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Is Pope Francis just another great 'reformer'?

Yesterday's papal announcement has been followed by headlines heralding Pope Francis I as an agent of change within the Catholic Church: Pope Francis the Reformer?; Pope Francis has mandate to reform Church; Election of Pope Francis fuels hope for Catholic reform; Expect Pope Francis to bring change.

But is the hype over Pope Francis really all that unique? Here's a look at some other popes who have been called reformers at the outset of (or during) their tenures.

Benedict (2005-2013)

Yes, it's true that no one labeled conservative Benedict a reformer upon his election. In fact, more reform-minded Catholics were not pleased when he took office. But Pope Benedict has been called the "great reformer" on the issue of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. And he was the first pope to challenge the Vatican's longtime ban on contraceptives. Also, wasn't his ultimate act -- early resignation -- hugely reformist? After all, when Celestine resigned from the papacy in 1294, he earned a spot in Dante's Inferno for his "great refusal." Benedict ended his papal career with the illustrious title, "something of a reformer after all."

John Paul II (1978-2005)

Upon John Paul II's election, he made speeches promising to continue the reforms of his two predecessors. In particular, John Paul II was expected to reform the curia, something that John Paul I was unable to accomplish in his short reign. You might ask, doesn't Pope Francis also want to reform the curia? Yes, but apparently Francis wants to do it for real this time.

John Paul I (1978)

When John Paul was elected after only one day of deliberation in August 1978, scholars saw his choice of a name as a sign of his commitment to change. "It means he will keep reform paramount, and with the hope of combining the best both of the late Popes John and Paul," Monsignor Charles Elmer told the Associated Press at the time. Unfortunately, John Paul I died after 33 days as pope. Some conspiracy theories posit that John Paul I was murdered for his liberal beliefs.

Paul VI (1963-1978)

"Rome Believes New Pope Will Press for Reforms," read a New York Times headline on June 21, 1963, the day the conclave elected Pope Paul VI. Paul's VI pontificate, according to the article, was supposed to bring "an energetic continuation of the progressive course chartered by [his predecessor] Pope John XXIII." One book written about Paul ten years after he died is titled, Der Einsame Reformer, or The Lone Reformer.

Pope John XXIIII (1958-1963)

A few days after Pope John XXIII stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter's, the New York Times reported that the new pontiff had made it clear that "he intended to give the church the vigorous leadership it needs." Though one of the main issues John XXIII faced at the time was how to address communism, the article also describes the pope as from the "progressive wing of the Catholic church ... that thinks that the Church could and should do more to meet the needs and the aspirations for the laboring masses." Sound familiar?

I'd continue, but I think you can all see where this list is heading. All I can say is, for an institution that's elected so many "reformers" to lead it, the Catholic Church has remained remarkably unchanged since, say, the Council of Trent.

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Is the Clandestine Service a den of promiscuity or not?

Ever since the scandal involving ex-CIA Director David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell erupted, the topic of sexual infidelity in the CIA has filled the pages of newspapers and magazines. And without a doubt, the purported promiscuity of CIA agents makes for intoxicating reading. But is the portrait accurate?

It turns out, there are two excellent resources for answering that very question. On Thursday, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi published a lengthy essay on the subject in the American Conservative. It follows another lengthy essay on the same subject by former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht in the New Republic. Both former spies regale the reader with epic tales of sexual deviance within the agency. But they differ on one important subject: the Clandestine Service (i.e., the CIA arm most directly involved in clandestine operations). Gerecht thinks it a hotbed of promiscuity while Giraldi thinks it a standout wing of fidelity in a randy organization.

If you ask Gerecht, members of the Clandestine Service embody that James Bond-meets-used car salesmen mythology:

Case officers, the CIA personnel who handle intelligence-collection and covert-action operations, are bottom-feeders. They search the strengths and weaknesses of character in the foreigners they want to recruit and run as agents; few things are off limits. Unlike soldiers, who have each other's backs in battle, case officers build on both trust and deceit. And they work in a promotion system that often rewards intellectually dishonest operatives for making a mediocre new recruit seem like solid gold. This sort of thing tends to make officers jaded pretty quickly. Historically, prudes have rarely done well in the institution. Admiral Stansfield Turner, President Jimmy Carter's CIA director, didn't have many fans for a variety of reasons-not least because he wanted operatives, and the ops they ran, to be more wholesome. He was too prissy for the job.... There was a general understanding, when I was in the service, that the CIA was a fairly randy place, at least for heterosexuals. Affairs and divorce were almost a rite of passage within the operations directorate.

But ask Giraldi, and he says Gerecht has it exactly wrong: The Clandestine Service is where the straight arrows are:

Gerecht greatly exaggerates the prevalence of infidelity in the Clandestine Service. I contacted some alte kameraden from places I served in, and we all agreed that most stations and larger bases generally had one spectacular philanderer and a few wannabes, but that there was little actual playing around. And for those who would argue that the transgressions were secret, enabled by CIA tradecraft, I would note that the lack of any opprobrium meant that those who philandered were fairly open about it....

Real spies, the agents who collect information and pass it on, are not notably promiscuous. CIA officer Aldrich Ames, FBI agent Robert Hanssen, and U.S. Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, all of whom spied against the U.S., were, if anything, sexually repressed. Among the case officers who run the agents there has always been a lot of salacious talk, not unlike in a college fraternity, but relatively little hanky panky, possibly due in part to the fact that so many officers were Catholic and already carrying a full boatload of guilt from catechism class and the confessional.

Who to believe? Since both men served in the same agency, and there's no reason to impugn their honesty, the true nexus of CIA infidelity will likely remain open for debate for years to come. The Clandestine Service? The Directorate of Intelligence? Maybe the Directorate of Science and Technology? In any case, both authors offer recommendations for how the agency should deal with sexual infidelity in a post-Petraues CIA, which makes them each worth reading in full.