Francis: 10 years of the traveling and populist pope, master of ambiguity

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The ten years of the pontificate of Francis, the pope from the “end of the world” as he likes to define himself, were those of a great traveller: 40 trips, 60 countries visited and more than 400,000 kilometers traveled, i. equivalent of 10 times around the Earth, or a trip to the moon.

Bergoglio versus the capitalist West

For the first time in 1300 years, the Vatican is governed by someone who was not born in Europe. Here is the first key to reading the papacy of Francis: his predilection for peripheral places. Experts, even the most critical like the Italian historian Loris Zanatta, agree that his travels favored poor, neglected countries, where the Catholic Church was beginning to be suspected for its coldness and its aloofness in the face of social emergencies. the most serious. “The pope sees Europe as a decadent continent and thinks there is a purer religious feeling on the periphery,” Zanatta explained in an interview with the Argentine daily. The Nation. And he added that for this reason “Bergoglio gave an extraordinary impulse to the de-Westernization of the Catholic Church”.

The southern pope who fails to revert the exodus of Catholics to the Evangelical Church…

The Argentinian pope, who since his election has never set foot in Buenos Aires again, nevertheless visited ten countries on the South American continent, where the largest number of Catholics in the world live. But here too, the Vatican continues to give ground. Because, during the last thirty years, the Catholic Church in Latin America has lost more than 70 million faithful, practically all members of the middle and poor strata of society, who have turned en masse to evangelical communities. In other words, even the presence of a Latin American pope failed to reverse the trend.

A pope of the poor “supertar”?

What elements transformed a little-known South American bishop into a revered and untouchable world star? There are at least four actors who contributed to this result: Church leaders who, reading the signs of the times, chose a “populist” pontiff; the press, which from the first day exalted every word, every gesture, every action of the Argentine pope; progressive Catholics, always in the hope that the Second Vatican Council will finally be implemented; and finally this political and social left which in recent years has not ceased to genuflect before the Jesuit of Buenos Aires.

To these must be added a fifth actor: the traditionalist right, whose demonization of the pope’s work only magnifies the effects of a pontificate effectively marked by immobility.

A first book to go deeper into the subject

To briefly trace the “first” ten years of this colorful character who is much talked about, we have selected two books published, for the time being, only in Italian. The first, by sociologist Marco Marzano entitled The motionless Chiesa (the Immobile Church, ed. Laterza), is a book from 2018, written on the occasion of the first five years of the pontificate and where the author already warns about the very skilful media operation of the “pope of the poor”.

According to Marzano, the media echoes the spiritual message and especially the language of Pope Francis as important innovations on the world religious scene. But the pontiff remains only with his good intentions and disappoints in his goal of reforming the Church and initiating this great transformation that so many Catholics and part of the secular public opinion awaited with concern.

A Che Guevara-style revolutionary? Nay, a skilful strategist, keen on demagogic speeches à la Fidel Castro or Perón…

For ten years, we have been presented with Francis as a revolutionary, interested in radically changing the Church, especially on the major issues that any Catholic reformer must address such as the reform of the curia, the doctrine of morals and sexuality, celibacy obligatory for the clergy and the role of women.

Marzano is unambiguous: the papacy’s record on all these fronts is decidedly disappointing. Moreover, reforming the Church is complicated, risky and ultimately unnecessary, while the organization enjoys moderate health, at least outside of Europe. In the old continent, it suffers from a decline similar to that of all the other great religious institutions.

The cause is a process of secularization which cannot be stopped by any reform. In this situation, it seems preferable to keep intact the traditional clerical and centralized physiognomy of the organization, focusing attention, including the media, on social and economic issues: in these areas, the Pope and the Catholic hierarchs have no no direct responsibility and will therefore never be called upon to respond to them.

The unmasked pope. A historian’s point of view

The second book, very recent, by the historian Loris Zanatta, professor at the University of Bologna and specialist in contemporary Latin America, has long followed in the footsteps of Bergoglio and proves to be a fine analysis of the eminently political discourse of the leader of the Vatican, inspired by its “liars” and great speakers who were Fidel Castro and Perón, the populist president of Argentina.

In Il populismo gesuita. Peron, Fidel, Bergoglio (ed. Laterza), the historian from Bologna unmasks the pope’s criticisms of Eurocentrism and sees him increasingly “Italianized”, that is to say, following a metamorphosis between the first “revolutionary” years of the pontificate and a very recent interest in succession, after Bergoglio.

Defining himself as a “Peronist”, Bergoglio perfectly masters the double discourse dear to the Argentine political class from this ambiguous ideological current which, for more than 70 years, has alternately governed the country. Clever and opportunistic like a good Peronist, Zanatta reveals in his book that the pope has already prepared a tailor-made conclave to ensure his posterity.

The media, always complicit

Always hungry for fame, the media found in Bergoglio a fresh, extroverted character, with a marked ability to play with words, exalting every word, every gesture, every action or decision, including the most insignificant.

According to Marzano, the beatification by the media used the consolidated trick of considering the pope as a perfect synonym of the Church, as its equivalent. Because the newspapers and the TVs are not interested in what happens inside the Vatican, such as the scandals linked to the pedophilia of the clergy, the condemnation of contraceptives and homosexuals, or the marginalization of women. All this is of little interest to a largely secularized population, which never sets foot in church.

Bergoglio’s Jesuit Mythology

For many journalists who follow Catholic news and for almost all newspaper and television newsrooms, it is much easier to focus on the figure of the pope, to tell all the details of his days in the smallest detail. , to fantasize about real or supposed court intrigues taking place in Roman palaces, transforming the life of a complex institution like the Church into an episode of a fantastic soap opera: the good guys against the bad guys, the sincere and courageous new pope against the traitors and sneaky ones.

Francis as the good ruler who loves the people so much and who would shower them with love and wealth if he were not surrounded by an unidentified crowd of corrupt and perverse courtiers…

The Jesuit myth again and again, or a new twist on the conspiracy theory. Deja vu is in the air…

I am not a specialist at all, but this vision is obviously quite biased and only dependent. We would like to see other points of view.

Catherine Mills Avatar