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Pope Performs His First Miracle: Winning over the NYT

Pope Francis

Jesus began his ministry by turning water into wine. Pope Francis has started his with an equally astounding feat: winning over the editors of the New York Times, who have published a raft of fawning stories highlighting Francis’s papal humility.

Judging from a recent Pew Forum poll, the editors of the Times aren’t alone in their praise of the new pope. More than 84 percent of US Catholics have a favorable impression of the new pontiff—substantially higher favorability numbers than earned by Pope Benedict immediately after his election (67 percent). More surprisingly, 57 percent of all Americans, not just Catholics, have a favorable impression of Pope Francis.

But if Francis wants to keep improving Catholicism’s public image abroad, he needs to turn to the hard work of Church governance. On this score, there have been some rumors that he might close or restructure the notoriously mismanaged Vatican Bank. These reports are still speculative, but we tend to think this would be a good idea.

The right play for Francis here would be to close the bank in its current manifestation while setting up a smaller, more tightly run internal bank. The Vatican doesn’t have the luxury of simply getting rid of the bank’s functions and becoming just another client of a bunch of ordinary private sector banks. The Institute for the Works of Religion, as the Vatican Bank is more formally known, helps charitable causes and religious orders with a global reach move funds across borders to the places where it is needed most. Given that some of those causes and orders are located in the territory states with a tense or even hostile relationship with the Catholic Church, absolute financial transparency isn’t necessarily a good idea either.

What Francis could do, however, is to replace the Vatican Bank with an institution or institutions of much more modest scope. This would give the Church tons of good PR and create some breathing room for Francis to make the serious structural reforms the Vatican needs. The reality is that the Vatican has a management culture that is too weak and too decentralized to support all the modern activities of a state, yet it still needs to carry many of these functions out.

The Cardinals made a shrewd choice in Francis, and Francis has shown himself to be no mean PR guru either. If he can join his knack for powerful symbolic gestures with the hard work of reform, the miracles for the Catholic Church might just keep on coming.

[Image of Pope Francis courtesy of Getty]

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