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Pope Francis warns Church of dangers of inaction

In his first mass, the new pope said the Catholic Church risked becoming little more than a charity with no spiritual foundations.

People watch Pope Francis on a giant screen in St. Peter's square as he celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican
People watch Pope Francis on a giant screen in St. Peter's square as he celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican
Image: Oded Balilty/AP/Press Association Images

POPE FRANCES WARNED today that the troubled Catholic Church risked becoming little more than a charity with no spiritual foundations if it failed to undergo renewal.

The 76-year-old Argentinian told the cardinals who elected him as Latin America’s first pope that the Church could “end up a compassionate NGO”.

“I would like all of us after these days of grace to have the courage to walk in the presence of the Lord,” Francis said in his first mass, amid the splendour of the Sistine Chapel.

He warned the cardinals against “the worldliness of the Devil”.

“Walking, building and confessing are not so easy. Sometimes there are tremors,” the pope said, in a homily that will be scrutinised for clues to the style of his leadership.

Followers

The new head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, who was formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had begun his reign by meeting people in Rome and laying a bouquet of flowers in homage to the Virgin Mary in a basilica.

The pope also prayed at the altar of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order to which he belongs.

He returned to the priests’ quarters where he stayed before the conclave and settled his own bill.

The election of the son of an Italian emigrant railway worker, who was considered a rank outsider, was met with widespread surprise and expressions of hope for change in a Church riven by scandal and internal conflict.

His elevation was also seen as recognition of the Church’s power in Latin America, which now accounts for 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, while it is in decline in Europe.

Projecting an image as a simple man of the people, the pope chose to name himself after St Francis of Assisi, the 13th century saint who shunned the riches of his family to devote himself to God and the poor.

The Vatican revealed that, for the ride back to the conclave lodgings after Wednesday’s election, Francis shunned the papal limousine with the “Vatican City State One” number plates and instead boarded a minibus with the cardinals.

The Argentinian of Italian descent, the 266th pope, faces the immediate challenges of stamping his authority on the Vatican machinery and trying to coax back worshippers that are deserting churches across the West

The sexual abuse of children by paedophile priests stretching back decades cast a dark shadow over the conclave, which included several cardinals implicated in the scandals.

A US man who has just won a $1 million settlement for abuse at the hands of a Californian priest called for Francis to excise the “cancer” in the Church and defrock one of those cardinals, former Los Angeles archbishop Roger Mahony, for allegedly hushing up the abuse.

“I hope that our new pope defrocks … Cardinal Mahony for his role in covering up the abuse that I suffered,” Michael Duran said, while acknowledging: “I don’t have high hopes for that.”

- © AFP, 2013

Read: Pope Francis is technically the Bishop of Kilfenora, Co Clare>

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