Neil Barber, Media Officer, is quoted on the BBC News website

New Pope is ‘shot in arm for Scotland’s Catholics’

Pope Francis (centre) waves as he leaves after praying at basilica in Rome
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina (centre) has begun his role as Pope Francis

The new Pope is the “shot in the arm” Scotland’s Catholics need to lift them from “an all-time low”, according to a Church spokesman.

Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has become Pope Francis after being elected in Rome.

No Scot was involved in the vote after Archbishop Keith O’Brien resigned after allegations about his sexual behaviour.

Ronnie Convery told BBC Scotland he thought Pope Francis could lift the gloom among Scots Catholics.

“I think, when they saw the new Pope emerge last night on to the balcony, it would have been very much a shot in the arm,” said the Catholic Church’s spokesman in Scotland.

“In those 10 minutes, he already gave so many clear indications that this was going to be a very different kind of Papacy and therefore, in a sense, a different kind of church.

“This is a man who stood up against the Argentinian government and said that their austerity measures were inhumane and fought against that.

‘Way forward’

“This is a man who has criticised his own priests when they refused, for example, to baptise the children of couples who weren’t married. He accused the priests of being hypocrites.

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He doesn’t seem to be that much more progressive than his predecessor”

Neil BarberEdinburgh Secular Society

“In the time that the new Pope was archbishop in Buenos Aires, he visited people with Aids and washed their feet.

“His very simple, personal style of doing his own shopping and travelling on a bus and all the rest of it, these are symbols of a style of church leadership which I think is maybe the way forward.”

Mr Convery admitted that the resignation of Pope Benedict and the loss of Cardinal O’Brien, who admitted sexual misconduct following allegations by priests, had been twin blows to Scotland’s Catholics.

“There have been failures in many ways in the Catholic Church in Scotland,” he added.

“And I think one of the most important things that we would hope the new Pope would do would be to quickly speed up the appointment of some new bishops for Scotland.

“What people maybe haven’t noticed is that we are at an all-time low in the Catholic Church in Scotland, not just in terms of morale but in terms of manpower.

Social justice

“There are eight diocese in Scotland and only three of those have a functioning bishop below retirement age.”

Cardinal Keith O'BrienCardinal Keith O’Brien resigned ahead of the conclave

While Pope Francis is viewed as liberal on social justice, he is considered conservative on sexual matters and Neil Barber, from Edinburgh Secular Society, did not think much would change.

“He doesn’t seem to be that much more progressive than his predecessor,” he argued.

“There’s been lots of talk about how the Catholic Church has to change, but the problem is that, for a lot of Catholics, change is the very last thing that they want.

“I wish them well, but my concern is that attitudes that are so woefully out of touch shouldn’t have the sort of power that they have in public life.”

First Minister Alex Salmond thought the election of the new Pope would be “welcomed by Scotland’s Catholic community and by others around the world”.

“I wish him well in his time in the Papacy and his first message as Pope – urging greater bonds of understanding and cooperation among peoples and nations – is one that should resonate around the globe,” said the SNP leader.

‘Justice for poor’

The Scottish Episcopal Church also welcomed the new Pope’s background and character.

The Most Rev David Chillingworth, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane and the church’s Primus, said: “He is known for his simplicity of life and his compassionate humility.

Archbishop Philip TartagliaArchbishop Philip Tartaglia says the new Pope is a reconciler and healer

“The Church in South America expresses vigorous life and a deep commitment to justice for the poor.”

Meanwhile, the man who took over temporarily from Cardinal O’Brien as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh said he was surprised that the first Latin American and first Jesuit Pope was elected after only five rounds of voting in the Sistine Chapel.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said: “Given the pre-Conclave situation, and the absence of a single dominant figure, I can only see this quick result as God’s work.

“I think we can take from his first appearance that he is a humble, spiritual and calm man – a reconciler and healer, with a strong background on social justice.”

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