Pope Francis: just another shepherd in sheep's clothing
He may be a Latin lover of life, but don't hold your breath waiting for big reforms, writes Brendan O'Connor
Yesterday, for the first time in six centuries, two popes met. They had lunch.
Who can say if the older man enjoys his lunch much anymore? The younger man, the new Pope, for all his asceticism, probably does enjoy his lunch. When he addressed pilgrims for the first time in St Peter's Square recently, he told them to have a good lunch.
It was an acknowledgement that they were in Rome, where the grub is good, and that they should enjoy it. Benedict rarely encouraged the faithful to enjoy themselves while they were in Rome.
This new guy you could imagine bringing people on guided tours: "Don't get hung up on all the religion, folks. Enjoy yourselves while you're here too. It's Rome! Why so serious? Check out the sights, the shops. Relax!"
They're already calling Francis "the people's Pope", which is fitting really, seeing as he seems to enjoy the same healthy disregard for protocol as Diana, the people's Princess, and a sort of secular pope of her time. He is also called the Smiling Pope or the Unpredictable Pope.
He travels in an open-topped 4x4 rather than a formal popemobile, seeming to say: "Shoot me. Shoot me if you like. But who's gonna wanna shoot me? Eh? Admit it – you love me!"
He seems to like to break away from his security people and stage spontaneous walkabouts, kissing babies and blessing the disabled. If this guy was a film star, and, let's face it, he could be if he wanted to be right now, he would be Tom Cruise, who is famed for spending hours outside premieres greeting fans.
Soon enough, the Pope will be taking people's mobile phones to talk to their mothers. If he was a politician – and he wouldn't do badly at that either – he would be Bill Clinton, a man of the people, with ordinary tastes and appetites just like the rest of us.
We know the Pope used to dance a mean tango, a dance that he loved because, he said, it came from inside of him, which is as close as a pope has come to acknowledging his libido in recent times. We know he danced that tango – a dance which the Vatican condemned as immoral not that long ago – with a woman no less.
Indeed, he seems to be a man who has known the love of the woman, or has at least known what it is to love a girl. Next to pale, crumbly, dried-out-looking Benedict, Francis is a hot-blooded, Latin lover of life.
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But never forget that it was always the cool teacher, the one who let you call him by his first name, who was the worst disciplinarian when it came down to it.
Remember when JP2 was here, charming us all, telling us how much he loved us, another football fan, a man who, like Francis, had a real past as a human being? And remember then it turned out that he was simultaneously dragging the church back decades, to more conservative, pre-Vatican II times.
If we think Francis will bring in women priests and tolerance towards difference, we could be sorely mistaken. He may wear old shoes, take the bus, pay his hotel bills, make his own phone calls, like a joke, and say "Buona Sera" like Dean Martin used to – but he's still a Catholic, and a traditional one in many ways, and he didn't get where he is today, securing the top job on his second run, by being some pinko commie liberal feminist.