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New Pope has what Church needs, Vatican expert says

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis, the Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio, will be expected to clean up the Catholic Church's administration and finances and restore its moral leadership role, turning a page on recent scandals.

His predecessor, Benedict XVI, is seen as a great spiritual leader. But many commentators have described him as a poor manager of everyday affairs, who left the Roman Curia, the Church's government body, in disarray. He also lacked the popular touch of the late John Paul II.

Pope Francis addresses the crowd at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday.


Pope Francis addresses the crowd at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday.

Experts agree that what the Church now needs is not just a fine intellectual, but also an inspiring pastor and someone with proven management skills.

"You put all that together and it looks like Jesus Christ with an MBA. That's a pretty tough job description for anybody," Father Thomas Reese, a theologian from Georgetown University, told Vatican Radio this week.

Francesco Clementi, an expert on Vatican governance from the University of Perugia, is convinced that the new Pope has what it takes.

"He has a very strong pastoral profile, he is a simple man who lives simply, but he also has a great expertise of government since he has occupied practically all posts in the Curia," Clementi said.

At the same time, his relatively advanced age -- 76 -- might make him "a transitional pope" rather than "the pope for the new millennium," Clementi said.

Francis has been a member of several congregations -- the Vatican's equivalent of ministries -- but has never led them. Vatican Insider, a specialized website, notes that he would only come to Rome "when it was absolutely necessary."

As a result, he is not associated with VatiLeaks -- the leaking of confidential papal papers last year that shed light on alleged infighting between leading Curia members, as well as on cases of graft and financial impropriety.

In his first outing before the faithful, Francis appeared relaxed and at ease, joking about coming "almost from the end of the world," a reference to his roots and his status as the first pope to hail from Latin America.

His choice of Francis as a name evokes a preference for a simple lifestyle. As an archbishop, Bergoglio avoided chauffeured cars in favour of public transport. He also cooked his own meals, according to National Catholic Reporter, a specialized website.

As pope, one of his priorities is expected to be the reform of the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), the Vatican's bank, which has a shady reputation and is under investigation in Italy for money laundering.

Famiglia Cristiana, a progressive Catholic weekly, has urged the new Pope to completely do away with the IOR. One of the cardinal electors, John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Nigeria, recently told Italian television channel La7 that the bank was not indispensable.

"The IOR is not essential to the Holy Father's ministry as successor of Peter. I am not sure if Peter had a bank," he said.

There is also pressure from cardinals from the United States and elsewhere to decentralize the Church's structure, giving more say to bishops from regions where Catholicism is on the rise, such as Latin America and Africa.

Another key issue is the problem of pedophile priests, which has sullied the reputation of the Church worldwide.

"Our hope is that the new Pope will be bold and courageous in tackling the centuries-old and ongoing abuse and cover up crisis in the church," said the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a U.S.-based group.

The 265th successor to the Chair of Saint Peter will also have to confront long-standing problems, such as the persecution of Christians in Africa and Asia, and Catholicism's declining influence in the West amid a mounting wave of secularism.

Finally, he is unlikely to dramatically alter the Church's conservative views on issues like gay marriage, women's ordination, clerical celibacy, abortion and euthanasia.

-- McClatchy News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2013 A15

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