What the International Monetary Fund is to bankrupt nations, Pope Francis is to the Vatican, according to an Italian author of a new book on the pontiff.
Massimo Franco, a senior correspondent for Corriere della Sera, believes Francis has been called to save the Vatican from "moral default" after the scandals of recent years, and that he is already making an impact on reforming the Roman Curia, but not without some resistance.
“The real novelty is not just that Francis is a Latin American, but he’s a complete outsider,” said Franco, author of "Il Vaticano Secondo Francesco" (The Vatican According to Francis).
Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man
This factor, Franco believes, is allowing him to bring a three-fold “South American model” to the culture of the Vatican: a focus on the poor over ritual and power, a more ebullient and less defensive approach due to his popularity and backing of high numbers of Latin American Catholics, and a unity of Church leadership that episcopates in South America have enjoyed for the past five years.
But his key advantage, Franco argues, was arriving on the scene at the right time, after Vatican scandals such as Vatileaks and poor financial scrutiny.
“One cannot explain his election without the resignation of Benedict XVI,” said Franco, who wrote a 2010 book on how the Vatican had lost influence in the West. “That resignation signaled that all the positions were at ground zero in the Vatican, so at that point, even a Jesuit could become Pope; even a Latin American could become Pope.”
This "moral default" of a heavily Italian-staffed Vatican, Franco believes, led to cardinals unanimously rejecting an Italian Pope. “Not by chance, some American cardinals defined some Italian cardinals as the poison-and-dagger lobby, which means that a very bad impression of the way Italians acted had pervaded the other episcopates.”
Although Francis has continued appointing many Italians, he has chosen mostly those outside the Roman Curia, and not officials who were powerful in the past. This “speaks volumes” for the Pope’s approach, Franco said, presenting both an “opportunity and a risk” because the Pope “doesn’t know very well” how the Curia works.
Franco also sees “very strong and rooted” pockets of resistance to the Pope’s reform programme, which includes overhauling Vatican administration, especially regarding finances.
”The Pope is trying very hard to obtain results [but] in the governance of the Vatican, the challenge is still there. He has not yet won,” he said. Certain officials are “waiting for the Pope to commit some mistake,” said Franco, “but so far, we have seen the Pope is winning.”
Regarding the Pope’s orthodoxy, the Italian writer believes he is more conservative than many think, and cites as an example tough statements that followed his recent meetings with Presidents Hollande and Obama.
The Pope wants to “follow processes,” Franco said, but doesn’t want to impose any ideology or make the truth appear demanding. “His approach to problems is to make them emerge, to have a debate,” and although he has been painted as progressive Pope, his feeling is that, “eventually, we’ll see that he’s more conservative than we think.”
Still, although Francis has won widespread praise from the world at large, orthodox Catholics have been unsettled by some of his words and actions, and detect a tendency to marginalize Catholics who favor tradition and orthodoxy.
More than his comments on prudential matters like the economy, they are especially uneasy with his decision to hold a Synod of Bishops in the fall on the subject of the family as it already appears to be being hijacked by friends of Francis on the progressive wing of the Church to foist pastoral changes on the Catholic faithful. These changes, they argue, could make it appear the Church has loosened its teaching on marriage and other key teachings when that is not the case.
For this reason, Franco and others are viewing Francis’ handling of the October assembly as a litmus test for where he really stands on these issues. But the Italian author is confident the Pope will not depart from established doctrine.
“There is a different stress, a different emphasis, but no substantive change of positions,” Franco said. “He wants a debate, but a different approach, because he’s very inclusive.
Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man
Despite traditionalist Catholics feeling alienated by this pontificate, Franco believes the Pope “doesn’t want to exclude anybody.”
“He knows the Church comes from a position of very deep difficulties, and he doesn’t want to stress them anymore,” Franco said. “He wants to recover and rescue the faithful and to show that the Church is open to the world.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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