Francesco, Papa simpatico. He really seems to be a nice guy, this Jesuit, almost Franciscan, breath of fresh air in the Vatican. He makes the job of his minders and P.R. staff a breeze. He’s doing everything right. They didn’t have to invent, and they don’t have to polish, his image : he brought it with him, along with his simple pectoral cross, his sensible, non-designer black shoes and his blue Ford Focus (mine is metal-grey; we drive the same car, are the same age, and are both as Frank as they come). It’s hard to fault this living saint on whom many Catholics are pinning their hopes for a surge in popularity not just of the Papacy but of the clergy and the Church as a whole. The Faithful are confident that he will be as tough on unworthy conduct as Jesus was in whipping the money-lenders out of the Temple. There will be no more shady deals or money-laundering in the Bank of the Holy Spirit, Bishops of bling will be made to toe the line and the cover-up and simple transfer of pedophiliac priests will be a thing of the past.
But don’t expect this popular Pope to pussyfoot with the innovations if not laxity of a certain Liberalism. Conservatives will be delighted to see him reestablish a Tridentine Church rather than promote a Vatican 2 one. He will not denounce, denigrate or deny any of the most recent Council’s official teaching, but he will restore the old-time Catholicism we knew before his about-to-be-canonized predecessor, John XXIII, let Vatican 2’s fresh air fill the Church, blowing away, some would say, much of traditional piety in the pews and preaching in the pulpit. Instance his March 21 annual vigil for victims of organized crime, when he begged members of the Mafia to change their lives : “Repent”, he said; “there’s still time to not end up in Hell”. Pure 1950’s Catholicism, the stuff of the old Redemptorist Parish Missions, without the fire and brimstone. It’s the sort of thing many frustrated Catholics have been waiting to hear. And perhaps the sort of thing that will get our Believers on the Brink to make for the exit, before the Church brings back the Golden Book of Indulgences, holy cards, perpetual novenas and the rest of the nonsense they have long abandoned. “Carpe diem”, my friends. There’s still time to not end up the way we were. Easter would be a good time to let the light in.