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WORLD | 12-03-2023 10:19

Reform and social justice: 10 years of Pope Francis

During his decade as head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has reformed the government of the Vatican, worked for peace and reconciliation, and has taken action against clerical child abuse.

During his decade as head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has reformed the government of the Vatican, worked for peace and reconciliation, and has taken action against clerical child abuse.

Here are some of the 86-year-old's main achievements ahead of the 10-year anniversary of his election on Monday.

 

Reform

From decentralising power, increasing transparency and providing greater roles for lay people and women, Francis has implemented fundamental reforms of the Roman Curia, the central government of the Holy See.

Despite internal opposition, the reforms were enshrined in a new constitution that came into force in 2022, reorganising the dicasteries (ministries) and putting at the heart of their mission the goal of spreading God's message.

Francis particularly took aim at the murky, scandal-tainted finances of the Vatican, creating a special secretariat for the economy in 2014, clamping down on corruption and stepping up scrutiny of investments and the Vatican Bank, which led to the closure of 5,000 accounts.

However, the coronavirus pandemic hit the Vatican's income, while his efforts were overshadowed by the trial of senior cardinal Angelo Becciu, a former close aide now accused of embezzlement in a scandal over a London property deal.

 

Battle against sex abuse 

From Ireland to Germany and the United States, dealing with the scandals over child sex abuse by Catholic priests has been one of the biggest challenges for the pope.

Initially, things did not go well, with a 2014 commission on protecting minors undermined by the resignations of two key members, while in 2018, his defence of a Chilean priest accused of covering up abuse sparked a backlash.

In the Chilean case, Pope Francis apologised, admitting "grave mistakes."

Later that year, he stripped the cardinal's title from abusive US priest Theodore McCarrick, and in 2019 removed his status as priest.

The pope created a commission on protecting minors that was later integrated into the Curia. And in 2019, he held an unprecedented summit which heard from victims, where he promised an "all-out battle" against clerical abuse.

Concrete changes followed, from opening up Vatican archives to the lay courts to making it compulsory to report suspicions of abuse and any attempts to cover it up to Church authorities. 

However, anything said in the confessional box remains sacrosanct.

 

Diplomacy, Ukraine

During 40 visits overseas, the Argentine pontiff has given priority to smaller countries in eastern Europe and Africa.

A pacifist who routinely denounces the arms trade and defends the multilateral international order, Francis has also advocated dialogue with all faiths, especially Islam, notably in a trip to Iraq in 2021.

It was under his watch that the Vatican agreed in 2018 a historic but also controversial deal with the communist government in Beijing, on the appointment of bishops in China.

Diplomatic successes include mediating the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba in 2014.

However, the pope's repeated calls for peace in Ukraine have so far come to nothing, while the conflict has undermined his efforts to improve ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Francis met with Russian Patriarch Kirill in 2016, the first such meeting since the schism in the Christian church in 1054, but their relationship has soured over Kirill's strong support for Moscow.

He has, however, not travelled to his homeland of Argentina for a visit.

 

Social justice

The Jesuit pontiff has been a vocal campaigner for the environment and has repeatedly railed against capitalism and inequality.

With his groundbreaking 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, he urged the world to act quickly to tackle climate change, saying rich countries bear the most responsibility.

The son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, Francis has also criticised what he sees as global indifference to the plight of refugees, paying an early visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the landing point for thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

by Clément Melki, AFP

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