Pope Francis I has ascended to his position in a time of child abuse scandals, declining church membership, and factional infighting among Cardinals petulantly discrediting each other by fuelling allegations relating to these exact scandals. He is the first Pope to be elected from outside Europe in an extremely long time and to many he represents the face of church reform.
But it is safe to say that most people reading this will not care. And you’re not supposed to. Most of the people that do are on the next continent. Latin America has 43.1% of the world’s Catholic population and has been fairly unlucky in not claiming the papacy earlier than this. There, the Catholic Church is reported on without the (seemingly mandatory) vocabulary of abuse and scandal.
This is the point of the rebranding. Francis is supposed to consolidate power in a supporter base that is more about the golden age of charity and piety than the modern tangle with corruption and disgrace.
Interestingly, Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio) was the runner up in the last papal elections, and was reported to have been glad that he’d missed out because he wouldn’t have to deal with the internal machinations of the Curia. That’s the difficulty of being an outsider in Italy – he is less likely to be able to deal with internal politics despite looking like a fresh face that can change global perceptions.
It is unlikely that he will be able to change the Vatican. People who will appreciate the slightly unorthodox shows of humility that he made in his first public appearance are likely to be the people who were strong Catholics in the first place. It is clear that he holds a pivotal role in public relations for the next decade, but if the Church becomes complacent, or rests on the assumption that he can bear the brunt of the scandals without institutional reform, this papacy will very much resemble the last.