The Outsider Pope With a Lot of Insider Challenges

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VATICAN CITY - Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, is a long-distance runner, which makes him fit to lead the Vatican, the oldest establishment in the world. He spent 15 years in the politically and socially demanding role of Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Eight years ago, at the 2005 conclave, he had a good chance of becoming pope but preferred not to. Yesterday, at the age of 76, he finally became pontiff.

Since the announcement,  everyone has been rushing to praise him for his kind demeanor, humility and devotion to the poor and downtrodden, his belief in social justice and his preference for living an ascetic lifestyle. That lifestyle may no longer be possible in the magnificent pontifical palace.

Here and there some critics have pointed out how he remained silent during Argentina's "dirty war" and urged young priests to remain in the seminary rather than take part in anti-government activities. But neither the praise nor the criticism are relevant to the main reason he was elected. And neither is the praise he has been receiving from every corner of the Jewish world since his selection.

By all accounts, Bergoglio has been a true friend of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires over many years and worked with Jewish organizations around the world, not just for show but out of a sincere spirit of partnership. All this is very heartwarming and certainly encouraging for Jewish leaders who were concerned that a less friendly pope might have been elected. But this doesn't have anything to do with expectations of the new pope either.

Francis was not chosen by his brother cardinals to improve the Roman Catholic Church's relationship with Jews, which has been on the right track for a while anyway, or with the Muslims. After all, there is precious little a pope can do to help Christians in Arab lands as it is. The new pope was chosen to reform the Vatican and by "reform" one does not mean in any theological sense. Bergoglio is as conservative as they come and, besides perhaps slightly easing the prohibitions against condom use to prevent infection, there will be little change from him on issues such as birth control, homosexuality and celibacy for priests.

He is a pope who has spent relatively little time in Rome and never held a permanent position there. The cardinals who chose him believe that only an outsider can remove the corrupt officials who run the Vatican Bank, who decide senior appointments in the Curia and who cover-up acts of financial malfeasance and sexual assault. It's also possible that some of these cardinals also did not want to see any of this happen so they chose a pope with scant knowledge of the Vatican's inner workings who is bound to fail.

People in Rome today are talking about his kind face and how they will like having his picture on the wall, instead of Benedict XVI's harsh visage. But neither his countenance nor his humility will help him in his gargantuan task.

Francis' enemies now lurk close to him and his work is at home. He will have little time to concern himself with the affairs of other religions.

Pope Francis is driven through the crowd in his popemobile in St. Peter's Square for his inauguration Mass at the Vatican, March 19, 2013.Credit: AP
Newly elected Pope Francis appearing on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after being elected by the conclave of cardinals, at the Vatican, March 13, 2013.Credit: Reuters
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals, inside the Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican, March 14, 2013.Credit: AP
A man holds a photo of Pope Francis, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican as the Pope celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel, March 14, 2013. Credit: AP

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