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Don't let Pope Francis' smile conceal the corruption of the catholic church

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Touching the sick in a refreshingly platonic fashion, Pope Francis has enjoyed some good publicity of late. However, we shouldn't let an amenable head conceal a most unsavoury body

Pope's nice, isn't he? Some­one you could spend the evening with, for bless­ing, or for bowl­ing. You've seen it in the pa­pers, you've seen it on the telly: Fa­mous Fran­cis, The Pious Riot.  The man makes the front page where his mates make the obit­u­ar­ies. There's no ig­nor­ing him, and you can't fault the Church on its choice. Every busi­ness needs an ad­vert.

A su­per­star small and hum­ble

A celebrity Pope is born, and the wan­der­ing star is stu­dio lights. Sin­cere con­cern for the poor comes, oddly, with a po­si­tion of power, and it's won­der­ful to see a man so hum­ble in such good stead. Much of the pre­tence is gone, and with it, much of the Vatican's hypocrisy. Fran­cis has turned down res­i­dence at the Apos­tolic Palace in favour of more mod­est hous­ing. He has been pho­tographed kiss­ing a man with neu­rofi­bro­mato­sis, a con­di­tion  made famous by The Ele­phant Man. His bish­ops, mean­while, are pub­li­cally rep­ri­manded for their greed. Al­le­ga­tions of child abuse re­main unan­swered; as do the Vat­i­can's mafia con­nec­tions; money-laun­der­ing in the Vat­i­can Bank. A shin­ing ex­am­ple, then, to a thor­oughly rot­ten bunch.

So while it's nice that Pope Fran­cis said non-be­liev­ers go to heaven too, less friendly is the Church's hasty re­trac­tion. Athe­ists do burn re­ally, qual­i­fied Rev­erend Thomas Rosica, only three days after Fran­cis hit the stands - though, char­i­ta­bly, pa­gans are ex­empt. Per­haps it will take time for the Vat­i­can to ex­tend an olive branch, par­tic­u­larly where it is so used to tight­en­ing a rack.

The Pope's crit­i­cism of ho­mo­pho­bia, sim­i­larly, would be bril­liant news, if it were only ac­cepted by the clergy. Vi­o­lence against African ho­mo­sex­u­als con­tin­ues under the eye of its car­di­nals; in Eu­rope, op­po­si­tion to mar­riage equal­ity be­gins at the pul­pit. Which is be­fore we even men­tion birth-con­trol, anti-Semi­tism, or the AIDS epi­demic. De­spite media fawn­ing, there is lit­tle to be said for Fran­cis' good in­ten­tions, un­ac­com­pa­nied as they are by Church ac­tion.

A camel through the eye of a nee­dle

It is a stub­born­ness born of priv­i­lege, and the Church is sin­fully rich. The twelve dis­ci­ples of Jesus have grown into a sprawl­ing, cor­po­rate be­he­moth; you begin to won­der how the Vat­i­can, so dog­matic when it comes to con­doms, reads Matthew 19:24, which says, ‘it is eas­ier for a camel to go through the eye of a nee­dle than for some­one who is rich to enter the king­dom of God.’ Per­haps I've missed a metaphor, but I can't see many bish­ops pass­ing through the eye of a nee­dle.

Doubt­less it's frus­trat­ing to Chris­tians, to see the Church squan­der so much on con­struc­tion; on cos­tume; on cor­rup­tion. This new Pope, fa­mous as he is for his com­pas­sion, re­mains the mouth­piece of a nasty, dis­rep­utable or­gan­i­sa­tion, and one re­spon­si­ble for enor­mous suf­fer­ing world­wide. Though he makes a wel­come change, the sick­ness of the Church is the same.

Still, I'd take him bowl­ing, if he asked.