Francis: Ten Years of His Pontificate in Ten Questions (1)

May 03, 2023

On March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope and took the name Francis. Ten years later, the anniversary of this election was celebrated in a discreet way. The Pope celebrated a private Mass with the cardinals present in Rome, in the chapel of St. Martha’s House, which is his residence.

During the day, Vatican Radio and Vatican News broadcast an interview with Francis in which he said he was very affected by all the armed conflicts that have marked this decade, but he concluded with his “dream for the Church, the world, those who govern it, and humanity,” summing it up in three words: “fraternity, tears, and smiles.”

The discreet celebration of this anniversary has not prevented Vaticanists from trying to take stock of the past ten years. More than a balance sheet, it is a series of doubts and questions that they formulate, so contradictory are the acts and declarations of the sovereign pontiff.

We report here on this perplexity, by reducing it to ten essential questions, those which come up most often under the pen and in the mouths of journalists. They could be supplemented by others, but they seem to us, as they stand, to express quite precisely the anxiety that reigns in Rome. Here is the first:

1. Is there a media Pope (sympathetic) and a real Pope (authoritarian)?

On the site Il Sismografo, which is very close to Pope Francis, on March 1, 2023, the Chilean journalist Luis Badilla does not hesitate to speak of “two popes,” not without having previously pointed out how difficult it was to summarize the past years of the current pontificate: “How can one take stock of ten years of an often unreadable and indecipherable Sovereign Pontiff? How to interpret the many silences and ambiguities outside the media circuit?”

Taking stock of the ten years of the pontificate is a demanding challenge because it is especially necessary to synthesize countless, thousands of very complex and contradictory events, texts, and gestures.… These ten years have not been easy to read. In many passages the papacy is illegible.”

In Argentina, it is said of Pope Francis, in reference to this difficulty, that the Archbishop Emeritus of Buenos Aires “puts on the left turn signal but turns right and vice versa.” In Rome, in the Curia, it is said in less sharp terms: “he is a very unpredictable person.”

According to Luis Badilla, the difficulty in deciphering the current pontificate would have worsened five years ago, after Francis' “devastating” trip to Chile in January 2018: “He found a country that was not like he thought, having chosen to believe his most senior informants on the ground. And he was spectacularly wrong in his approach to the pedophilia drama, to the point of going so far as to publicly ask victims to “present the evidence.”

After the visit to Chile, but also to other Latin American countries, everything became terribly complicated for the Pope, to the point that he never returned to the region, except for WYD 2019 in Panama.”

Since then, comments Luis Badilla: “We have seen more and more clearly the caesura of the pontificate, the cohabitation of two popes: Francis and Bergoglio. The first is a media pope, very “inflated” by certain press and specific journalistic circles: always a great popular leader, with a remarkable charisma in the public square, even if it is at the service of the Gospel, proud of play politics.”

“The second is a sovereign pope, a man of government par excellence, holder of all powers, very inclined to state motives, self-referential, and in a permanent state of defense against the wolves who besiege the throne and against the plots of courtiers. From his fortress of St. Martha’s House, he controls everything, while in the Vatican not a leaf moves without his consent.”

And he clarifies: “These are not two completely superimposed realities. Sometimes they coincide. Often, they are different, and one figure may end up contradicting the other, precisely because the sovereign pontiff Francis is not always in sync with sovereign pontiff Bergoglio. The gentleness, affability, and communicative genius of Francis do not always correspond to the way he acts, legislates, gives orders, and uses the instruments of power.”