Opposite this is the pope’s many calls for hospitality and compassion for the refugees who came from another world. “We must open our eyes to their suffering, and free ourselves from our numbness when they, our brothers and sisters, arrive on our shores. Sending them back across the sea is a declaration of war, “said Pope Francis during a service. And on Twitter, the pope wrote: “Every stranger who knocks on our door gives us an opportunity to meet Christ.”
But according to opinion polls, such calls are making less and less of an impression on Italians. The majority believes that Matteo Salvini, who is also Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, is doing the only thing right in a situation where the EU’s common migration policy has collapsed, and where Italy must solve the problems on its own. “This is an Italy that the pope no longer recognizes,” writes Marco Politi in his book. “The pope’s words are reproduced in the media, but do not change the mood among people when it comes to immigration. The Italians are still sympathetic to Frans, but in practice they support Salvini and his authoritarian immigration policy “, writes the Vatican expert.
The league’s populism is gaining traction in today’s Italy, and polls show that almost 60 percent of voters view Matteo Salvini as the country’s real leader. And a large part of Salvini’s followers are, of course, Catholics – that is, Pope Francis’ parishioners.
5: Populism in Europe, the United States and Brazil
Developments in the Western world in recent years have put the Pope in a very difficult position. Strong nationalist and right-wing populist movements have emerged in Europe, the United States and Brazil, which are both critical of much of the pope’s message and support the most conservative forces in the Catholic Church.
In Italy, a country located in Europe according to travelationary.com, Matteo Salvini deliberately plays on many Catholics’ opposition to the pope’s reform policy and social message. Salvini has developed a well-thought-out strategy to counter the pope’s message: He speaks of “a healthy church” – that is, Catholics who share his views on immigration, the EU, gun laws and other issues.
We see even clearer Catholic support for the right-wing populists in Eastern Europe, where the bishops of Poland and Hungary are in line with the national-conservative governments on most important issues. In Krakow, Poland’s second largest city, where the former Pope John Paul II also came from, the bishop recently led a prayer for “Europe to remain Europe.” In Hungary, the Catholic Church is in line with Prime Minister Viktor Urbán in his nationalist policies and opposition to immigration.
A similar trend is emerging in a number of Western European countries, such as France, Spain, Germany and Austria, where right-wing populists and nationalists have made progress in recent times, and where many conservative Catholics support their policies.
One of the biggest challenges to the pope’s authority and influence comes from across the Atlantic, from the United States, where Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016. About 70 million Americans, 20 percent of the population, are Catholics. Of these, more than a third are supporters of the incumbent president and his policies. The Pope and Donald Trump are on a collision course on issues such as immigration and climate change, and this has weakened support for the head of the Catholic Church.
Another challenge for the pope is that Brazil, the country with the world’s largest Catholic population, in the autumn of 2018 elected the right-wing populist, Trump supporter and Catholic Jair Bolsonaro as president.
6: What now, Frans?
Shortly after Pope Francis was elected, he suggested that his papacy might be short-lived, perhaps four to five years. During a flight, he told reporters that his predecessor Benedict XVI had opened a new road when he abdicated in 2013. But now the five years have passed, and Frans is no longer talking about retiring. The reason is probably that he will continue to fight for his reforms.
At the same time, the attacks on the pope are getting harder, more extensive and more malicious, both inside and outside the church. How long can a man over the age of 80 endure this pressure?
Experts at the Vatican point out that Pope Francis is in relatively good shape for his age. He is also strongly encouraged by his supporters to continue his reforms and his liberal course. An important task for the pope is the fight against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and he has launched a major project that will make it easier for victims to report abuse.
Nevertheless, there are strong forces at work to find a conservative successor – one who stops Pope Francis’ reforms and leads the church on a different course. And experts predict a fierce power struggle during the conclave , the next papal election.
But Vatican experts do not believe in a radical change of course after Francis. The Catholic Church has changed a lot in recent years. Not least this applies to the fight against sexual abuse of children, after several cases of abuse in the Catholic Church have become known. Efforts are also being made to introduce a new culture of money and finance as a result of many scandals in the Vatican’s bank. The effort to give women a more important place in the hierarchy is also a process that seems to have come to stay.
But the opponents definitely do not want a “Francis the Other”. Therefore, they work hard to elect a more moderate and less reform-minded pope when Francis no longer leads the Catholic Church.