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Pope Francis has mandate to reform Church, analysts say

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Pope Francis could use his mandate as the first pope from the Americas and his reputation as a Vatican outsider to stamp his authority on the scandal-hit Catholic Church, analysts said Thursday.

After the first papal resignation since the Middle Ages, the Church stunned the world again by electing Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, a humble man famed for dedicating considerable energy to the disadvantaged, downtrodden and poor.

Pope Francis brings to the Church the energy of a booming Catholic continent, the determination necessary to rein in the Vatican's unruly government and a sincere love for the people that could reignite faith in the West, experts said.

"The Church has managed once more to surprise the world," said Lucetta Scaraffia, editorialist for the Vatican's official Osservatore Romano newspaper, while expert Andrea Tornielli said: "The 2,000-year-old institution has shown itself capable of reinventing itself and stunning the world."

Seasoned Vatican watcher Marco Politi said the choice of Bergoglio had signalled "a clear 'no' to a return to an Italian papacy, a departure from the European horizons of Benedict XVI's papacy, and a clear rejection of those attached to the Curia."

Poisonous rivalries within the Curia -- the Vatican's governing body -- had plagued Benedict's papacy, and experts said they expect Francis to shake up the sclerotic institution.

"He is likely to start by putting his house in order. The appointments made over the next few days will be key," said Robert Sirico, head of the US-based Aston religious think tank. "I expect Francis to go beyond the Curia and bring in new talent."

The election of Francis also shows the Church's keenness to distance itself from two scandals: the hugely damaging clerical sex abuse cases and "Vatileaks" -- the leaking of secret papal documents revealing intrigues at the heart of the Holy See.

The 115 cardinal electors who gathered in the Sistine Chapel understood "the need for a huge overhaul to save the Church from the swamps it has slipped into and which the 'Vatileaks' scandal made crystal clear," Politi said.

Vatican expert Massimo Franco said Francis's election "throws out old paradigms and divisions between conservatives and progressives."

The columnist for Italy's Corriere della Sera daily wrote: "The biggest surprise could come from the way in which Francis redefines the relationship with the Italian Catholic Church and how he will tackle the inevitable Curia reforms."

Above all, Sirico said, "what won was the desire for a radical, positive message about a new start, a new relationship between the Church, bishops and parishes."

The significance of appointing the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years goes well beyond the scandals which have embarrassed the Church.

"The Church in Europe has too much history behind it to be able to look at modern challenges with clear eyes," Luigi Accatoli, an analyst who contributes frequently to the Italian press, said.

"Latin America has the largest number of Catholics in the world, and the explosion of faith there can serve as inspiration for an increasingly secularised West," he said.

"Francis's election is also a way of defending the faith in Latin America, where the Church is increasingly losing newly baptised Catholics to evangelical sects," he added.

Bergoglio's decision to adopt the name Francis in honour of the humble St Francis of Assisi suggested his desire to rebuild the Church's relationship with the grassroots.

"It is a sign of a papacy that underlines first of all the ties with the local Church, the pastor with his flock," Franco said.

Swiss theologian Hans Kung said in an interview with La Repubblica newspaper that Francis "was the best choice possible, because he is a Latin American with an open mind."

"He is a man who has always lived a simple life, far from the grand and sumptuous palaces of power," Kung said.

At 76, Bergoglio was not tipped as a likely candidate. His doctrinal approach so far has suggested that he will not radically alter the Church's stance on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or the ordination of female priests.

But the humble son of a railwayman has "a charisma likely to draw in new pilgrims as well as a backbone of steel," Sirico said.

According to Accatoli: "The choice of Bergoglio shows that the Church is determined not to remain in mourning for the crisis in Europe but has opened its doors to the revitalising energy of Catholicism's biggest continent."

"His election is a momentous step."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130314/pope-francis-has-mandate-reform-church-analysts-say