A reformer who defies conventions, shocks conservatives
Pope Francis has been labelled a “Marxist” for criticising unbridled capitalism and calling for a fairer distribution of global resources. He says he is not offended by the label, and insists his stance is fully in line with the Gospel.
Alvise Armellini –
Pope Francis is a global conscience stirrer on peace, climate change and migration issues, as well as a reforming leader of the Catholic Church who preaches mercy and compassion at the expense of doctrinarian inflexibility.
This year, he has sparked an unprecedented backlash among Catholic conservatives with a decision to allow for a case-by-case waiver, under exceptional circumstances, of a long-standing ban on remarried divorcees taking the Holy Communion.
Four cardinals from Germany, Italy and the United States published a letter venting strong doubts on the issue. The move caused an uproar, and was described by the dean of the top Vatican canon law court as a “grave scandal.”
Previously, the pope made waves by affirming that the Catholic Church should not “obsess” about family ethics, although he has never suggested that its stances on matters like abortion and divorce could fundamentally change.
In 2013, he famously said of homosexuals, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge,” but he has also described homosexuality as a “condition” that should not be cause “for celebration.”
This year, he set up a committee to study the role of female assistant priests, or deacons, in early Christianity, but reiterated that women will never be let into the Catholic clergy.
Francis has also been labelled a “Marxist” for criticising unbridled capitalism and calling for a fairer distribution of global resources. He says he is not offended by the label, and insists his stance is fully in line with the Gospel.
In almost four years of papacy, he has vocally championed global peace and inter-religious dialogue, raising his voice on Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, extremism, and brokering a historic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.
Under his watch, the Vatican was involved in efforts to bring to an end the 52-year-old civil war in Colombia, but the peace deal between the government and rebel groups was rejected in an October referendum. The deal has since been renegotiated.
On the environment, Francis has warned in a landmark encyclical that the earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” and said climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Italian migrants in Argentina, the pontiff has condemned “global indifference” towards refugees, personally offering shelter to 21 Syrians in Rome and saying in 2014: “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.”
The 80-year-old Francis is the first non-European pope since the 8th century, and the first to name himself after St Francis of Assisi, a medieval monk famous for his poverty vows, love of nature and rejection of violence.
Upon his election on March 13, 2013, he quipped that he had come “almost from the end of the world” to take over the helm of the Catholic Church. Three days later, he said he wanted to lead “a poor church, for the poor.”
He inherited the papal throne at a time of unprecedented crisis: his predecessor, Benedict XVI, was the first pope to resign in almost 600 years, dogged by cases of paedophile priests around the world and the VatiLeaks affair, which exposed alleged cronyism and infighting.
Since then, Francis has made headlines with unusually outspoken remarks and wide-ranging administrative reforms, including a radical overhaul of the Vatican’s infamous bank, the Institute for ReligiousWorks.
Those have been matched by unorthodox displays of humility and modesty. For example, Francis has chosen to live in a Vatican guesthouse, rather than in grand papal apartments, and uses an ordinary hatchback as an official car. — dpa