On March 13, 2013, the Catholic Church learned who would be the new Pope after Benedict XVI resigned from the Chair of St. Peter. It took 2013 years since the birth of Jesus Christ and 521 years since the discovery of America for a Pontiff to arrive in Rome from the New World.
Francis was received with enthusiasm by the press—which during his predecessor’s pontificate professed an almost homogeneous contempt for the Vatican. Francis opened a new chapter and created expectations of change that today, nine years later, need to be studied.
Benedict XVI’s resignation—prompted in part by a corrupt Curia which his age did not allow him to confront—made it clear that the Vatican, as we had come to know it, needed to change. Francis has managed to restructure dicasteries and institutions to simplify the stagnant Vatican bureaucracy, but in his struggle he has encountered more powerful internal resistance than he had imagined.
I have to admit that during his pontificate the “zero tolerance” line on child-abusing priests has hardened. The Church has reiterated its shame at the crimes of numerous clerics and has apologized to victims, trying to put behind it the chapter of secrecy that exploded in Benedict XVI’s hands.
Many feel that Francis’ time at the head of the Petrine ministry has left positive changes for the Catholic Church, but there is one aspect that was rather disappointing: his foreign policy as head of state towards Latin American dictatorships has been so weak that the victims of tyrants have felt abandoned by the Pope. That is perhaps his big difference with St. John Paul II, who fought communism in Europe to the last consequences.
Francis chose his name because Cardinal Hummes of Brazil told him after his election: “don’t forget the poor.” Hummes, a close friend of criminal Luis Inácio Lula da Silva and an advocate of the leftist agenda, tried to set the ideological tone of the pontificate from that moment on.
However, I acknowledge as a Catholic that Francis has renewed the Church to a large extent. The youth feel more welcome, the marginalized more embraced and many minorities accepted with mercy. I hope that his life and ministry will continue to bear fruit, and that one day we Latinos will see in him the Pope who defends us from those who insist on stealing our freedom.