During this week, much of the world’s eyes were fixed on the small chimney stack atop the Sistine Chapel in anticipation of seeing a puff of white smoke rise above the Vatican, signalling the election of a pope.
That moment came Wednesday when cardinals elected Argentine Jorge Bergoglio to lead the Catholic Church as Pope Francis. While the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics are no doubt in a celebratory mood with the naming of the church’s 266th pontiff, Pope Francis may be feeling more overwhelmed than euphoric.
Such is the doubled-edged sword of becoming pontiff. Yes, Francis gets to lead the Catholic Church and guide it with his personal touch, but it’s no secret that the challenges he faces are massive.
Pope Benedict was considered many to be an “interim pope” when he was elected in 2005 at age 78. For the next eight years, Benedict worked to revive Catholicism amid secular trends and the faith’s slow slide to irrelevance.
While he may have made inroads, it was the church’s role in sex-abuse scandals, allegations of corruption and accusations of outdated theology that Benedict’s era may most be remembered for.
Unfortunately for Francis, those issues won’t disappear just because there’s a new man in charge. Indeed, his to-do list is sure to be quite lengthy.
The challenges Francis faces include reforming the scandal-plagued administration of the church, the church’s role in sex-abuse scandals, empty pews, a lack of priests in Europe and North America, religious persecution, relations with other religions and unity within the church itself.
Such items can’t be checked off in a few months. It will take years for the Catholic Church to regain the respected position it once had throughout the world.
It’s a tall order, but you can bet Francis, who is known for his social outreach, already has a plan formed in his mind.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.