Pope faces challenges

Pope faces challenges

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Thousands of Argentinians attend a vigil at the official beginning of Pope Francis' reign.
Thousands of Argentinians attend a vigil at the official beginning of Pope Francis' reign.
Photo: EPA
As I write, thick white smoke billows across the skies of Rome. The new leader of the Catholic Church has been elected - the first-ever pope from across the Atlantic. Great crowds converge on the Vatican, hoping to catch a glimpse of the latest successor to Saint Peter.

But no sooner had Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio been elected than rumours and allegations from the past regarding his integrity have appeared in the media. People accuse Pope Francis of not having stood up to the oppressive Argentine regime in the 1970s, and criticise him for his old-fashioned views on gay marriage. It seems that no man - not even the humble South American who has vowed to reach out to the poor - is free from the ghosts of his past.

However, past follies are less important than future actions. People have high expectations of the pope making the necessary changes to the running of the Vatican. It is clear that big changes are needed. Despite its good intentions, the Church has been stubborn over several issues, coming under fire from more liberal-minded Catholics and non-believers alike.

The Church has played a vital part in providing education for the poor. But for every school built, how many children have been sexually abused by the very priests put in charge of them? The Church carries out much humanitarian work in Africa in the name of God. Yet its policies have helped increase the number of HIV/Aids cases, as it opposes the use of contraceptives.

Such policies are wrong. We are all created equal under God. Why, then, for example, does the Vatican insist on segregating the gay community and campaigning against same-sex couples?

Everyone is entitled to freedom of opinion, but being in charge of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world (which equals the population of China) makes the pope morally accountable in a significant way.

Having influence over so many people and so many major institutions worldwide is both a privilege and a massive responsibility.

There is a clear line between following tradition and being downright outdated. The Church has had major shifts in opinion in the past. It no longer condemns scientists for research that defies Christian teachings. Recently, the Church even took steps to accept evolution as an explanation for our existence.

It is time that the new pope took another brave step forward into the 21st century.

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