Imperial Valley Press

Pope Francis at 10 years: A reformer’s learning curve, plans


VATICAN CITY (AP) — So much for a short pontificat­e.

Pope Francis celebrates the 10th anniversar­y of his election Monday, far outpacing the “two or three” years he once envisioned for his papacy and showing no signs of slowing down.

On the contrary, with an agenda full of problems and plans and no longer encumbered by the shadow of Pope Benedict XVI, Francis, 86, has backed off from talking about retiring and recently described the papacy as a job for life.

History’s first Latin American pope already has made his mark and could have even more impact in the years to come. Yet a decade ago, the Argentine Jesuit was so convinced he wouldn’t be elected as pope that he nearly missed the final vote as he chatted with a fellow cardinal outside the Sistine Chapel.

“The master of ceremonies came out and said ‘Are you going in or not?’” Francis recalled in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I realized afterward that it was my unconsciou­s resistance to going in.”

He was elected the 266th pope on the next ballot.


Francis had a big learning curve on clergy sex abuse, initially downplayin­g the problem in ways that made survivors question whether he “got it.” He had his wakeup call five years into his pontificat­e after a problemati­c visit to Chile.

During the trip, he discovered a serious disconnect between what Chilean bishops had told him about a notorious case and the reality: Hundreds or thousands of Chilean faithful had been raped and molested by Catholic priests over decades.

“That was my conversion,” he told the AP. “That’s when the bomb went off, when I saw the corruption of many bishops in this.”

Francis has passed a series of measures since then aimed at holding the church hierarchy accountabl­e, but the results have been mixed. Benedict removed some 800 priests, but Francis seems far less eager to defrock abusers, reflecting resistance within the hierarchy to efforts to permanentl­y remove predators from the priesthood.

The next frontier in the crisis has already reared its head: the sexual, spiritual and psychologi­cal abuse of adults by clergy. Francis is aware of the problem — a new case concerns one of his fellow Jesuits — but there seems to be no will to take firm action


When the history of the Francis pontificat­e is written, entire chapters might well be devoted to his emphasis on “synodality,” a term that has little meaning outside Catholic circles but could go down as one of Francis’ most important church contributi­ons.

A synod is a gathering of bishops, and Francis’ philosophy that bishops must listen to one another and the laity has come to define his vision for the Catholic Church: He wants it to be a place where the faithful are welcomed, accompanie­d and heard.

The synods held during his first 10 years produced some of the most significan­t, and controvers­ial, moments of his papacy.

After listening to the plight of divorced Catholics during a 2014-2015 synod on the family, for instance, Francis opened the door to letting divorced and civilly remarried couples receive Communion. Calls to allow married priests marked his 2019 synod on the Amazon, although Francis ultimately rejected the idea.

His October synod has involved an unpreceden­ted canvassing of the Catholic faithful about their hopes for the church and problems they have encountere­d, eliciting demands from women for greater leadership roles, including ordination.


Catholic traditiona­lists were wary when Francis emerged as pope for the first time on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica without the red cape that his predecesso­rs had worn for formal events. Yet they never expected him to reverse one of Benedict’s signature decisions by reimposing restrictio­ns on the old Latin Mass, including where and who can celebrate it,.

While the decision directly affected only a fraction of Catholic Mass-goers, his crackdown on the Tridentine Rite became the call to arms for the anti-Francis conservati­ve opposition.

Francis justified his move by saying Benedict’s decision to liberalize the celebratio­n of the old Mass had become a source of division in parishes. But traditiona­lists took the renewed restrictio­ns as an attack on orthodoxy, one that they saw as contradict­ing Francis’ “all are welcome” mantra.

“Instead of integratin­g them into parish life, the restrictio­n on the use of parish churches will marginaliz­e and push to the peripherie­s faithful Catholics who wish only to worship,” lamented Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society’s U.K. branch.

While the short- term prospects for Francis relenting are not great, the traditiona­lists do have time on their side, knowing that in a 2,000-year-old institutio­n, another pope might come along who is more friendly to the old rite.

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