Religion

(Getty)

By Jamie Smyth, Ireland correspondent

Ireland has decided to hold a referendum to change its constitution to recognise gay marriage, marking the latest step in the transformation of one of Europe’s most Catholic countries into, arguably, one of its most socially liberal. Just nine European countries (most recently France) recognise gay marriage and opinion polls suggest a majority of Irish people support introducing it.

“The right of gay couples to marry is, quite simply, the civil rights issue of this generation, and, in my opinion, it’s time has come,” Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said at last years Gay Pride festival in Dublin.

The centre left Labour party has prioritised the issue of gay marriage while the socially conservative Fine Gael party do not want to be rushed on an issue, which could alienate rural supporters. Read more

Stunned, then overjoyed (Getty)

By Guy Dinmore and Giulia Segreti

The first pope from the Americas, the first from the Jesuit order, the first to name himself Francis … the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio signals a break with the past on many fronts for a Roman Catholic Church in desperate need of renewal. Yet he is also regarded as a theological conservative in the mold of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, and at the relatively advanced age of 76 he will have to overcome fears that he too will be a transitional pope.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s normally unflappable spokesman and a fellow Jesuit, was just as stunned at the choice as the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square. “Personally I am shocked that I have a Jesuit pope,” he told reporters, noting that Jesuits usually eschew positions of authority. He added: “He had the courage to pick a name that has never been chosen. It expresses simplicity and evangelical testimony.”

Rebecca Rist, an expert in papal history at Reading University, said the choice of Francis – echoing both the 13th-century St Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier, one of the first followers of the Jesuits – signalled that the new pope would emphasise poverty and reform. Furthermore, by choosing a name never used before he was indicating “something new – that he would not emulate a predecessor”. Read more

Esther Bintliff

The 115 cardinals tasked with choosing the next Pope have begun their ‘conclave’ in Rome – but the black smoke that emerged from their burnt ballot papers tonight means no result yet.

It’s a good time to revisit this FT interactive on the global reach of the Roman Catholic church (click on the image to go there): Read more