Fisher of Men: The New World of Pope Francis


In his sermons, Francis often criticizes the "sophisticated church," which he accuses of revolving around itself and striving for power and wealth. By contrast, Francis wants "a poor church and a church for the poor." He wants it to venture out to the periphery, to the margins of society. This is the concept of the "theology of the people," which influenced Francis. In the 1970s, its adherents left their rectories and moved to the slums.

There is hardly any spot in Europe that is more peripheral than Lampedusa, where Africa begins and where Europe is defending its fortress of prosperity. During his visit, the pope stood on an altar made from the wood of stranded ships on which refugees had died, and raged against the "globalization of indifference." He asked who was to blame for the suffering of refugees, and why so many people have forgotten empathy and lost the ability to weep. It was a promising start to his papacy.

But despite that appearance, Francis still isn't the "pop star pope" many believed he was at the beginning. He is a man of action, and he operates at an astonishing pace. "He acts like someone who knows that he doesn't have forever. After all, he only has half a lung, and he sways like a ship when he walks. He'll be 77 in December," says an employee of the curia who prefers to remain unnamed.

'Still Getting Warmed Up'

Francis will have a hardworking first summer as pope, with no plans to take a break at the papal summer resistance in Castel Gandolfo. The papal secretary of state could be appointed soon and will become a key figure in bringing about the reform of the curia so often called for, someone to finally put a stop to the old-boy networks, nepotism and waste of money. The curia is currently divided into those who are concerned that the pope is overexerting himself, and those who are afraid of the new order. "The pope is still getting warmed up," says the source from the curia. "We are crouching in the trenches, and quite a few are trembling."

One of the new pope's biggest reform projects is the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), more commonly known as the Vatican Bank. On a recent July morning, a few nuns were standing in the domed bank lobby, where there was little activity. Nevertheless, something akin to perestroika seemed to be in the works, because we were suddenly granted entry to this massive, otherwise off-limits fortress next to the Secretariat of State. We were allowed to shake hands with the head of the bank, while advisors in pinstriped suits guided us through the hallways. Is this the "Francis effect" everyone is talking about, or just a rushed session of crisis PR?

At the end of the corridor is the secret nerve center, which we were also allowed to visit briefly. It contains a table, cables and many monitors, where a Harvard professor and a dozen external management consultants were sitting with their sleeves rolled up. Their job is that of auditing the accounts, reviewing every transaction for more than €10,000, and screening every customer. One was already caught in late June trying to bring €20 million from Switzerland to Rome in a private jet: Monsignore Nunzio Scarano, the chief accountant for the Vatican's property portfolio, who had intended to launder money through the IOR. It is clear that others will follow, now that the Vatican aims to wipe the slate clean in God's bank.

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