Thursday 18 January 2018

Michael Kelly: Change, yes – but it won't please everyone

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

US President Barack Obama predicted in 2008 that his time in office would herald an era when the rising seas caused by climate change would begin to fall. It hasn't happened. Wisely, Pope Francis has made no such lofty predictions about his pontificate. Nonetheless, one can't help having the feeling that people are projecting unrealistic expectations on to the Argentine Pope.

Francis must be delighted with the wave of warmth and goodwill that has greeted his election. His predecessor, Benedict XVI was destined to be burdened with negative baggage from his role as John Paul II's doctrinal watchdog. Carlsberg doesn't do Popes, but if it did, a smiling man from Buenos Aires who lived in a modest apartment and caught the bus to his office in the morning ticks a lot of boxes.

The election of a Latin American Pope is somewhat of a quiet revolution in itself. He's the first non-European in over 1,200 years. People are looking to 76-year-old Francis for reform. In a sense, the Catholic Church is always reforming. The problem with the idea of reform, however, is that many Catholics tend to want to reshape the church in their own image and likeness, and not everyone can win. As Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has shrewdly observed, when people talk about a 'listening church', they often mean that the church should listen to them. So, what sort of reform can we expect from Pope Francis? One thing is clear, it will be a reform that is Catholic. Some newspaper columnists have referred to his "hard line" on abortion.

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