He prefers a Vatican guesthouse to the luxurious papal apartment occupied by his predecessors, he’s swapped a bulletproof limousine for a battered old runabout with 300,000km on the clock and he ducked a symphony concert organised in his honour because he had more urgent business. “I’m not a Renaissance prince,” he said.
The big tests are still to come, but six months after cardinals chose 76-year-old Argentinian cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to succeed Pope Benedict XVI as the head of the Catholic Church, it looks as if they made an inspired choice.
Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, might just be that rarest of creatures – a holy man. Not for him the trappings of wealth or the layers of intermediaries that separated his predecessors from the real world. One of his first actions as Pope was to call his newspaper vendor in Buenos Aires to cancel his delivery. Another was to call his shoemaker. “No red shoes, make them black as usual.”
And it is not just his personal style:
He has said he is not interested in judging people on the basis of their sexuality and has opened the door to a discussion about the possibility of married priests. He has also said the church’s focus on abortion, marriage and contraception is too narrow and is driving people away.
That does not mean the church is about to change its position on any or all of those issues, but it does indicate a new willingness to consider issues of importance to Catholics.
That can only be good for the church and a world desperately in need of goodness and compassion.
I don’t see a change in doctrine, as much as emphasis. But even a 2,000 year old institution does change with the times to some degree. In fact one of the massive design faults in religions like Islam is an inability to modernise because there is no central authority in the religion. Christian churches can and do modernise to reflect the changing world, hence why the Catholic Church no longer bans reprinting Galileo’s works.