New pope? Unbelievers shrug, carp, titter

Thu Mar 14, 2013 2:18pm EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald

LONDON (Reuters) - When a new man takes over the leadership of more than a billion people, it's hardly surprising it was big news on Thursday. But, hold the front page - this isn't Pope Francis.

As in some other places where the Roman Catholic Church carries little weight, 1.3 billion Chinese paid scant attention to the Vatican; media in China focused rather on Communist party chief Xi Jinping's confirmation as head of state in Beijing.

Such blanket indifference was not the global norm, however.

Few of the six billion people not claimed by the Church among its 1.2 billion followers could entirely avoid noticing Wednesday's elevation of Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy; TV, radio and the web carried word from Rome to Muslims and Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Protestants and atheists. Reactions ran from warmth through mild curiosity to derision and frank hostility.

"This constant advertising for this sect and its cult leader is getting to me," commented German Hans Reinsch on the website of Bild newspaper, which led its front page with the pope. "I'm going straight round to the atheists' HQ to file a complaint!"

Leaders of other religions - muftis, rabbis, Russian and Greek Orthodox priests and others - share a dismay at the rise of secular faithlessness, especially in the wealthy world, and offered cordial greetings to the first pope from a developing country, playing down long histories of sectarian bloodshed.

But Francis had a frostier reception from those liberals in the Western world who view his Church as an obstacle to social reform and continue to highlight its record of covering up child abuse by priests, a refusal to abandon its condemnation of homosexuality and a bar on women entering the clergy.

"Always the same loser for the past 2,000 years," ran the caption on a cartoon in French satirical weekly Charlie-Hebdo alongside a buxom woman in a bishop's mitre.   Continued...

Newly elected Pope Francis I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, makes a private visit to the 5th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, in a photo released by Osservatore Romano in Rome March 14, 2013. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano