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March 14, 2013

New pope's views bind simplicity with 'complexity'

VATICAN CITY — At gatherings of Latin American bishops, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was often a star speaker about economic inequities in a profit-driven world. He also has used the forums to warn fellow church leaders about drifting from core Catholic values and teachings.

The twin messages are now expected to frame the beginning of the papacy of Pope Francis: Reinforcing the Vatican's views on issues such as birth control and women's ordination that will disappoint reform-minded followers, yet showing an activist streak that could hearten others pushing for greater attention to problems that include poverty and international debt.

These broad ideological strokes — drawn clearly over decades in the Argentine church — will likely be accompanied by growing nuances and initiatives demanded by the modern papacy that requires diplomatic skill, managerial acumen and a degree of pastoral flair.

His emphasis on clerical simplicity and populism, including efforts to keep divorced Catholics and unmarried mothers in the church's fold, could raise alarms among staunch conservatives about a reorientation of Vatican priorities after eight years of strict guidance under Benedict XVI, who spent most of his Vatican career as the main doctrinal enforcer.

Through lesser-known gestures and comments in the past, the first Latin American pontiff also has shown an inclination to expand interfaith outreach to Islam and Judaism, and efforts to further close the nearly 1,000-year estrangement with the Orthodox churches. The pope's historical namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, is described in church lore as walking unarmed to meet an Islamic ruler during the 13th century Crusades in a gesture of respect and shared humanity.

In his first Mass on Thursday as pope, Francis reinforced his pastoral priorities and service during a brief homily in the Sistine Chapel that was simple and inclusive, calling on all Catholics to help "build" the church and "walk" with the faith. Without such collective spirit, he said the underpinnings grow weak.

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