Pope Francis' problematic popularity

January 17, 2014
Source: District of the USA

The Holy Father is rather popular at this time, but is it for the right reasons?

Almost one year after his election, the popularity of Pope Francis is at its height in the United States. After making the cover of the progressive weekly magazine The New Yorker on December 23 of last year and being elected “Person of the Year” by Time magazine earlier that same month (see DICI no. 287, 12-20-2013), the oldest homosexual publication in America, The Advocate, also designated him “Man of the Year” for 2013.

To illustrate this distinction, the American monthly reprinted on the cover of its December issue the words that the Supreme Pontiff had spoken to the journalists on the airplane that brought him back from Rio de Janeiro to Rome last July: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, then who am I to judge him?” (See DICI no. 280, 8-9-2013).

In its editorial, the magazine justifies its choice by explaining that “the most influential person of 2013 did not emerge from our ongoing legal battle but from our spiritual battle, in which successes are more difficult to define.” And so the editors think that there was “no vote and no law, yet a significant, unprecedented change has taken place this year in the way in which LGBT persons [lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals] are considered by one of the largest religious communities.” For the magazine, “the positions of many Catholics on ethical questions should not lead us to underestimate the ability of a pope to persuade hearts and minds to be open to LGBT persons.”

The magazine concludes by recalling that John Paul II and Benedict XVI too received an award, but a negative one in their case. They were among the recipients of the “Phobia Prize”. For the American publication, the “profound change” in the rhetoric of Pope Francis in comparison with that of his predecessors makes his statement “even more daring”.

Was it to try to downplay this shameful award, whereby Francis was pitted in this way against his predecessors, that Father Federico Lombardi intervened on January 5? He deplored the “exploitation” of the remarks of the Supreme Pontiff, declaring that each time a pope mentions the subject of homosexuality or of sexuality in general, his words are subjected to spin by the major media that reduces them to oversimplifications. Thus, the statement that Pope Francis made as he was returning from Brazil last July: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, then who am I to judge him?” had become, according to the Vatican spokesman: “If a person is homosexual, who am I to judge him?” (An oversimplification that The Advocate did not make.)

As Antonio Margheriti Mastino asked in an article published at the website Qelsi on October 1, 2013:

It is high time now to stop playing the piacione [person who seeks to please everyone] every day in the newspapers; it is time to weigh words, to say less and to work a little more—in silence. Before he [Francis] becomes totally indefensible—and God knows how much venom we swallow every day to avoid being tempted to lose patience—because the confusion that he is creating among Catholic is becoming obvious: one day he says one thing, the next day something else, always oblique, deliberately ambiguous half-sentences tossed out haphazardly…. (See DICI no. 284, 11-5-2013).

Again in the United States, a poll conducted by the American cable television network CNN reveals that 88% of Catholics in that country have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis. According to the results of the survey published on December 24, 2013, 75% of Americans in general consider that the pope is doing a good job.

The Holy Father also found himself winning the title of “best-dressed man of 2013” awarded by the American men’s magazine Esquire. The magazine explained on its website on December 27 that it had honored the Pontiff for the “symbolic importance” of his apparel choices: “He generally avoided splendor and always chose the simplest clothes among those that were offered to him.”

Finally, Pope Francis was elected by the Chinese press the third “key man” of the year 2013, on the occasion of the 15th international press forum that was held in Beijing on December 15. According to a dispatch from the Vatican missionary agency Fides dated January 7, 2014, this was the first religious figure to be included in this category decided by 50 representatives of the media and of the country’s most influential associations of journalists and diplomats.

(Sources: apic/imedia/advocate/esquire.com/fides/archives dici.org—DICI no. 288, 1-17-2014)