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Francis has brought light and hope in his first year

Just over a year ago the Argentinian Jesuit Jorge Mario Bellagio was elected Pope, and it has been a good year for the Roman Catholic Church.

The impact of the new Pope has been remarkably positive, not only for the worldwide RC church, but for humanity in general. It's been a worrying, troubled and dangerous year, and it is good that one man has been able to provide some light and hope. And I write that as member of the Church of Scotland.

Of course expectations are over-pitched. The Pope is an old man and he is not strong physically. While his spiritual strength and his humility and openness seem impressive, there is a limit to what he can do.

The first huge test will come later this year, when the Synod of the Family will convene. This will present a chance for Catholic teaching to be redefined, and possibly changed, on a multiplicity of sexual issues. This is the most sensitive and difficult area for Pope Francis. So far his leadership, in confronting the ongoing sexual scandals, particularly those involving clerical abuse, has been muted and too defensive. Even the United Nations has seen fit to express concern.

There has also been the predictable chipping and nitpicking that goes with the territory.

Both the Vatican itself, and the city of Rome and its environs beyond, are not propitious territory.

I hear from friends in Rome that there is anger because the Pope has been ignoring his up-country residence a few miles from Rome at Castel Gandolfo. This petty sniping is tiresome rather then serious, but it still suggests that deep reform of the Vatican, corrupt and beset by internal squabbling as it has been, will not be straightforward.

There have been many positives. Here in Scotland an impressive man, Leo Cushley (ironically a Vatican insider), has been appointed Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. He has to recover the authority that was squandered by the disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien, and I hear he is making a propitious start.

Meanwhile, the Pope has shown that he intends to be an authentic world figure, not a leader who is thwarted by European parochialism. The cardinals advising him on structural reform include men from the Congo, Australia, the Honduras, India and the US. This is excellent.

For too long the Vatican, and the overall governance of the Church, have been dominated by Italians in particular and Europeans in general. There has been an absurd skewing of leadership as the church has declined, even failed, in Europe, while gaining in strength in other parts of the world.

Meanwhile as a sympathetic outsider I'm convinced that sooner or later the RC Church will have to accept women priests. The supply of priests is a big problem, and while it would be ingenuous to think that the training of women priests would provide a quick fix for this particular difficulty, it could not but help. But this is just one of several controversial issues on which Pope Francis and his advisers will almost certainly prove to be conservative.

There are still some Catholics who think it is impudent for non-Catholics to comment on their church, but that leads me to what I reckon is the most profound significance of this Pope.

He is a genuinely ecumenical figure. He may be humble personally but he leads an autocratic church, which makes humility problematic. I am pretty sure he will give nothing on certain cherished doctrines, but it is significant that he is already opening up new avenues of communication with other faiths, notably Muslims and Jews. This is much more than a mere public relations initiative.

The most profound thing Winston Churchill ever said was: "The religions of the world have come from the people; the religions of the world have come from the poor, and most of all that is true of Christianity."

All over the world, churches and religious bodies tend to have far more committed members than political parties. Our planet needs spiritual vitality every bit as much as political vitality.

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