He has criticized the “cult of money” and greed he sees driving the world financial system, reflecting his affinity for liberation theology. He has left Vatican officials struggling to keep up with his off-the-cuff remarks and impromptu forays into the crowds of tens of thousands that fill St. Peter’s Square during his audiences. He has delighted souvenir vendors near the Vatican by increasing tourist traffic.
Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, has been in office for only two months, but already he has changed the tone of the papacy, lifting morale and bringing a new sense of enthusiasm to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Vatican itself, Vatican officials and the faithful say.
“It’s very positive. There’s a change of air, a sense of energy,” said one Vatican official, speaking with traditional anonymity. “Some people would use the term honeymoon, but there’s no indication that it will let up.”
Beyond appointing eight cardinals as outside advisers, Francis has not yet begun making concrete changes or set forth an ambitious policy agenda in a Vatican hierarchy that was gripped by scandal during the papacy of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict, who resigned on Feb. 28, is now living in a monastery inside the Vatican.
But Francis’ emphasis on attention to the poor, and a style that is more akin to that of a parish priest, albeit one with one billion parishioners, is already transforming perceptions. He has chosen to live not in the papal apartments but rather in the Casa Santa Marta residence inside the Vatican, where he eats dinner in the company of lower-ranking priests and visitors.
“There are differences, but differences of style, not content,” said Giovanni Maria Vian, editor in chief of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, comparing Francis with Benedict.
In his speeches, “his style is simple and direct. It’s not elaborately constructed and complex,” said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
He has repeatedly returned to the euro crisis and the suffering it has caused in Greece and the Catholic countries of Southern Europe.
“If investments in the banks fail, ‘Oh, it’s a tragedy,’ ” he said, speaking extemporaneously for more than 40 minutes at a Pentecost vigil last weekend, after a private audience with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the architect of Europe’s austerity policies. “But if people die of hunger or don’t have food or health, nothing happens. This is our crisis today.”
In a recent speech to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, Francis also spoke of the need for more ethics in finance.
“The financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis,” he said, adding: “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”
Father Lombardi said that the pope had called him before that speech. “He said, ‘Pay attention, this is important. I want people to understand it’s important,’ ” he said.