This week marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s election. His appearance on the loggia above St Peter’s was a shock to almost everyone. He was not the Pope we were expecting. The world scrambled to catch up, and it took a few hours. In Washington DC, where I was at the time, the initial description of Jorge Mario Bergolio given by the ultra-liberal National Public Radio was that he was a hyper-conservative authoritarian who probably had far-right sympathies in Argentina.
But it did not take long for everyone to realise we had a new Pope with a different style. Right from his famous “good evening” from the loggia, the first days of his pontificate refreshed the image of the papacy as he settled his hotel bill in person and announced he would remain at the Domus Sanctae Marthae guest house instead of moving into the Apostolic Palace.
This somewhat demonstrative humility charmed the world’s press. They hailed him as the simple priest from the far side of the world who would blow through the stale Vatican corridors like a cleansing wind. It was a hope many shared.
It is easy to forget just what a cloud Pope Benedict XVI resigned under. After two instalments of the Vatileaks scandals and the constant background noise of financial corruption and mafia-esque cliques in the curia, Pope Benedict commissioned an enquiry into Vatican governance. The final report, which was for meant his eyes only, supposedly confirmed him in his intention to resign and hand the Herculean task of reform over to a new pope.
The initial signs suggested that Francis was the man for the job. The world expected the new outsider Pope to focus on curial reform, and he seemed ready to think and act on a grand scale. A slew of new committees and departments were created, all of them expressly directed towards wholesale reform.
Francis formed the Council of Cardinals (C9) with the aim of reviewing and renewing not just curial operations but also the Vatican’s entire governing constitution. He created a new Council and Prefecture for the Economy, as well as the Office of the Auditor General, and gave Cardinal George Pell, himself a determined reformer, a mandate to clean up the finances.
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