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Pope Francis: the task in hand

15 March 2013


Governance: Cardinals watch as Pope Francis addresses the crowd in St Peter's Square, after the election result is announced, on Wednesday

Governance: Cardinals watch as Pope Francis addresses the crowd in St Peter's Square, after the election result is announced, on Wednesday

THE cardinals who elected Pope Francis were undoubtedly looking for a man capable of undertaking two large tasks.

The first involves what can broadly be described as internal reform. The second is to make the Church capable of fulfilling the mandate given to her by Jesus Christ - to spread the gospel through the world.

Its effectiveness in the second has been damaged by lack of action with the first. Internal reform includes the on-going work of purifying the Roman Catholic Church from clerical sex-abuse scandals.

Pope Francis must focus on the governance of the Vatican, end the squabbling between high-ranking cardinals that has dogged the late years of the papacy of Benedict XVI, and improve the operational efficiency and communications that let Pope Benedict down on more than one occasion.

Both Benedict XVI and John Paul II made "the new evangelisation" their priority. This term is used to describe the great project to regenerate the faith in mostly Western countries that were historically Christian but are now cutting adrift from their religious heritage.

The Catholic Church fears that, if the crisis of faith continues unabated, the Christian faith could disappear altogether in some countries. Pope Francis's membership of the Jesuit order may have swayed the cardinal-electors in view of the task in hand.

He will be expected to lead the Church as it tries to preach the gospel in a digital age, and often in the face of aggressive secularism which increasingly challenges Christian activity in public life. It will be of interest to see how he relates to the other Churches, which, in general, feel equally beleaguered.

Pope Francis, like the emerging generation of Roman Catholic leaders, takes the view that renewal can only be achieved if all the elements in the Church - cardinals, bishops, priests and laity - are first of all radically faithful to its teaching in their own lives, even if that comes at the price of ostracism, mockery, harassment, and even persecution.

It is likely that Pope Francis I will tie internal reform to the new evangelisation, therefore, in the hope that a more faithful Church will serve to regenerate the moral and social fabric of societies everywhere.


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