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Pope Francis as Person of the Year

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If ever there was a no-brainer for Time magazine’s selection of Person of the Year, it is this amazing Pope. There’s an interesting new survey that explains how he is resonating with Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll
finds an amazing 92% have a positive view of Francis and 95% of the Catholic Church in general. Pope Benedict was at 73% after the announcement of his retirement last February.

There is a slight political divide. His ratings are highest among Catholics who describe themselves as moderate or liberal. But even “conservative” Catholics give him a 91% approval rating. Non-Catholics give him a 62-18 favorable/unfavorable, compared to 48/31 for Benedict.

The reasons for the amazing appeal of this Pope seem fairly obvious to me. His humility, his call for economic justice and equality, his warnings about the excesses of capitalism all echo the words and philosophies credited to Christ himself. Those who know Francis say his own experiences as a Cardinal in Argentina inform these views, especially on economic issues. Through Argentina’s rough, depression-like economic downswings he saw first-hand the massively wide gulf between the poor and the rich. At a time when this disparity has never been greater in the United States and throughout the world, his message resonates powerfully.

But those on the moderate/liberal side of the equation should not misconstrue the Pope’s populist positions as a change in Church doctrine on a host of controversial issues. What has changed is the emphasis.

Agree or disagree with aspects of these doctrines, for example, there is a basic consistency to them. On abortion, it is completely consistent to be anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. Conversely, in my opinion, there is a dissonance in espousing pro-choice/anti-death penalty views or anti-abortion/pro death penalty positions. I mean sanctity of life is sanctity of life. And while I admit I am still in the “dissonant” camp, I can still step outside my views and see the inconsistencies of my own political beliefs.

The point in regard to the Pope’s emphasis on certain issues is that the Church often lands on both sides of the political ledger, with positions on economic equality and against the death penalty, for example, falling on the liberal side and policies on abortion and homosexuality on the conservative side. The most recent Popes have dwelt exclusively on the conservative side of things and in the process have alienated moderates and progressives. Francis, meanwhile, is emphasizing things like economic equality and brings his great sense of humility to bear on topics like homosexuality in which he states, in his own words- “Who am I to judge?”

Ultimately, I think it is his disarming humility that is the foundation of his appeal. He walks the walk. He lives in a modest apartment. You won’t ever see him wearing Benedict’s famous red Prada slippers. He has literally washed the feet of convicts and beggars. Vatican security confirms he regularly sneaks out at night to mingle with normal people. He classifies himself first and foremost, not as Pope, but as a sinner.

I know there remains a very deep well of anger against the Catholic Church for its past actions; from sexual abuse and attendant cover-ups to economic hypocrisy in building wealth- quite literally through the contributions from the poor and dispossessed.

But in this miracle of a Pope, there is hope. Hope that humility, enlightenment and the philosophies of Christ himself, will lead the Church, and the rest of us, to a much, much better place.

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