Holy See is a country located in the region of Southern Europe. In March 2013, the Catholic Church’s Cardinals gathered to conclave at the Vatican to select a new Pope since Benedict XVI a month earlier unexpectedly chose to resign. The choice of new pope fell on Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Jesuit priest and former archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Bergoglio differed in many ways from his representatives: he was the first pope from Latin America and the southern hemisphere. He was also the first Jesuit priest and the first overseas pope in over a millennium. Bergoglio was 76 years old when he took office and he took the Pope Francis name. Like his predecessors, the new pope was described as a conservative in matters of faith, but he had at the same time become known as an outspoken critic of social injustice.
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Reform work begins
With a medial and relatively modern leadership style, Pope Francis would address the Vatican’s sunken reputation after the many scandals of corruption and sexual crimes within the Catholic Church in the 21st century (see Modern History). And he can be said to have initiated a renewal of the Vatican on several points. Only a few weeks after his accession, Pope Francis appointed a council of eight cardinals. The Council was tasked with proposing changes within the Curia (Vatican’s criticized administration). This advice came to be more or less permanent and it now acts as a kind of advisory cabinet (the powers of power, however, remain with the Pope himself).
During Francis’s time as pope, several Catholic priests have been arrested for sexual crimes, including a cardinal and diplomat at the Vatican in 2014. Prosecutions were brought against the cardinal and for the first time a member of the priesthood would be tried for sexual abuse of children in a criminal court in the Vatican. However, the cardinal was found dead in his residence in the Vatican in August 2015 before the trial had begun.
In a report in May 2014, the United Nations Commission Against Torture criticized the Vatican for failing to take adequate action against new child abuse by priests. The Commission accused the Vatican, among other things, of not reporting police on suspected cases and of relocating only pastors who have abused a new congregation.
The problems of corruption have also been addressed by the Pope appointing a civilian expert group, the Council of Economy, in July 2013 with the mission to propose reforms against corruption and economic abuses and to increase transparency in the business. Francis also created a commission that would reform the Vatican’s scandal-ridden bank IOR (see Finance) and issued a decree on stricter anti- money laundering legislation.
Another step in reform was also the change of secretary of state, from the disputed Tarcisio Bertone who was involved in Vatileaks (see Modern history) to Pietro Parolin, one of the Vatican’s leading diplomats.
New picture of the papacy
Francis’ way of life and leadership has attracted attention. His unpretentious livery (an ideal among Jesuits) became evident when, among other things, he chose the papal palace and instead settled in a guesthouse in the Vatican. In his preaching, Francis emphasizes the Church’s responsibility for vulnerable people, such as the poor and refugees. The pope’s simple and concrete message has made him popular and gained a great deal of media space. Epithet as “hipster pope” has been heard and Franciscus has millions of followers in social media, among other things.
At the same time, it is clear that Pope Francis belongs to the value-conservative tradition of Catholicism and no significant changes in the Vatican’s views on issues of female priests, divorce, abortion or homosexuality have been implemented during his term of office.
In September 2015, however, the Pope decided that it would be easier to annul a marriage; Divorce is not allowed but a marriage can be annulled if the couple can show that it was entered into on defective grounds. The cancellation process had hitherto been very complicated, time consuming and expensive for the real couple.
When Francis was a pope for two years, he declared the period between December 2015 and December 2016 as a Catholic anniversary year in memory of the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965 (see Modern History). Attaching the anniversary year to the church meeting associated with the starting point for the Catholic Church’s modernization was seen by assessors as further evidence that Francis wants to be seen as a reform friend and a pope who wants to make ordinary members more involved in the church’s work.
St. Francis has also worked to make the church more global and less centered on Rome. In October 2016, the Pope named 17 new cardinals, most of whom came from Asia, Africa and Latin America. It reflected the growing importance of developing countries to the Vatican. Three of the cardinals were priests from the United States.
The Pope visits Sweden
To commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Catholic Church’s highest leader and Lutheran World Federation leadership met in Lund and Malmö on October 31 and November 1, 2016. Pope Francis attended an ecumenical service at Lund Cathedral on October 31 and held a Catholic Mass the following day. Malmö and participated in an event at Malmö stadium. The pope was welcomed at the airport by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and then met with the Swedish royal family.
New pedophile scandal
In June 2017, a new scandal surrounding sexual abuse of minors broke out. It was the first time the charges were directed against the Vatican’s third most powerful man, Australian Cardinal George Pell. The abuse would have happened during his time as archbishop of Australia. Pell denied all accusations, but took leave of absence from his assignment as Pope Francis’s Minister of Economy and Finance pending prosecution. The scandal was a severe blow to Pope Francis, who has been on the brink of zero tolerance for pedophilia and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and among other things appointed a commission working on these issues. Almost two years later, in March 2019 was sentencedCardinal Pell to six years in prison. He was found guilty of sexual abuse that took place about 20 years ago. Pell has appealed against the judgment. At the same time, the Vatican announced that Pell had been fired as finance and finance officer.
The Catholic Church in Australia has also been the subject of a comprehensive state investigation into sexual abuse linked to its activities. More than 4,000 people have testified in a state investigation that they were sexually abused between 1950 and 2015 and close to 1,900 church employees have been identified as guilty. Investigations into several cases of sexual offenses against children within the Catholic Church have also been conducted in other countries during the 2010s, including in the United States, Germany and Mexico.