New pope a ‘surprise’ package for Swiss press

The new pope immediately asked the crowd in Rome's St Peter's Square to pray for him Reuters

The unexpected election of the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the new pope could lead to change within the Catholic Church, say some Swiss media, but others warn not to expect major departures from the status quo.

This content was published on March 14, 2013 - 09:26
Scott Capper,

Zurich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) summarised most commentators’ reactions when it wrote that the election result caught observers unawares. But it added that with this decision, the global church had finally recognised that the papacy could also go to a non-European.

Lucerne’s Neue Luzerner Zeitung focused on the novelty in the election: the choice of a non-European, a Jesuit, who was handed the keys to the Vatican while his predecessor was still alive and watching events unfold on television, and who was brave enough to be the first to take the name of Francis, one of the church’s most revered saints.

In a common editorial, Lausanne’s 24 Heures and Geneva’s Tribune de Genève said the election of someone “different” who could bring new impulses to the church represented a sea change.

Swiss reactions

The Swiss Bishops Conference greeted the pope's election with "great joy", adding that they were happy that the choice gave visible recognition to "our alliance with fellow Christians in the countries of the South".

Swiss President Ueli Maurer also congratulated Francis for his election in the name of the government and the Swiss population. He said that Switzerland and the Holy See would continue to work together for peace, justice, tolerance, religious freedom and human dignity.

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Church in transition

However, Sion’s Nouvelliste asked whether Francis could be the pope of change, something Geneva’s Le Temps seriously doubts. “The suggested, desired change is still not underway,” it wrote. Given the new pope’s advanced age of 76, “the transition will go on.”

Basel’s Basler Zeitung said that the election could be a sign that changes are on the way for the Roman Curia, the powerful Vatican government. “Business as usual could be over,” it added. 

Fribourg’s La Liberté pointed out that Bergoglio could not be called a progressive, but rather a pastor very close to the faithful and his priests, while the Nouvelliste called him humble, sincere and committed to his cause.

For Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger, the archbishop of Buenos Aires is a member of the new generation of Latin American bishops who defend the poor, but without taking up leftwing ideological positions or any ideology whatsoever. “Their fight is against underdevelopment, not against repression,” it added.

The new pope

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born into a family of seven, his father an Italian immigrant railway worker and his mother a housewife. He became a priest at 32, nearly a decade after losing a lung due to respiratory illness and quitting his chemistry studies.

Despite his late start, he was leading the local Jesuit community within four years. Bergoglio has a reputation as someone willing to challenge powerful interests and has had a sometimes difficult relationship with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.

Displaying his conservative orthodoxy, he has spoken out strongly against gay marriage, denouncing it in 2010 as "an attempt to destroy God's plan," and is expected to pursue the uncompromising moral teachings of Benedict and John Paul II.

Bergoglio is the first Jesuit to become pope. The order was founded in the 16th century to serve the papacy and is best known for its work in education and for the intellectual prowess of its members.

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Haunted by the past?

Despite the election of a relatively unknown person to the papacy and the general enthusiasm it has generated, questions remain for the Tages-Anzeiger and other analysts about Francis’ role under the bloody Argentine military dictatorship as the Jesuit provincial at the time. He has always refused to publicly express himself about that period in history.

But, the past might not prove the biggest challenge for the new pope, according to the Basler Zeitung.

“There is no doubt that the church is in crisis in Europe and North America,” it wrote. “A Vatican bank with a dodgy reputation, abuse scandals, Vatileaks – all roads lead to Rome and end there.” 

The NZZ warned that the pontiff, with the weight of expectation upon him, would not be able to solve all the church’s problems alone.

“He will only succeed with the help of the bishops and the faithful,” it said. “His first appearance gives us some hope.”

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