The election of a new pope is weird. It involves millions of people looking at an old man and thinking about sex….at least, same sex marriage, abortion and child sexual abuse.
The new pope, who has taken the name Francis, was elected yesterday evening in Rome. He has his work cut out for him. The Vatican has been accused of being out of touch with its 1.2bn followers – particularly young people – and is reeling from repeated cases of child sexual abuse by its priests.
In Britain, what kind of impact does the pope have? Well according to the 2011 census, there are 33m Christians in the UK. That’s 59 per cent of the population. About 5m of them are Catholics, but only 1m of them actually attend mass regularly. I don’t have figures for how many are under 30, but even if it’s half of those, you’re only looking at about 500,000 people – about the population of Bradford.
So numerically, the pope’s influence in Britain is marginal. Lots of evidence shows that British Catholics just live according to their own moral beliefs, rather than doggedly following church doctrine. In 2010 Pope Francis, who was then known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said that a law proposing legalising gay marriage was “a destructive attack on God’s plan”….in Argentina…the home of the most gay-friendly capitals in the world. Last month, Britain passed its own law allowing gay marriage.
Perhaps if the pope began to relate more to everyday Catholics, particularly young people, the Vatican’s influence would be greater. He seems like a nice guy (mostly), but to be honest, I wouldn’t say the chances are particularly good. Given that the previous pope retired citing old age, I would say it’s more than a little odd that the college of cardinals chose a 76 year old successor. The new pope is the ninth oldest pope in history (out of 266).
The New York Times says that, statistically, the new pontiff has between five and 10 years to go before he, like all mortals, kicks the bucket.
Bottom line: Pope Francis is unlikely to change your life, for better or worse, even if you’re Catholic. But here’s an interesting idea – next time, screw tradition. Elect a nun.