Saturday 22nd October 2016                 Change text size:

Pope Francis: a year in the life of an environmental pope

Gabriel Andrés Trujillo Escobedo via flickr

Josè Bergoglio has been Pope Francis I for exactly one year. In that time, he has shed light on many issues, both within the Catholic church and elsewhere, such as corruption, greed and humanity’s disrespect for the natural environment.

Advocating a “poor church for the poor” upon his election, the Argentine-born pope has showed himself to be, at times, an unconventional figurehead in a usually conservative and secretive Vatican.

He chose his name, Pope Francis, after Saint Francis of Assisi, the guardian of poor people. Soon after his election, he launched a series of measures to reform the Vatican and its bank.

After episodes of corruption and money laundering emerged within the Vatican Bank, leading to the arrest of three people, Bergoglio pledged to reform the institution. He set up a committee on financial security, in an effort to keep the bank’s financial activities under strict control.

The move renewed trust in Vatican City, which received an ethical upgrade from an EU ratings agency.

The pope has also been praised by many environmentalists, after saying that the Amazon rainforest should be treated as “God’s garden” and that indigenous people should be protected. He later met an Argentinean delegation to discuss oil and gas drilling in his native country.

Francis has often criticised society’s love of money as well as the current economic system, which he says promotes inequality and exclusion of the most vulnerable people.

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion”, he said in November.

Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.

He has a large number of supporters – but a few critics as well. Some have questioned his role in the military regime in Argentina back in the 70s and 80s, while many Catholics are uncomfortable with his progressive views on gay couple and poverty.

Francis has proved to be arguably the most radical pope in recent memory. His voice is both useful and powerful in the environmental debate, but the jury remains out on his reforms to the Vatican Bank – whose practices have been a cause of annoyance for many of his predecessors. Meanwhile, the Catholic faith more generally continues to be plagued by associations with child abuse.

A year since Francis was confirmed as pope, many say he has led a transformation, a revolution, from the Vatican. He has a long way to go yet, but the early signs are certainly encouraging.

Further reading:

Pope Francis calls for stricter rules over money laundering at Vatican Bank

The love (and corruption) of money: troubling times at the Vatican Bank

Vatican City receives ethical upgrading by EU body

Pope Francis speaks out against fracking and environmental devastation 

Pope Francis calls for Amazon protection

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