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Can New Pope Usher In A ‘Catholic Revival’?

Will Pope Francis I turn around declining congregations in Poland and elsewhere and put an end to the paedophile scandals and alleged corruption in the Vatican civil service?

14.03.2013 (Poland) John Godson, Poland’s Nigerian-born first black MP and devout Christian, wrote on his Facebook page just after the announcement that the Argentinian had been elected Pope Francis by the 115 cardinals in the Sistine Chapel: “ I am pleased with the selection of Cardinal Bergoglio, because the Church needs to change, it needs a revival, and I hope that Pope Francis can do this”.

Even in Poland, still Europe’s most Catholic country, congregations are in decline.

According to Poland’s Catholic Church Statistical Institute, weekly church attendance has dropped from 53 percent in 1987 to less than 40 percent in 2011, despite 95 percent of the population regarding themselves as Roman Catholic.

In Spain, where 80 percent identify themselves as Catholic, two-thirds seldom or never attend church.

In Ireland, less than 50 percent go to Mass at least once a week, compared with 85 percent two decades ago

In Italy, church attendance is now down to less than 30 percent.

Not only are congregations falling in Europe: so are the numbers volunteering to become priests. There are currently more priests over the age of 80 than there are under the age of 40.

The situation is no better in Argentina, the homeland of the new Pope. According to the Association of Religious Data Archives, only 38.2 percent of Argentines went to Mass at least once a month in 2005.

Only in Africa and Asia are congregations growing, so the 76 year-old Francis I’s first task will be developing a strategy to reverse the decline in Europe and the Americas.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, one of four Polish cardinals involved in the election of Pope Francis, has said that the selection of Jorge Maria Bergoglia was “surprising and a choice promising change. This is the springtime of the Church”.

Francis I’s most pressing problem is a reform of the Vatican civil service, or Roman Curia, which prominent Italian Roman Catholic author Vittorio Messori has described as “a nest of vipers”.

The pontificate of Pope Benedict was rocked by a Vatican banking scandal including money-laundering schemes involving a priest known to the local Italian media as ‘Don Bancomat’.

Francis I will be concerned about a report that will be on his desk into the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal, after the publication of documents stolen from Pope Benedict’s office on alleged blackmail, cronyism and cover ups in the Curia.

US Cardinal Francis George told reporters in the run up to the Conclave: “I would imagine that as we move along there will be questioning of cardinals involved in the governing of the Curia to see what they think has to be changed.”

It is not known how active abroad Francis I will be, after the globe-trotting of John Paul II and to a less extent, Pope Benedict VXI, but a visit to Poland would be beneficial to his popularity here.

Cardinal Dziwisz said that “we will invite the Pope to Poland on World Youth Day, 1050 years after the Baptism of Poland,” meaning Francis I could make a pilgrimage to the country in the summer of 2016.

Poland’s MP John Godson met the then Argentinian cardinal in Buenos Aires in 2009.

“We met at a Christian conference. He made a very good impression: modest, humble, and it was evident that he has a sense of humour,” he told TVP public television.

The Vatican will be hoping his modesty, humbleness and humour will re-energise congregations in Europe and turn around the negative publicity which clings to the Holy See. (pg)

– Polskie Radio – Poland