The world this morning wakes up with a new Pope, someone that no one expected to take the post. Here's how the papers have reacted to the news.
The world this morning wakes up with a new Pope, someone that no one expected to take the post.
The Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio will see his life transformed. Having lived a humble life in his own country that included cooking for himself and catching the bus to work, he is universally seen by Vatican watchers as a people person first and foremost.
Speaking last year, the new Pope Francis first accused fellow leaders in the Catholic church of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes, a sign perhaps of a Papacy that could be more humble in outlook.
For Andrew Brown, editor of the Guardian’s Comment is Free ‘belief’ section, the election of the man from Argentina represents an “extraordinary leap” for the world’s Catholics.
Writing on the Guardian website, he observes:
The choice of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to take office as Pope Francis is an extraordinary leap away from the conservative and cautious nature of the last two papacies. Although Bergoglio is described as a moderate conservative, the Jesuits have a reputation in the modern church for rigorous and independent thought, and under Pope John Paul II they were in deep disfavour for their sympathy with liberation theology in Latin America.
“The election of a Latin American Jesuit would also have been unthinkable 30 years ago. The choice of Bergoglio shows a decisive shift in the church’s centre of gravity away from Europe and towards the continent where most Catholics live, and where the challenges to the church are rather different to those in Europe.
Pope Francis faces a giant uphill struggle both to remoralise his ageing clergy and to inspire the flagging faithful while making his religion appear intellectually coherent, and morally attractive to outsiders.
In its editorial, the Guardian notes that the new Pontiff follows his predecessors as a social conservative with a “combative streak”.
Arguing that President Cristinia Kirchner will be pleased not to have to battle with him again, the paper says of Francis:
He is…a social conservative who has shown a combative streak in facing down the Argentinian government’s plans to introduce same-sex marriage. His election may indeed be a mixed blessing for President Cristina Kirchner, with whom he has spent much of his time in conflict.
But he is also the man who took his own priests to task for refusing to baptise the children of unmarried parents. He played an important role during the Argentinian economic crisis, establishing a reputation as someone prepared to speak up for the poor, and highlighting the costs of globalisation. He may help to lift the eyes of congregations in the west from the clerical abuse scandals with a new sense of mission – but it is a sense of mission that is needed almost as much in South America, where church attendance is declining almost as steeply as in Europe. He too will have to pay attention to global concerns about the role of the laity, and about the rise of a kind of militant evangelism.
The Telegraph picks up on the theme of continuity and change, arguing that whilst dramatic theological changes are unlikely, a chance exists for renewal.
The paper concludes in its editorial:
We should not expect dramatic theological change – no female priests, no shift on sexual mores, no grand rewriting of Catholic doctrine. Given that the new Pope, in a remarkable departure from tradition, will still be sharing the Vatican with the old one, it is not unreasonable to predict that the unshakeable commitment to orthodoxy observed by Benedict XVI will be retained.
Nevertheless, the appointment of a new Pope offers the Catholic Church a chance for renewal that cannot help but inspire even those who do not share his faith. The palpable excitement and devotion of the crowds outside the Vatican yesterday was inspiration in itself – even before they learnt of the historic choice of a non-European as the father of their Church. In a world where faith is increasingly under assault, and the values of selfish secularism are all too often in the ascendant, let us hope that Pope Francis – a man of obvious humility, compassion and learning – is able to reinvigorate the Christian spirit not just in the fresh pastures of the New World, but here in Europe, too.
Writing in stark language meanwhile, Geoffrey Robertson QC, author of The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuses, makes clear his belief that the top priority for the Vatican now is to take decisive action around the scandal of sexual abuses which have rocked the church.
In the Independent he writes:
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As the world absorbs the news of the appointment of the new Pope, it is time to ask how the next Supreme Leader of the Catholic Church can meet its most urgent challenge, of stopping its priests sexually molesting small boys.
There have been, on a realistic estimate, over 100,000 such victims since 1981 when Joseph Ratzinger became head of the Vatican office which declined to defrock paedophiles and instead approved their removal to other parishes and other countries.
These widespread and systematic sexual assaults can collectively be described as a crime against humanity. The church cannot atone just by paying compensation. Unless the new Pope installs a policy that minimises danger to children, he, like Benedict, will become complicit in ongoing but avoidable abuse.