Pope Francis is the 'World's Parish Priest'
(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Francis became the leader of the Catholic Church in March, bringing to the Vatican a series of firsts: the first pope to choose St. Francis as a namesake, the first Latin American pope, and the first Jesuit pope.
His conversational first words from St. Peter’s balcony asked the people to pray for him, a humble greeting that captured many hearts. The messages he has spread since then — those of tolerance, equality, and humanitarianism — made him one of This Week's "game changers" for 2013.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York explained “The Francis effect” in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
“This pope has successfully, finally shattered the caricature of the church that his predecessors have tried hard to do. What’s that caricature? That the church is kind of mean and dour and always saying no and always telling us what we can’t do and always telling us why we should be excluded,” Cardinal Dolan said. “He’s saying ‘Oh no, come on in, the church is about warmth and tenderness.’”
Pope Francis’ efforts are clearly working. In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 92 percent of American Catholics have a favorable opinion of the new pope, and 85 percent think he is moving the church in the right direction.
Cardinal Dolan said he knew Pope Francis would make positive change, but said the extent of his impact has been a pleasant surprise.
“What we were after was a good pastor with a track record of solid administration, fatherly warmth, tender care for his sheep, for his people, and boy, we got that on steroids with Pope Francis. He’s the world’s parish priest,” Dolan said.
Pope Francis is a star among both the young and the old, speaking out in new ways that excite believers and nonbelievers alike. Though he holds to the church doctrine, he strives to downplay what he calls the church’s obsession with social issues. Pope Francis has made headlines for saying that atheists can go to heaven and when asked about homosexuality, responded, “Who am I to judge?”
“The teaching of the church is a timeless gift, you can’t change it, it’s ours, we inherit it, we’re given it, but the way we gift wrap it, the way we make it more attractive, and more compelling to the world, that can always change, and that’s what Francis is saying,” Dolan said.
In Pope Francis’ first exhortation outlining his vision for the church, he took a critical stance against capitalism, denouncing society’s “idolatry of money” and an economy that kills.
“There’s only one God and money ain’t it,” Dolan agreed.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the new head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reinforced that Pope Francis is serious about Catholicism’s sacred tradition.
“He is giving us a new zeal, he’s giving us new expressions and a new method,” Kurtz said. “He is saying the same time-honored, beautiful message of Christ, but in a way that’s really touching hearts.”
But not everyone is touched. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said the pope’s recent criticisms of capitalism sound like “pure Marxism.”
Time Magazine, however, is not in the camp of pope criticizers, with the magazine recognizing Pope Francis’ widespread impact by naming him 2013′s Person of the Year. And the pope’s understated reaction? Most would say it was fitting.
“He doesn’t want to be the center of attention. He wants others to be the center,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “Gosh, that’s a great Francis effect, isn’t it?”