A week after his selection, the new Pope seems to be a huge hit.
Only 2 per cent of U.S. adults are unhappy with Pope Francis, according to Pew Research.
While there does appear to be some controversy over his actions during Argentina’s “dirty war” and previous comments about gay adoption, these comments do not seem to have dented his overall image.
One of the keys to his popularity may be Pope Francis’s humble demeanor. He is well-known in his home diocese of Buenos Aires for taking the bus, rather than the limo he was entitled to as Archbishop. For a church frequently seen as out-of-touch, this could be important.
This attitude may be a result of the pope’s personal and religious background, the son of a railway worker immigrant and a member of the Jesuits.
During Francis’ installation mass he emphasised this factor, calling on the church to serve the “the poorest, the weakest, the least important.”
His actions have been humble too, from his call to an Argentinian newspaper kiosk to cancel his newspaper subscription to his breaking of tradition to hold the first papal Holy Thursday service at a jail for teenagers. Before the installation mass, he even lingered to bless a disabled pilgrim:
This humbleness may be a factor behind what appears to be Francis’ sly sense of humour. He has previously joked that journalists “risk becoming ill from coprophilia”, and he was apparently cracking jokes when he first met the press after his election.
Whether Francis is ultimately viewed as a success will depend on whether he can find a balance between the twin demands of reform and conservation, and whether he can handle the internal divisions within the Vatican.
To those seeking reform, the very announcement of a Pope Francis may represent a symbolic and positive shift: the first Latin American pope leads a church that is currently 40 per cent Latin American. That resonates in the US too, as a a third of the all American Catholics are Hispanic.
Even those with more specific reforms in mind are seeing signs of hope. Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Dish writes today about positive signs he sees in Francis. “Where Benedict was a withdrawn absolutist, Francis is an engaged pragmatist,” Sullivan begins, before outlining what he sees as bright sparks in Francis’ discussion of priestly celibacy and gay relations.
Of course, almost all of this is based on first impressions. In 2005, people were very excited about Joseph Ratzinger when he became Pope Benedict. However, despite high hopes for reform, Benedict ended up mired in scandals: namely sexual abuse scandals and the internal power struggles exposed by “VatiLeaks”.
As described in the “Vatican Diaries”, a recent book from John Thavis, Benedict was an intellectual at heart, and didn’t have the ability to stand up to the Vatican’s complicated internal divisions and powerful bureaucracy. Even if Francis has good intentions, some Catholic experts have already expressed doubts over his ability to lead such a fractured community.
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