Pope without pomp
The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio surprised Vatican watchers. Why did the cardinals choose him, and what will this unshowy Argentinian do for the Catholic Church?
There seems little doubt but that the Vatileaks affair and all that it entailed played a crucial role in the election of Francis. Unlike eight years ago, when the local church cardinals arrived in Rome with few clear ideas or notions about the next pope, this time they all arrived in the holy city wanting to know what, in the name of the Lord, was going on in the holy see. Some of them even admitted that they had been doing Google searches on the subject.
Eight years ago, too, the curia ran just one horse, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who, as dean of the College of Cardinals, had skilfully presided over the setpiece interregnums, particularly the immensely moving funeral of John Paul II.
With a united block of Italian and curia votes behind him, and having convinced many of the local cardinals, Benedict romped home, in an election even quicker than that of Francis, in that he needed only four ballots.
This time, there was no such single curia candidate, as the curia and the Italian church were divided over Scola and Scherer. On top of that, a number of non-curia heavyweights – cardinals such as Donald Wuerl of Washington, Tim Dolan of New York, André Vingt-Trois of Paris, Christoph Schönborn of Vienna and probably many from the non-European regions – had the Vatileaks bit between the teeth.
For many of these, it seemed the curia had gone right off the rails, mainly concerned with its own interests which, in turn, were linked to powerful secular forces in Italian life. Many of these cardinals have long found it incomprehensible that the Italian church has been in bed with Silvio Berlusconi, the controversial businessman and former prime minister, for much of the past decade.
On top of that, Cardinal Scola’s links with the highly politicised and very influential Comunione e Liberazione movement confirmed their worst fears. Nor did it help Scola that the most prominent Comunione e Liberazione figure in Italian politics, the former president of Lombardy and close Berlusconi ally Roberto Formigoni, is under investigation in the wake of the collapse of his scandal-ridden regional government.
Time will tell how serious the result is for Italy and for the church, which is a huge moneyspinner for Italian tourism.
In the meantime, what does the election of Francis mean for the wider church? Are we on the edge of a bright new dawn brought about by all the “firsts” of Francis: first non-European for nearly 1,300 years; first Latin American; first Jesuit and so on?
Change of style
It is clear from his first moves that he represents a change of style. His “ buona sera ” from the loggia, his bowing of his head as he called on the faithful to pray for him and his simple recitation of the best-known Christian prayer were key indicators of this.
Within minutes of his election, he not only declined to wear the papal mantellina , or robe, but also rejected the golden crucifix offered to him by the pontifical master of ceremonies, choosing instead to hold his own iron cross. After his appearance on the loggia he declined to travel in the papal limousine, numberplate SCV1, to Stato della Città del Vaticano 1.
This is clearly a big change. One Vatican insider observed this week that the sense of Vatican ritual had grown in recent times. “You sometimes get the impression that long-abandoned vestments have been dug out of the Vatican wardrobes, and even Benedict sometimes looked as if he had tangled with a particularly heavy set of curtains on his way out of the sacristy.”