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DER SPIEGEL: The Rebel of St. Peter's Square: Where Is Pope Francis Steering the Church?

1. juni 2015

The Rebel of St. Peter's Square: Where Is Pope Francis Steering the Church?

Walter Mayr, Der Spiegel, skrive bl.a.:

In the third year of his pontificate, criticism is growing of Pope Francis. Members of the Vatican establishment are turning against him and he even shocks his own staff with his free thinking. Where does this enigmatic pope want to steer the Catholic Church?

They're an experienced team, the three of them. The driver has barely stopped, and already the security guard has grabbed a child from the crowd on the left and is holding it up for the pope. The pontiff bends over, kisses the child -- and then it's over.

The whole thing takes mere seconds and repeats itself several times during the pope's Wednesday lap of honor before the general audience on St. Peter's Square starts. If there are any larger groups he can see -- Boy Scouts, for example, or wheelchair-users -- then Christ's representative on Earth briefly taps the Popemobile-driver on the shoulder to get him to stop.
When observed from up close, Pope Francis comes across as a stately man. The white cassocks strain at his midsection, his pronounced chin is elongated and his eyes look searchingly into those of the people surrounding him. Compared to his predecessor, the almost otherworldly smiling Benedict XVI, the Argentinian comes across as downright earthly. As though there were no distance at all.

He hugs and he pats. He kisses small children and cardinals. He does it without warning and enthusiastically. It's almost as if he's using bodily contact to console himself for the burden of his position. He is the highest-ranking person of faith and a role model for the 1.3 billion Catholics around the world.

When Pope Francis, otherwise known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, entered St. Peter's Basilica at 10 a.m. on Pentecost Sunday for the Holy Mass, he had been in office for 797 days. Seven-hundred-ninety-seven days in which he has divided the Catholic rank-and-file into admirers and critics. At time during which more and more people have begun to wonder if he can live up to what he seems to have promised: renewal, reform and a more contemporary Catholic Church.

Francis has had showers for homeless people erected near St. Peter's Square, but has at the same time also spent millions on international consultants. He brought the Vatican Bank's finances into order, but created confusion in the Curia. He has negotiated between Cuba and the United States, but also scared the Israelis by calling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an "angel of peace."

This pope is much more enigmatic than his predecessor -- and that is becoming a problem. Right up to this day, many people have been trying to determine Francis' true intentions. If you ask cardinals and bishops, or the pope's advisors and colleagues, or veteran Vatican observers about his possible strategy these days -- the Pope's overarching plan -- they seem to agree on one point: The man who sits on the Chair of St. Peter is a notorious troublemaker.

Like a billiard player who nudges the balls and calmly studies the collisions during training, Francis is getting things rolling in the Vatican. His interest in experimentation may stem from his past as a chemical engineer. He makes decisions like Jesuit leaders -- after thorough consultation, but ultimately on his own.

The Francis principle has a workshop character to it, with processes more important than positions. Traditional Catholics see things exactly the other way around from Bergoglio, the Jesuit, and this is creating confusion right up to the highest circles of the Vatican. People want to know where the pope is heading.

The Pope's Empire
To get a better idea of the place from which Francis is declaring war on the Vatican's ossified system, a good way to start is to ride the elevator up from San Damaso Square in the world's smallest country. Upstairs, in the second Loggia of the Apostolic Palace, the door opens to the pope's empire.

Members of the Swiss Guard bang their heels and stand watch here in the half-darkness. Visitors pass through arcade passages decorated with masterpieces by Renaissance master Raphael and his students, before entering the heart of Catholic power -- the Clementine Hall, where Polish Pope John Paul II lay in state. It is the hall which houses the sedan chair Pope John XXIII used to get around, and the death chamber of Leo XIII.

Amidst all of this pomp and patina, Bergoglio, an Argentinian, still seems strangely alien to this day -- like a big, exotic bird beating its wings in a golden cage. When he's sitting at his desk in the Apostolic Palace, the pope -- a man who has assiduously dedicated his church to serving the poor -- only needs to push a golden button to set off a ring tone and summon a servant from the neighboring room.

If it weren't for the recently installed statue of the Madonna of Luján, the patron saint of Argentina, in the pope's library, everything at Catholic Church headquarters would look like it did when Benedict XVI was still in office. This despite the fact that, since the latter's resignation on Shrove Monday 2013, an experiment with an uncertain outcome has been carried out in the Vatican, instigated in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. In the process, Pope Francis is simultaneously fighting on three fronts: against the claims to power of his council, the Curia; against ostentation and pomp in the clergy; and for a radical return to the Gospel.

When Bergoglio announced the beginning of a new era on March 13, 2013, with a subtle "buona sera" from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, things were going badly for the Catholic Church. In the past several years, its image had been shaped by scandals involving child abuse, corruption and money laundering, document theft in the papal apartments and intrigue in the Curia. If nothing else, the Cardinals chose Bergoglio to be the successor to Ratzinger for this reason: The unblemished "Pope from the end of the world" was supposed to clean up shop.

A Pope and His Predecessor
There's one person with an up-front view who should know what's changed: Archbishop Georg Gänswein, known as "Don Giorgio." Still Ratzinger's private secretary, he also serves as the chief of protocol, the top person in the Apostolic Palace under Francis. His title: prefect of the papal household. As a servant of two masters, and a man who navigates between two worlds, Gänswein is emblematic of a situation that has never before occurred: A pope and his predecessor living as neighbors in the Vatican.

On this particular morning, Gänswein is wearing cassocks made by Gammarelli, the Vatican's court tailor. He's also wearing shiny cufflinks and a massive golden cross around his neck. Described as the "George Clooney of the Vatican" by journalists, he doesn't think he should have to slip into prayer robes simply because of the sudden enthusiasm for modesty that has taken hold under Francis. "No," says Gänswein, who is open about the fact that he considers fellow clergymen, "not excluding" cardinals, to be cowards for recently exchanging their golden crosses for tin ones at Porta Sant'Anna, near the entry to the Vatican.

He claims that the many subjects on which the two popes agree are lost in all the excitement over Francis and his warning against "spiritual worldliness" -- meaning the devotion to the profane. "His successor is now honoring what Benedict XVI called for," Gänswein says. "The only difference is that Francis is celebrated instead of being criticized for his appeals."

Indeed, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first non-European on the papal throne in over one thousand years, has quickly become a favorite of Catholics -- and even more so of non-believers and the media. In his first year, Francis appeared on the covers of both Time and Rolling Stone. Business magazine Fortune named him the world's greatest leader. The Economist raved that Francis was on the verge of reinventing "the world's oldest multinational."

Undoing the Fetters
Almost 6 million faithful attended audiences in 2014. According to many observers, this says a lot for the pope -- Francis is breaking with tradition, and thus is undoing the fetters. He is letting outside experts reorganize the scandal-rocked Vatican Bank. He is having the reform of the Curia pushed through by cardinals who previously had little to do with the governing body. He encourages the church to talk about family, about marriage, about sexuality, and doesn't get tired of arguing for more compassion and solidarity for the poor and the marginalized, whether he's in Lampedusa or Copacabana.

And this pope is political. He takes positions, including uncomfortable ones. He doesn't dodge, he gets involved. Before negotiating rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, he held a four-hour prayer vigil for peace in Syria. He scandalized Turkey by describing the Armenian genocide as just that, and provoked Israel by acknowledging Palestine as an independent state.

Not surprisingly, critics within the church have begun quietly grumbling in the pontiff's third year, but it is becoming increasingly audible. There are various reasons why they feel uneasy about the man from Buenos Aires: His leadership style is supposedly too authoritarian, his self-marketing is too sophisticated, he doesn't know enough about matters of doctrine. Prominent German novelist Martin Mosebach even openly claims that this pope is making his mark "at the expense of the church." He argues that Francis "throws around snazzy sayings" and gets attention by fitting in with the zeitgeist, but that he cares little about tradition.

As it turns out, it's not just Bergoglio's theological side that perplexes people, it's also the man himself. His always soft voice obscures his word choices and contradictions. He has accused his cardinals of suffering from "spiritual Alzheimer's" and warned believers not to breed like "rabbits." At the same time, and in front of thousands of listeners, he praised a father who smacks his child, but never in the face. "How beautiful! He knows the sense of dignity," he said.

Bergoglio is a surprising pope in every sense of the word. But what does he want? Does he have a plan for his church, or is he simply content turning everything in this small, walled Kremlin-like state in the middle of Rome on its head? Francis' plan is actually for a church in which the power rises from the bottom to the top -- but that also seems like an unspoken declaration of war, especially against the Vatican Curia.

Others expect a lot from the pope -- but he also expects a great deal of himself. The light in apartment 201, in the third story of the Santa Marta guest house, goes on at around 4 a.m. The area is still quiet at that time. Only a few hours later, shortly before the beginning of the early mass, do things start coming to life in the Vatican's alleys and gardens, as well as in St. Peter's Basilica and further down, in the Campo Santo Teutonico, a bastion of German residents in the city-state. Up in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, former Pope Benedict XVI conducts mass with Archbishop Gänswein and four nuns.

Francis celebrates mass down below, in the simple Santa Marta chapel where, in front of handpicked visitors, he gives the message of the day, which will later be passed on by the media. The Catholic Church, his sermons argue, needs to get closer to the people; a spiritual leader needs to be a shepherd living with the smell of the sheep, the pope is fond of saying.

It makes sense then, that the pope doesn't like being protected in the Apostolic Palace -- a "funnel," he claims, that only allows visitors in "drop by drop" -- and instead resides in the Santa Marta guest house. He has moved his control center here, and he and his employees occupy an entire floor -- a plan that raised both costs and hackles. Francis, however, lives modestly in a three-room mini-apartment, between statues of the Virgin Mary, crucifixes and a coffer with eight bone fragments of the Apostle Peter.

If the pope looks out his window, he can glimpse impressive history. On the left, in the Palazzo San Carlo, former Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, the strongman of the Ratzinger era, looks out of his roomy residence. Bertone's predecessor, Angelo Sodano, lives in the Ethiopian College. Former Pope Benedict XVI lives in an apartment up on a hill that he shares with Georg Gänswein. And there's also Cardinal Walter Brandmüller -- 86 years old, former chief historian of the Vatican and one of the leaders of the conservative Bergoglio critics. He lives just above the vestry of St. Peter's Basilica.

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