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Francesco in fiction and in fact

Tuesday, 5 May, 2015

The Vicar of Christ A novel called The Vicar of Christ spent 13 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list In 1979. It was written by Walter F. Murphy, a Princeton legal scholar, and its protagonist was an unusual man named Declan Walsh — an American war hero, a United States Supreme Court justice, and then, following an affair and the untimely death of his wife, a monk — who is elected Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church by a deadlocked papal conclave in Rome.

The new broom sweeps famously clean and the new pope loses no time in dusting down the the Vatican. He launches a global campaign against hunger, paid for by the sale of Church treasures. He intervenes in global conflicts, flying to Tel Aviv at one point during an Arab terror campaign. He proclaims a plan to reverse Church teachings on celibacy and contraception, and banishes conservative cardinals to monastic exile when they plot against him. He toys with the Arian heresy, which casts doubt on the divinity of Jesus, and he embraces a Quaker-like religious pacifism, arguing that the just-war theory is out of date in an age of nuclear weapons. It is this last move that gets him assassinated.

In Walter F. Murphy’s novel, Declan Walsh takes the name Francesco, which is the name Jorge Mario Bergoglio took on 13 March 2013, when he was elected pope. The non-fiction Francesco is quite the reformer, too.


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