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Francis: Too Much Too Soon?

Perhaps we were expecting too much, or at least too much, too soon.

Pope – “call me Frankie” – Francis these days no longer sounds like the crusading, down-to-earth, liberal reformer that many of his flock thought, hoped and I dare say prayed that he would be. 

Yesterday, he pronounced his view on euthanasia.  “This is playing with life,” he said.  “Beware, because it is a sin against the creator, against God the creator.”  He came out with a similar objection, couched in similar language to abortion.

These statements and others – most of them echoed by some of his boardroom colleagues in red – sound pretty definitive to me.

But there are no real surprises here.  This pope, like others before him, can only restate the church’s dogma on what it sees as threats to the sanctity of life unless or until some commission, ensconced in some solemn convocation down in the bowels of the building,  comes up with a different conclusion.  

It’s just that some of us, for just a few fleeting and vaguely exhilarating months, thought this pope might be radically different from his predecessors; that is, far more progressive, flexible and revolutionary than they had been, or had been allowed to be. 

Perhaps we were misled by those corporate ‘statements of intent’ in which he chose to sleep in a plainly-furnished bungalow instead of the presumably luxurious papal apartments where his predecessors had lived, and eating in the staff canteen rather than in the gilded commissary, or whatever it’s called, in the palace upstairs. 

And then there were the suspicions that he might be given to travelling the streets of Rome, in mufti, just to remind his minders who their boss was, and that a Man of the People by definition must occasionally mingle with the hoi polloi outside the Vatican walls.

He had arrived in the Vatican with a deeply-felt and widely-reported sense of social grievance, and hints of a cleansing-the-temple impulse that he was ready, bucket and mop in hand, to give the place a good scrubbing.   I wonder now if he’s even been allowed to take a feather-duster to the cobwebs.   

But then what do I know?  Not much, I have to admit. 

Does anyone have the slightest inkling what political power struggles are being waged in the musty, incense-filled back rooms of that great fortress?   

And there’s something else.  Francis recently spoke candidly of his declining health – from some unmentioned ailment – pondering aloud whether he had long to wait to be called to his creator’s side.  What significance should be attached to that revelation I’ve no idea, but he didn’t sound like a man bracing to do battle with the hitherto impregnable and anonymous forces of tradition and reaction, either with mop or feather-duster, let alone shield and buckler.

Not that this pope’s reversion has entirely shocked or disappointed.  But then, as one who’s neither a member of his flock, or any other, it’s not for me to feel either sensation.  If anything, I suppose I might even feel glad, since – in theory if not on the evidence of the ages – the more the Holy Roman Church clings to its ancient and mystifying dogmas, the more irrelevant it becomes, and the faster it proceeds to self-destruction. 

Actually, I’m counting on this happening some time soon – at the outside within the next 2000 years.

Meanwhile, I’m inclined to believe that Francis may not be around for the next two.

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