After an early-morning jaunt outside the Vatican walls reinforced the first impression of him as an unpretentious pontiff, Pope Francis hinted Thursday that he might reign with little patience for scandal by preaching integrity to a college of cardinals that has been racked by intrigue.

Amid reports about the machinations by which he was elected and anticipation about how he would govern a dysfunctional church court, Francis delivered a short but strong homily in plain Italian to the men who elected him on Thursday, arguing against stagnancy by saying that “our life is a journey, and if we stop, things don’t go well.”

The former archbishop of Buenos Aires made the remarks during a solemnly celebrated Mass in the Sistine Chapel. Vatican watchers had been waiting to see whether the 266th pope would deliver his homily in Latin, consistent with tradition, or in Italian, which would suggest a modesty consistent with the face he has put forward so far.

The symbolism of his message was hard to miss for a church that is mired in scandal, according to many of its faithful, and for a Vatican government that is gummed up by dysfunction, corruption and turf wars.

Francis’s elevation to the throne of Saint Peter represents a great leap forward for a church whose future could well rest in the hemisphere from which the Argentine hails.

Speaking softly to his cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, Francis nevertheless seemed to attack the hypocrisy that many believe has infected the governance of the church.

If people follow a path that is not the way of the cross, their titles mean nothing, he said. But if they are true to the Gospel and profess as the Lord did, he said, “then the church will go forward.”

The cardinals, wearing white and gold robes and red skullcaps, filed back into the Sistine Chapel at 5 p.m. Thursday. They bowed before an altar below Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” as the Sistine choir sang a hymn. Francis, with a white skullcap atop his bald pate and using a gold cross as a staff, brought up the rear.

His reading in Latin was meek, sometimes halting, but when he addressed the cardinals in his homily, the hesitation evaporated, and he seemed very much the simple and direct pastor that many of them said they sought in a pope.

Reports of machinations

But not all of them, according to Italian media reports.

Articles about the factions and failed candidacies that produced the surprise election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio filled Italian newspapers Thursday. The reports — unsourced, largely contradictory and thick with plots — perhaps said more about the Italian press than the machinations of the conclave.

One of La Stampa’s army of Vaticanisti, as the media’s Vatican specialists are known, reported that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a former Vatican secretary of state, had a vendetta against the front-runner, Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, for once suggesting that Pope Benedict XVI fire him. Scola, the paper wrote, was “betrayed by his countrymen on the first vote.” It said the lack of support cleared the way for Ber­goglio.

With the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the 266th pope, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have broken Europe's long stranglehold on the papacy.

La Repubblica instead reported a “gradual crescendo” of votes for Bergoglio until Scola, realizing he couldn’t make it, threw his bloc of support to the Argentine on the third ballot. Bergoglio then easily overcame a mini-surge for Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. The Latin Americans voted as a bloc and rejected a compromise candidate such as Canadian Marc Ouellet, because there was little interest in conceding anything to the curial cardinals, the paper said.

But Corriere della Sera instead cast Bergoglio’s win as a compromise, saying that the 76-year-old Argentine would represent a Latin American “trial run” and noting that he had an Italian father. The paper, observing that another South American, Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil, had German parents, asserted that Italians take a dim view of Germans these days as a result of the European financial crisis.

Reforming the Curia?

Other Vatican analysts chose to look forward, wondering how Francis would rearrange the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that governs the Holy See.

“This is the big question,” said John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries,” a book about the reign of Pope Benedict. He was one of the few church watchers to predict Bergoglio’s election after his sources in the College of Cardinals talked about the strong impression the Argentine had made in pre-
conclave meetings.

“We’ll see in his appointments how serious he is about tackling this stuff,” Thavis said. “If the secretary of state is one of these same old guys, the curial cardinals are going to feel reassured.”

In his first morning as supreme pontiff, Francis visited the Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary, slipping in through a side entrance.

Accompanied by prelates, Francis entered the basilica’s domed Pauline Chapel, deposited flowers at the altar and knelt before the Madonna Protectress of the Roman People icon of the Virgin Mary.

He then sat in the front pew for five minutes of silent prayer, said Monsignor Emilio Silvestrini. All of the clerics and religious personnel in attendance lined up afterward to greet Francis.

“It was the feeling of a lifetime,” Silvestrini said.

Since his election Wednesday evening, much commentary has centered on Francis’s humble bearing, his conversational tone, even from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, and his preference for a simple white cassock over lavish vestments of the type usually worn by his predecessor. The Vatican is doing nothing to get in the way of that story line.

At a briefing Thursday, Lombardi repeatedly referred to the new pope’s simple lifestyle and tastes. Instead of a large motorcade, Lombardi pointed out, the new pope rode to the basilica with minimal fanfare. When he left the church, he “waved to kids across the street.” Then he stopped off at his pre-
conclave residence on the Via della Scrofa, in the center of Rome, to pick up his luggage and pay his bill, “to give a good example,” Lombardi said.