Vatican City: Pope Francis said he wanted “a poor Church for the poor” at an audience with the world’s press on Saturday, part of the new pontiff’s outreach characterised by an informal style that is unusual in the Vatican.
The newly-elected pope smiled and joked with 3,000 journalists and Vatican media workers, as well as imparting a blessing for any atheists present.
The 76-year-old said he picked his papal name at the end of a dramatic conclave on Wednesday because he was inspired by St Francis of Assisi, who was “a man of poverty and a man of peace”.
“How I would like a poor Church for the poor!” said the Argentinian with the common touch, the first pope from Latin America and the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years.
Francis described the emotional moments of his election in the Sistine Chapel, offering a rare glimpse into deliberations that are normally shrouded in the strictest secrecy.
He explained that when the cardinals elected him, he had been sitting next to Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who had comforted him when it became clear he would be the 266th pope of Rome.
“He hugged me and kissed me and told me not to forget the poor. And that word went in here,” Francis said, pointing to his head.
“I immediately thought of Francis of Assisi,” he said.
The Vatican meanwhile said he had temporarily re-appointed the entire Roman Curia — the intrigue-filled central administration of the Catholic Church — which has faced growing criticism.
“The Holy Father wishes a certain time for reflection, prayer and dialogue before any definitive nomination or confirmation,” it said.
— ‘Difficult task’ ahead —
Vatican watchers are keeping a close eye on nominations to top posts as an indication of what changes in substance — apart from the already evident ones in style — his papacy could herald.
Hummes said in an interview with Brazilian newspaper O Globo on Saturday that Francis should begin the “difficult task” of reforming the Curia.
“Structural reform should begin with choosing the right people for the orientation of the Church that the pope wants — a missionary Church with more dialogue,” he said.
Vatican expert Marco Politi said it was clear that the new pope will rule in a more inclusive way together with other Church figures.
“The Church will be governed by the pope together with the bishops. That is what we will see in the next months and years,” Politi said.
The Vatican also said Francis would meet next Saturday with the 85-year-old Benedict XVI, who last month became the first pope to resign for 700 years because he said his physical and mental strengths were failing him.
The current pope’s style contrasts sharply with that of his more academic predecessor.
Speaking in a folksy Italian, he has urged Catholic leaders to shun worldly glories and lead a spiritual renewal, warning that otherwise the Roman Catholic Church could end up like a “sand castle” or a charity with no spiritual foundation.
The Catholic Church has been rocked in recent years by multiple scandals including thousands of cases of sexual abuse of children by paedophile priests.
Catholics have also been abandoning churches in huge numbers in an increasingly secularised West — in contrast to Latin America, where some 40 percent of the world’s Catholics now live.
The former archbishop of Buenos Aires and son of an Italian emigrant railway worker, the moderate conservative is unlikely to change key Catholic doctrine although experts say he could push for more social justice and a friendlier faith.
The former Jorge Mario Bergoglio has faced accusations at home that he had failed to speak out about the brutalities committed by Argentina’s military leaders during the 1976-1983 “Dirty War”, in which 30,000 people died or disappeared.
The Vatican on Friday rejected claims that Francis who was then head of the Jesuits in Argentina had failed to protect two Jesuit priests who were kidnapped and tortured by the brutal military junta.
But the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo organisation, founded to help locate children who were kidnapped during the military era, lambasted the new pope.
“He has never spoken of the problem of people who had disappeared under dictatorial rule, and 30 years have already passed since our return to democracy,” said Estela Carlotto, the head of the group, whose daughter Laura had been abducted and killed.
An Argentinian judge who was in charge of the case concerning the two tortured priests rejected claims that Bergoglio played any role in the crime.
Judge German Castelli told La Nacion: “It is totally false to say that Jorge Bergoglio delivered these priests.
“We addressed this issue, we heard the allegations, we reviewed the facts and we felt there was no case to answer. If we had done we would have prosecuted,” he said.