether.

It is still unclear how decisively Francis will address all of these tasks. He has to appoint a strong-willed, independent secretary of state. But the new secretary of state should only share power, without seeking to acquire more power to control and discipline everyone and everything, like the power-crazed Bertone.

A strong manager who hopes to liberate the Curia from the corrupt pack of informers and uninhibited overachievers will have to slim down the machinery and organize it more horizontally. The pope has to become accessible again -- to everyone. In Ratzinger's case, only Bertone and the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, received appointments right away, while all others were kept waiting for months. The German participants in the conclave urged that regular cabinet meetings be held in the future, and that the Roman church maintain more intensive contact with the bishops and papal ambassadors around the world.

The question is how absolutist this pope can be in ruling the church, after Benedict's resignation and in times of crisis. Cardinal Lehmann complains that "the right to codetermination in the appointment of bishops was treated with contempt." A renewed church should be able to delegate more responsibility so that, for example, a nun at a hospital in Africa treating HIV patients decides whether to distribute condoms or the morning-after pill -- and not the prelate in Rome.

Subject to Negotiation

The pope has continued offering indications that he is serious about renewal. Last Thursday, he read his first mass in the Sistine Chapel at an altar facing the congregation -- an altar Benedict had had removed to accommodate the traditionalists. Yet what he had to proclaim didn't sound very different from his predecessor's fight against the "dictatorship of relativism." Francis also applies a simple either-or approach: "He who doesn't pray to the Lord prays to the devil." It is the creed of a modern reactionary.

The new pope must find answers to how the church should behave in the world of today, in which many conflicts are religiously charged, especially in the Middle East and Asia. The church's sexual morality, furthermore, has long since been rejected in Europe and increasingly in Latin America as well. And the church needs to develop an approach to the inequalities triggered by the global financial crises. Finally, the pope must also be clear about where the Catholic Church stands on popular uprisings and the end of tyranny in countries across the world.

Catholics in democratic countries are demanding more say. And the laity, both men and women, must take more responsibility in the church due to the growing shortage of priests. This also applies to the much greater dearth of priests in Latin America, where self-proclaimed Evangelical preachers in storefront churches are becoming serious challengers to the Catholic Church.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis already showed that he could rule with a flexible hand in such cases. And it may in fact be easier for a non-European pope to find answers to many of these questions.

For the German bishops, however, change could be coming: After the election in Rome, they all praised the example of modesty and humility set by the new pope. This could set a new standard for their own behavior, and it could happen more quickly than many an archbishop in Germany would like. From the squandering of church tax revenue to opulent episcopal sees, dark official limousines with chauffeurs, well-stocked wine cellars and ample household staff, the luxury and status symbols of German bishops are suddenly subject to negotiation.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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kinoptika 03/18/2013
1. Hope?
There's something I just can't get through my head, if the World's economy and markets are in the hands of Banks, conglomerates and Corporations under the blessing of most of the governments on Earth, how is the Pope [any] hope for the poor?
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