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Pope Francis: The challenges ahead

Updated: Mar 19, 2013, 16:33 PM IST

Akrita Reyar

Even as the new Pope, Francis I, has been inaugurated with millions in attendance at St Peter`s Square in the Vatican, his pontificate journey is unlikely to be less than testing.

The papacy in recent times has been in the eye of several storms, one bigger than the other; starting with a scandal at the Vatican itself.

Pope Benedict XVI’s personal butler Paolo Gabriele had last year released some confidential papers that shed light on corruption, money laundering and dubious bank dealings involving the Vatican. The disclosures also highlighted the internal equations at the apex seat of the Catholic Church, wherein those at the top of the hierarchy were involved in a power struggle.

The scandal that came to be dubbed as Vatileaks was later put up for internal investigation, which further revealed blackmailing of homosexual clergy.

The case received more spotlight after a book by the title ‘His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI’ brought forth how jealousy and intrigue ruled the roost at the top echelons of the clergy and how bribes may have been paid to get an audience with the Pope himself.

Undoubtedly, Vatileaks was one of the biggest blows to Pope Benedict who is known to have placed high degree of trust in his butler. Worse still, it exposed the underbelly of the Vatican, and so the new Pope clearly has a task cut out to bring order to and restore reverence for the Roman Curia. This apparently was even one of the topics of intense discussion during the Pope elections.

Besides dealing with problems at home, Pope Francis would also have to address other controversial issues that have been at the heart of raging debates all over the world. These include the position of the Church on abortion, divorce, same sex marriages and contraception.

The contemporary world is unable to come to terms with the Church’s problem with using condoms, at a time when they may be the best feasible option to control unwanted pregnancies and an aid to prevent sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS. Or why abortion should not be an option at least if the mother’s life is in danger or if the pregnancy was forced.

Of course, the discourse of same-sex marriage remains more complicated and even the western world is yet to arrive at a conclusive consensus, but why should two individuals tied in matrimony not be allowed to break free and walk away from each other if they cannot stand to live under the same roof anymore.

As far as Pope Francis is concerned, he remains staunchly opposed to all these modern day concepts and has spoken against them at every forum so as to enable people to uphold “life ethics”. But to convince Christians everywhere would be a herculean task, especially when the Church itself is battling allegations of homosexuality and child abuse by clerics, and some reinvention of thought and practice may be needed if the dwindling number of followers in the West has to be enlarged.

Another concept that new age followers can’t come to terms with is the subservient position of women in society in the way Church sees it. Why should there not be ordination of deserving women, and why should half the population be kept away from holding positions in Church.

Other challenges would include the way the Church approaches and conceives its relationship with other faiths in a world that is brutally divided across bloody lines drawn because of religion.

And how would the plush citadels of Vatican reconnect better with the developing and under-developed nations which are plagued by problems of disease, malnutrition, illiteracy and poverty. On this front though, Francis I may be adept, as he comes from Argentina, which according to him is at the “end of the earth”.