On doctrinal issues, the 265th successor to St Peter is no liberal. He is staunchly anti-abortion, anti-women’s ordination, pro-priestly celibacy and anti-gay marriage.
Despite this, however, what gives some liberals hope is that, in contrast to Benedict’s unrelenting devotion to doctrinal purity, Francis has in the past shown himself to be open to dialogue; a conservative, but a pragmatic one.
“I think there does seem to be hope that, whether or not he himself is conservative doctrinally, he’s (a): not as interested in academic theology as pope Benedict was, and (b): he does seem willing to allow for greater dialogue in the church around some of the more difficult doctrinal issues,” Beattie said.
“I’m hoping that he’ll be more open to dialogue with women on issues of sexuality and maybe not think that he really does have all the answers,” she said.
All of this, of course, is the external part of Francis’ job description. As tricky as it will no doubt be, it may have nothing on the internal element: reform of the curia, the Vatican’s disorganized and, lately, scandal-beset bureaucracy.
A month after he became pope, Francis announced a revolution in church governance, appointing eight cardinals from across the world to an advisory panel on Vatican reform. It was a bold step that made it clear — if anyone had any doubt — that change was afoot.
Francis had already made clear his intention to distance himself from the curia by refusing to move into the apostolic palace, said John Thavis, a long-time papal observer and author of The Vatican Diaries, a recent bestseller.
“The day he announced he was staying in the Domus Sanctae Marthae ... sent the strongest signal at a very early point that this was going to be a very different papacy. I’m sure the Roman curia officials immediately understood: ‘This pope is going to be much less controlled by us,’” Thavis said.
Can this pope possibly succeed where others have failed? The key will be to appoint the right people to help him, Thavis said.
Francis has yet to make the most important appointment — that of his secretary of state — but he is understood to be moving forward. On Friday he announced the establishment of a commission to reform the Holy See’s economic and administrative departments. The new body will look at ways of avoiding “the misuse of economic resources” and improve transparency.
“We’ve seen a string of popes who have wanted change at the Vatican, but either didn’t have the patience or didn’t have the energy,” Thavis said. “Now you have a pope who not only feels he has a mandate to change because that’s what the cardinals wanted, but who seems to realize that he is, after all, pope and can make those changes.”
Back on Via della Conciliazione, the broad avenue that leads from St Peter’s Square to the banks of the Tiber, the stalls selling Francis rosaries, Francis badges and Francis postcards attract people keen for a keepsake.
Antonio Cardone, who has had his stall for 30 years and over three pontificates, admits that not all pilgrims buy, but he doesn’t seem upset.
“There’s not much work but there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “Francis is of the people. He’s likeable. Benedict was not well-liked. With this one, it’s different.”