The Assination of Pope Francis: The Troublesome Priest

Pope Francis is challenging the status quo of powerful entrenched interests.  He leads from the front while rejecting the trappings of hubristic wealth. This challenges other so-called leaders who travel in limousines and hide their activities behind bureaucratic walls, while letting lawyers and Public Relations (PR) machines speak for them.  Direct action and confrontation with entrenched power often ends in bruising and bloodshed.

From the point of view of operational and security risk, Pope Francis is unlikely to survive his tenure without at least one serious assassination attempt.  An assassination attempt on a public figure is common, but the assassination attempt spoken of here will not come from an individual driven by a grievance narrative. It will be an organized attempt from a group.  This group will consist of individuals who feel their positions, wealth and impunity are challenged by an Argentine priest noted for his humbleness, spirituality and strong moral compass.


The ascent of Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the position of Pope and The Bishop of Rome on 13 March 2013 may mark the beginning of a newly emboldened struggle between good and evil. In much of the world, this occurs at a time when disparity and anger are growing.

We live in a period of great transition while lacking moral compass.  Technology, politics, social values and financial practices are all in a state of rapid evolution – perhaps even revolution.  In many Western governments, it is increasingly probable that the financial class has overwhelmed the political class and the economy is now there to serve the wealthy, rather than being an effective means of creating wealth. Debt, once shunned as a personal and communal evil, is now embraced as a tool of financilization and consumerism.  Jesus, it should be remembered, attacked the market in the Temple.  But he did not focus his anger on the vendors or buyers – he attacked the money lenders. Perhaps this lesson has not been lost on the Pope.

Warning signs abound that inchoate rage exists in a variety of populations.  The Arab Spring, Color Revolutions, the OCCUPY movement and Los Indignados are what the intelligence community would call indicators and warnings.  The area of ungoverned spaces globally is increasing and an economic recovery following the 2008 meltdown is increasingly unlikely.  Youth unemployment figures of over 40% are common in both developed and developing nations.  Virulent nationalism in on the rise and politicians are willing to use discord and division as tools of electoral success.

Rather than face the problems, leaders in the West keep their populations in a culture of distraction, consumerism, debt and self-centredness.  Washington DC and the City of London look more like Panem than they do any “city on the hill.”

Not surprisingly, the Pope has overtly attacked the tyranny of unfettered capitalism which is ‘code speak’ for large Financial Institutions as well as practices such as high frequency trading on the stock markets and long term low interest rates.   He has also attacked corruption, organized crime, poverty, impunity and selfishness.

However, his actions speak louder than words. By washing the feet of men and women, by carrying his own suitcase and by living in a modest apartment, the Pope is showing that real leadership consists of service and responsibility.  With women’s rights under attack, the Pope has also included females in his highly symbolic foot washing ceremony (a papal first), including a Muslim female.


According to legend, King Henry II of England was distressed by what he considered as meddling by Thomas Beckett who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury (AD 1162-1170).  The King stated words to the effect that  “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”  We now use the expression “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” Four knights, believing that they were acting on the will of the king, assassinated the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Will we see President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron or President Hollande washing the feet of their poor and downtrodden?  It staggers the imagination to picture Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan or Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs showing their humility and morality by serving a meal in a homeless shelter.  They will not do so, as such an act would serve to anger those who place them in power.

Pope Francis is clearly filling the role of a troublesome priest as he attacks the moral failings of today’s leadership figures. One wonders is any of them ask to be rid of such a troublesome cleric?


The Pope has indicated he will also attack corruption and moral issues in the Church itself.  By sending his personal secretary to oversee the Vatican’s banking operations and by replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (roughly Secretary of State), the Pope is warning that reform is coming.  The Pope is clear that the Church should be focused on the traditional roles of outreach to assist the poor and destitute rather than obsessing on doctrinal orthodoxy.  As he states, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

As a Jesuit, the Pope may have more access to internal Catholic Church information than many previous popes.  Opinions vary (and wacky conspiracy theories abound) but the Jesuits appear to have developed an information collection and analysis capability. This could serve His Holiness well as he challenges entrenched issues and individuals.

The Pope’s greatest challenge may remain.  The issue of child sexual abuse has divided the Church itself as well as driven many supporters away from the fold.  The issues are longstanding and far reaching.  While he has made initial efforts at greater internal enforcement, one gets a sense that the Pope is marshaling the information and the political capital necessary correct the sins of the past. This will negatively impact large numbers of people inside and outside of the Church.


The Israelis learned to their cost that the most significant threat is internal or comes from unsuspected quarters. Prime Minister Rabin was killed by a fellow Jew while the 1972 Lod Airport massacre was carried out by Japanese citizens from the Red Army Faction.  Quite literally, no one there could see the attacks coming because of their own cognitive biases.

The emerging threats against the Pope will likely come from ‘non-traditional threat vectors’ and any such threats may need to develop and execute sooner rather than later.  If the Pope serves for several more years and proves to be an effective moral and spiritual leader, then any attack on him will have a martyr’s effect and his message will simply become more powerful.


The Pope cannot allow security concerns to dictate his schedule, visitations and practices, nor should they.  An effective ‘executive protection’ service must allow the ‘executive’ the greatest amount of freedom and movement for effective leadership.  Protecting the Pope will be an intelligence function requiring the creative and imaginative analysis of open source intelligence (with scanning, not monitoring as the process).  The greatest intellectual challenge will be identifying those new groups and individuals whose positions and privilege will be affected to the point where they consider taking action.  Protecting the priest with the troublesome agenda of attacking entrenched power and privilege will be a difficult task, but it is not impossible.

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