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A Year Later: Who Is Pope Francis?

By Deal W. Hudson
3/19/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Who is Pope Francis? You need look no further than the name he chose

Just who is the new pontiff, Pope Francis, after his first year in office? He's a Catholic, first of all, which has come as a surprise to much of the secular media.  He's neither a man of the left or the right and doesn't seem to look at the Church through that polarizing lens.  Pope Francis is attempting a paradigm shift in the Church, one that moves everything towards evangelization, whether it's theology, catechetics, apologetics, homiletics, or liturgy. 

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - In Italy polls say the Pope has increased Mass attendance and volunteer service. In America polling shows there has been no "Pope Francis effect" but that the new pontiff is very popular.  Immediately following his election on March 13, 2013, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, was hailed and embraced as a "man of the left." Many conservative commentators took the bait and started scrutinizing the new Pope and declared various "concerns."

That Pope Francis was neither Italian, or even European, but was a Jesuit from South America, fed the imaginations of the self-appointed defenders of orthodoxy. During the first few months of his papacy, every statement of support for the poor, vulnerable, and disenfranchised was viewed by the suspicious as a "social justice" Pope, with all the implications that contains for Catholic pro-life activists.

My initial view, as I wrote at the time, was that the man chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church could not be someone uninterested in the pro-life cause.  Even when the initial suspicions were confirmed by the Holy Father's September 19, 2013, offhand comments about toning down anti-abortion rhetoric, I considered that far from a distancing of himself from abortion, but rather a much-needed corrective in our pro-life efforts.

Pope Francis must have realized that he had inadvertently caused some confusion, because in an October 13, 2013, speech he called abortion a sign of living in a "throwaway culture." 

Then on January 13, 2014, in the Pope's "State of the World" address, his language became tougher, "It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day." In spite of these crystal clear statements, some remained skeptical.  But when a month later, Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, spoke forcefully in L'Osservatore Romano confirming the Pope's commitment to the pro-life and pro-marriage movements, the critics were effectively silenced.
 
"It is not that the Holy Father is not clear in his opposition to abortion and euthanasia, or in his support of marriage as the indissoluble, faithful and procreative union of one man and one woman .. rather he concentrates his attention on inviting all to nurture an intimate relationship, indeed communion, with Christ, within which the non-negotiable truths, inscribed by God upon every human heart, become ever more evident and are generously embraced."

What made Cardinal Burke's statement so effective is that an anti-Francis narrative was already being created after Cardinal Burke's removal from the Congregation of Bishops. In correcting the impression left on some by his removal from the Congregation of Bishops, Cardinal Burke made it very difficult for those Catholics who voiced "concerns" to continue doing so.  Cardinal Burke is looked upon as having a kind of final say in matters pertaining to Catholics and issues such as abortion and marriage. 

There will be those who will say Burke is just being a "team player," but anyone who really knows the former Archbishop of St. Louis - who created a firestorm in 2004 when he said he would deny communion to Sen. John Kerry - knows he never dissembles. 

Just who is the new pontiff, Pope Francis, after his first year in office? He's a Catholic, first of all, which has come as a surprise to much of the secular media.  He's neither a man of the left or the right and doesn't seem to look at the Church through that polarizing lens.  Pope Francis is attempting a paradigm shift in the Church, one that moves everything towards evangelization, whether it's theology, catechetics, apologetics, homiletics, or liturgy. 

This Pope recognizes the legacy left by his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, particularly their remarkable capacity as teachers of the faith, and is saying to us, "Now, let's put these legacies to work in the service of the Gospel, reaching out to all those who have felt pushed or alienated away from the Church." 

So, who is Pope Francis? You need look no further than the name he chose.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

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Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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