A cool change, but what has Pope Francis actually achieved?
By Marcus O'Donnell
February 10, 2014
A year ago this week, the ageing, doctrinaire and aristocratic Pope, Benedict XVI, shocked keen Vatican watchers and the public alike by his sudden resignation. Few were prepared for the shockwaves that would follow.
The church had become embroiled in scandal after scandal: from corruption at the Vatican Bank through to its continuing refusal to deal with sexual abuse. It had lost, many would have thought irretrievably, what little relevance it still claimed in the contemporary world.
So nobody would have predicted that, less than a year later, Benedict’s successor would be lauded as Person of the Year by both Time magazine and, even more surprisingly, the lesbian and gay newsweekly, The Advocate. Then one-time-youth-culture bible Rolling Stone’s cover story earlier this year made it official: the man Gawker dubbed “cool Pope Francis” is a rock star.
The contrast between the two Popes – the fiercely, conservative, designer-slipper-wearing Benedict and the no-nonsense Francis who refused to even move into the lavish Papal apartments – couldn’t be starker.
But almost a year into Francis’ new papacy (his papacy commenced on March 13, 2013) it’s time to ask the serious question: has anything really changed?
The damning UN report that last week blasted the church for its slow and inadequate response to the sexual abuse of children by clergy, shows it will take more than papal selfies and a few surprise phone calls to turn the public fortunes of the church around.
According to the report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child:
The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.
Late last year Francis announced that a Vatican commission would address sexual abuse in the Church, but over the course of his first year in office he has made little headway on this critical issue. As late as December of last year the Pope’s representative in Australia and his bureaucrats in Rome, were refusing to hand over documents about clergy child abusers to the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into sex abuse, and only did so after the Commission went public about the refusal.