Pope Francis, the new Bishop of Rome, has chosen a good name – one that expresses the simplicity, humility and self-sacrifice of Saint Francis of Assisi, back in the 13th century. His modest bearing and conversational style of speech as he appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s on Wednesday night gave every reason to believe that in him these qualities are genuine.
The election of a pope from the Western Hemisphere – still the New World, in this context – is a great and welcome change.
It is regrettable, however, that Francis is unlikely to change the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, including its opposition to contraception. This will disappoint many Roman Catholics in North America and Europe.
We may also have serious doubts that he is the person to take control of, and reform, the Vatican bureaucracy. As a comparative outsider, he may well have the desire to clean up the Vatican government, but not enough of the know-how.
In this respect, the ideal pope would be hard to find: someone who knows his way around that bureaucracy but can establish good governance. He may need, so to speak, a good prime minister to complement his role as head of state – and as “the vicar of Christ.”
Though the worst of the actual sexual abuse – the events – may be in the past, accountability for it has not been achieved, and the bureaucrats who have raised obstacles on that and on financial scandals are mostly still in place.
Consequently, the cover-up of sexual abuse is a poison still at work.
Father Thomas Rosica, of Toronto, who was seconded to the Vatican press office for the papal election, aptly told Le Soleil, the Quebec newspaper, earlier this week that the church is looking for “a saint with an MBA” – a possibility, but an extremely improbable combination. Francis is more on the saintly side, and at 76 is most unlikely to take the time to study at an elite management school – though the rigours of his Jesuit training may help.
Even so, John XXIII was an elderly, amiable pope who lived only five years in office; few expected that he would initiate the major changes of Vatican II. Pope Francis may yet surprise us all and make large waves.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that John XXIII was pope for three years. He was pope for five years, from 1958 to 1963. This version has been corrected.