Pope Francis I's first year in office
Release Date 12 March 2014
Thursday 13 March marks Francis's first year as Pope. Below Dr Rebecca Rist, a papal expert from the University of Reading, examines issues including the Vatican's finances, the battle between the Pastoralists and Traditionalists that will shape his papacy, and highlights how a battered Renault and a ‘selfie' are part of a Pope's PR machine.
A year more than some Popes
"On 13 March Pope Francis I will have been in office for a year. By lasting this long he has done rather better than a number of his predecessors including the medieval pope Celestine V (1294) who resigned after only six months in office, and much more recently John Paul I (1978) who survived less than a month."
PR savvy Francis a sweeping change from Benedict
"Francis' easy-going, down-to-earth, people-friendly style is in marked contrast to that of his shy, retiring, scholarly predecessor Benedict XVI (2005-2013). So far he has been able to charm the media, his first public words as Pope a disarming ‘good evening', and his popularity ratings in Italy are sky high.
"His decision to live in the Vatican Guest House and drive a battered old Renault are decisive attempts to break with the past. A recent ‘selfie' is a sure sign he wishes to reach out to all age groups. However, by including Benedict in consistory the other week and canonising JPII, he is shoring up critics that he has moved away from his predecessors.
"There is even a new weekly magazine Il Mio Papa devoted entirely to his life. In December 2013 he featured on the front page of ‘Time Magazine' - the last pope to gain such an accolade in 1963 was the so-called ‘Good Pope', John XXIII - whose canonization is forthcoming.
"Crucially Francis seems to have overcome his biggest hurdle - the early criticism that he didn't do enough to fight the military dictatorship in the 70s and 80s. We wait to see whether this honeymoon period will last.
"Benedict's interests for the Church included a return to fundamental Christian values against what he saw as the increasing threat of secularisation and relativism in the West. An intellectual force with a sense for the beautiful and the good and ‘the pontiff of aesthetics' according to the Los Angeles Times. His major projects included inter-faith dialogue, encouraging the Ordinariate and permitting the revival of the Tridentine Mass.
"Francis has placed renewed emphasis on tackling poverty, the importance of the family as the bedrock of society, and the looming threat of persecution of Christian minorities world-wide.
'Cleaning-up' the Vatican
"Perhaps the most immediate priority for Francis is to ‘clean-up' the Vatican. He has signalled his intentions by establishing a committee of eight cardinals, including Cardinal Pell, who has now been appointed to be the first Cardinal-Prefect of the newly-created Secretariat for the Economy, created to straighten out Vatican finances.
"This is a mammoth task, due not only to the lobbying of interest groups inside the Curia but also to murky links between Vatican financiers over-fond of kickbacks. Not forgetting the often corrupt financial world of Italian politics.
"There is also the wider problem of the Vatican Bank which faces accusations of waste and money laundering. A major part of the project will be to ‘clean-up' the disarray exposed by the ‘Vatileaks' scandal, in which private letters to Benedict XVI leaked by his personal butler revealed infighting and corruption.
"The ongoing struggles among the cardinals are viewed in Rome as for the soul of a man who, despite his intelligence and diplomatic abilities, is neither by nature nor by nurture familiar in particular with the European scene."
Pastoralists v Traditionalists - the winner will shape Francis' papacy
"Within the Vatican the ‘Pastoralists', who are liberal on issues such as communion for the divorced and remarried, and the ‘Traditionalists' are fighting to determine the direction of Francis's papacy.
‘Pastoralists' believe that relaxing the Church's rules on re-marriage will encourage lapsed Catholics to return; others counter that although this may be true in some cases the price to be paid is too high. Change would seriously demoralize loyal, ‘traditional' Catholics.
"There are radical divisions in many other areas - not least about ‘economic' policy which worries many right-wing Americans. American bishops remain extremely concerned about education and since they have the money which the Vatican needs, they are likely to be heeded.
"In theory both parties dispute concern for the poor but there is massive disagreement about how to cash this out in economic terms. Some ‘Pastoralists' might in extremis be prepared to move, to a limited extent, on contraception.
Who will win the battle?
"The ‘Pastoralists' seemed to have won a big battle in the early days of Francis' pontificate. They leant heavily on him to remove Cardinal Burke from the Congregation for Bishops - of which the newly-appointed-cardinal Archbishop Vincent Nichols is now a member.
"Another battle is being waged about the eventual fate of Archbishop Ludwig Muller, a protégé of Benedict XVI and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who was himself recently made a cardinal. Rumours are that ‘Pastoralists' would like him to become Archbishop of Cologne which would remove him from the Roman scene.
"The ‘Pastoralists' would also like to see much of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's power devolved to local bishops' conferences. This has the potential to cause clashes between different national groups and Rome, together with divisive variations in practice."
Will these divisions cause major change?
"Despite these deep divisions, which are issues of substance as well as style, it is extremely unlikely that there will be any change in the Church's stance on abortion or euthanasia. It sees these issues fundamental to its commitment to respect the rights of the individual from conception to the grave - and indeed to Francis' concern for the future of the family."