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How Pope Francis will mend a broken church

  • 14 March 2013
The election of a new pope is always an exciting moment for the Church and the world. After weeks of uncertainty, it seems there is good reason to celebrate the election of Pope Francis I, and to congratulate and offer support to him in the immense task ahead.

The excitement of the election of a new pope always brings with it the expectation that he is a new Messiah and has the ability to fix what is broken with the Church. But a more realistic, and indeed preferable, aspiration is for him to acknowledge before all else the ways in which the Church is broken.

With Benedict's resignation acting as a circuit breaker, the world will be looking to Francis to fix the Church. But in reality his role will be to set the Church on the path to recovery, along the lines of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. This will begin with the admission that the life of the Church is out of control in the face of clergy sexual abuse and other systemic challenges.

It would seem that such a disposition of humility and honesty is a more effective and inclusive path than attempting to turn the Church upside down. Such a radical approach would further polarise an already divided Church, and we know from his past actions that Francis is more of a bridge builder than a revolutionary. 

He was far from liberation theology, which was seen to be the way to decisively switch the allegiance of the Catholic Church in Latin American from the ruling elites to the poor. He preferred to live with the dictatorships, to plead the cause of the poor, but make his statement by making radical changes to his own lifestyle. 

After his appointment as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis broke with tradition by choosing to live in a small apartment rather than the palatial bishop's residence. This shows his commitment to acting as a bridge between the Church of the poor and the Church of the Latin American elites in a way will hopefully be translated into a determination to walk in the shoes of sexual abuse victims, who have been humiliated by those bound up with the power and privilege of a Church that values the patronage of elites.  

Early commentaries on the new pope are emphasising his distaste for the clericalism that many believe has been a key factor in the Church's sexual