Tom Devine: Outside choice is wonderful surprise

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THESE comments come just moments after hearing the announcement, but I’d like to congratulate the prelates for their surprising choice; it’s wonderful to see the media watchers and commentators so disappointed that the, so-called, frontmen have been disregarded and an outsider elected.

It’s reminiscent of the election of Karol Józef Wojtyła, Pope John Paul II. Nobody expected it, Italians had been on the throne of Peter for so long, but the cardinals chose not only a pope from outwith Italy, but one from a communist country.

They have chosen a pope from a country where the faith is thriving and where no other pope has come from, which suggests the possibility of a new beginning. What should that new beginning be? First, the most grievous problem affecting the church in recent decades is the scandal of child abuse committed by priests.

It would be an important gesture if the new pope suggested a day of penitence for the entire universal church as a recognition of the sorrow at the gross betrayal that has taken place in the mission of the church.

If there are managerial problems in the curia, they have to be dealt with as effectively as possible.

Finally, the world’s largest Christian church can now go on the offensive in a positive way, proclaiming the good news through excellent communication and, in addition, making a major spiritual contribution to tackling the poverty, disasters, materialism and individualist hedonism that scars the world.

I am convinced that humanity is crying out for a spiritual leader and that this will be given by the new pope.

• Tom Devine is personal senior research professor of history at the University of Edinburgh.