1. Pope’s first term: Clear wins, mixed verdicts and unfinished business.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, March 13, 2017

Francis’s papacy is four years old today, which, for Americans, can’t help but suggest it’s the end of his first term. (That, of course, is not actually how things work in the Vatican, where popes don’t stand for re-election, but that won’t stop many Americans from attaching a special resonance to today’s milestone.)

Whatever one makes of Pope Francis, whether one finds him inspiring or infuriating, there’s no question the last four years have been an earthquake in the Catholic Church. Francis has taken the wider world by storm and shaken up the Church he leads in a variety of ways, the full implications of which probably won’t be clear for a long time.

In the spirit of taking stock, the following offers a sampler of clear wins Francis has notched over the last four years, a couple of mixed verdicts, and three incompletes.

Clear wins: Public profile
Four years on, there’s little sign that the fascination with Francis is abating. His appeal is clear in multiple ways, from the combined following of his nine twitter accounts in excess of 30 million, to opinion polls around the world showing Francis with remarkably high approval ratings, not to mention the saturation-style media coverage virtually anything he says or does draws.

Mixed verdicts: Amoris Laetitia
After the document appeared, different bishops around the world began issuing guidelines or making statements about its implementation, and the signals they’ve sent have been widely contrasting. Given that Francis has indicated he doesn’t intend to make any further binding declarations on the subject, at least for now, it appears the diversity in approach is here to stay.

Unfinished business: Sex abuse scandals
Early on Francis inspired confidence among survivors of clerical sexual abuse and their advocates, because he pledged his unwavering support for a policy of “zero tolerance,” and because he seemed prepared to back it up, creating a new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.

As time went on, however, that confidence began to ebb. In part, that’s been due to some steps perceived as insensitive to abuse victims, such as naming a bishop in Chile with a history as an apologist for that country’s most notorious abuser priest. It’s also due to the fact that some promised reform measures have been slow in getting off the ground, such as a new mechanism for imposing discipline on bishops who mishandle abuse complaints.


2. Four years on, Francis’s pastoral revolution is the heart of it all.

By Austen Ivereigh, Crux, March 13, 2017

Pope Francis’s four years at the helm in Rome have been one long Lent, a time of conversion  – which involves both pain and joy – and of re-focussing on the Church’s primary purpose. The template for the transformation was designed in Latin America, and it is called “pastoral conversion.”

The idea is that when the Church  – not just its clergy but all its “missionary disciples” – learn how to be pastors to humanity as Jesus was, the churches will fill and the world will be converted.

The program needed to come from Latin America, because the capacity for self-renewal in Europe and the United States had been exhausted. The wealthy but declining Churches of the north needed to learn again how to pastor.

Its culture often sees Catholicism as sad and angry, something coercive and domineering, hurling rules at people and concerned with itself rather than with humanity.

That story is false, but it was true enough often enough to be hard to refute – and there was no shortage of clergy and bishops and cardinals to reinforce it.

Pastoral conversion is summed up in the three key words of Amoris: accompaniment, discernment, and integration. It implies a way of the Church treating the ‘world’ – not shouting at it, but serving it, teaching it, healing it.

Francis insists he is not a reformer, and had no program of reform for the Church four years ago. But he did.

It was called pastoral conversion. It was designed in Latin America, and remains the core program of the pontificate. To the extent that it is effective – and, at least judging by the ferocious opposition, it is – history will judge Pope Francis.


3. The Vatican and clergy sex abuse, A survivor is frustrated by inertia and indifference.

The Washington Post, March 12, 2017, Pg A16, Editorial

When Pope Francis established a commission in 2014 to address sexual abuse by clergy members, he picked two survivors, victims themselves, to serve on the 17-member panel. Now, three years later, both are gone, having denounced foot-dragging and official intransigence inside the Vatican.

Sadly, the resignation this month from the commission of one survivor, which followed the forced ouster a year earlier of another, is only one among the more recent indications that the pope’s public pledges of zero tolerance for abuse and expressions of sympathy for victims are unmatched by institutional transformation.

Among the last straws for Ms. Collins was that Francis, despite his zero-tolerance policy, quietly eased discipline for some abusive clergymen, allowing them to remain in the priesthood, albeit without ministering to congregants, rather than defrocking them.


4. More days without a woman, Radical feminists rage against suspending American dollars for foreign abortions.

The Washington Times, March 13, 2017, Editorial

The United States is by far the largest global funder of family-planning services, i.e., abortions, and Mr. Trump expanded the bar against U.S. aid to foreign organizations that use funds from other sources to perform or promote abortion. Foreign NGOs that provide abortions or abortion information have to make a choice, either stop promoting abortions abroad or get by without U.S. dollars. Suzanne Ehlers, president of Population Action International, which lobbies for what it euphemistically refers to as “women’s reproductive health,” says that groups in 60 countries worldwide receive $9 billion. That will now be saved and available for worthy causes.

There’s a certain irony in this for the feminists. In many of the Third World countries where groups like Marie Stopes International provide abortions, female fetuses are disproportionately destroyed through sex-selection abortions. Foes of that “gag rule,” whether they like it or not, ultimately contribute to many days in the future without a woman.


5. How 10 Archbishops Shaped the City.

By Sam Roberts, The New York Times, March 12, 2017, Page MB3, Bookshelf

As the spiritual leader of nearly three million Catholics in the nation’s second-largest archdiocese, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan remains a force to be reckoned with. But if Edward N. Costikyan were still cataloging New York’s top 10 power brokers, would the cardinal make the cut?

Most institutional power has diffused since New York magazine published those lists almost a half-century ago. But the organized church has been particularly enfeebled by a combination of mid-20th-century white flight, child sexual abuse cases and its failure to engage enough young people and newly arrived immigrants.

George J. Marlin and Brad Miner trace its evolution, from 1850 to the present, in the timely “Sons of Saint Patrick: A History of the Archbishops of New York From Dagger John to Timmytown” (Ignatius Press, $34.95).

The authors, who approach the subject with solid canonical and conservative credentials, note that Catholicism started inauspiciously in New Amsterdam — a French Jesuit missionary, who was later tomahawked by Native Americans, counted three Catholics there, including himself, in 1643.

By the middle of the 19th century in New York, though, “Catholicism went from being a minority Christian denomination to America’s largest,” thanks mainly to Irish immigration.

The authors conclude, there are “few other religious leaders in New York who have had or are likely to have the moral influence of its Catholic archbishop.”


6. Pope Francis Signals Openness to Ordaining Married Men in Some Cases.

By Jason Horowitz, The New York Times, March 11, 2017, Pg. A7

Pope Francis this week signaled receptiveness to appeals from bishops in the remote and overwhelmed corners of the Roman Catholic Church to combat a deepening shortage of priests by ordaining married men who are already committed to the church.

In an interview with a German newspaper, the pope made clear that he was not advocating an end to celibacy for current priests or those aspiring to join the clergy. But his seeming openness about the prospect of ordaining married men in places hardest hit by a dearth of priests was unusually explicit and brought the issue to the forefront.

“We need to think about whether ‘viri probati’ could be a possibility,” Francis, using the Latin phrase for such “tested” men, said in an interview with the newspaper, Die Zeit. “If so, we would need to determine what duties they could undertake, for example, in remote communities.”

Before being chosen as pope in 2013, Francis — who was then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio — said in remarks included in the book “On Heaven and Earth” that clerical celibacy was “a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change.”

In 2014, as pope, he took a step that made it easier for married men to serve as priests, when he lifted a ban imposed in 1929 that had prohibited Eastern Catholic bishops from ordaining married men to the priesthood in Australia, Canada and the United States.

Until Francis made that change, the Eastern Rite churches could ordain married men only in their own territories.


7. Vatican Confirms Papal Trip to Egypt Under Study.

By The Associated Press, March 11, 2017, 10:27 A.M.

The Vatican is confirming a papal trip to Egypt is under consideration but that no dates or itinerary have been finalized.

The statement Saturday by spokesman Greg Burke came after Italy’s state-run RAI reported Francis would visit Cairo’s Al-Azhar, the leading center of learning of Sunni Islam, on May 20-21.

The Vatican and Al-Azhar recently restored relations that the Cairo institute severed in 2011 to protest comments by then-Pope Benedict XVI.

Benedict in 2011 had demanded greater protection for Christians in Egypt after a New Year’s bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria killed 21 people. Since then, Islamic attacks on Christians in the region have only increased, but the Vatican and Al-Azhar nevertheless sought to rekindle ties.


8. Pope to Make Four-Day Visit to Colombia in September. 

By Reuters, March 10, 2017

Pope Francis will visit Colombia in September, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Friday, stopping in Bogota, Medellin, Villavicencio and Cartagena during a four-day trip.

The pope has been a key supporter of Colombia’s peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels, even brokering discussions between Santos and his top opposition rival, former president Alvaro Uribe.

“His holiness gave us courage, he gave us momentum, he encouraged all Colombians to persevere in the search for peace and now he will come to Colombia during a unique moment for our country,” Santos said after meeting with Colombia’s episcopal council of bishops.

Francis will visit between Sept. 6 and Sept. 10.


9. Pope Francis suggests an openness to ordaining married men as priests.

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Julie Zauzmer, The Washington Post Online, March 10, 2017, 3:39 PM

Pope Francis has suggested he would be open to studying whether the Catholic Church should ordain men who are married as priests to help deal with the shortage of clergy in remote areas of the world.

Francis has said in the past that priests should be celibate, but the rule was not dogma, and “the door is always open” to change. His latest interview suggested a particular case in which the church could consider ordaining married priests, such as clergy in remote locations.

It’s unclear whether the idea — if approved — would extend to the United States, and it’s likely a question bishops would propose to the pope if they saw the need, said Massimo Faggioli, a church historian at Villanova University. This is part of Francis’s vision of a decentralized church, he said, and the idea of celibate priests is more institutional, financial and cultural than it is theological.

The Catholic Church had married priests in its earlier years, though celibacy became a standard in the church and a flash point in the larger debates in the Protestant Reformation. In the United States, the celibacy requirement is partly what sets priests apart from clergy in Protestant denominations.

The number of priests in the U.S. church has been steadily on the decline since the 1960s. In 2016, there were about 37,000 priests, compared to 58,000 in 1965, according to Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

“This is not a slippery slope of ordaining other kinds of clergy,” said Patrick Hornbeck, chair of the theology department at Fordham University. “He’s talking about broadening an existing practice. I would caution against reading too much into it.”


10. Latest ‘Rolling Stone’ cover captures Francis’s appeal to Millenials.

By Claire Giangravè, Editorial Assistant, Crux, March 10, 2017

The front page of Rolling Stone Italia flashes white and yellow this month, flaunting the Vatican colors in the busy newsstands. Pope Francis looks smilingly from the canary background, raising his thumb, enticing the reader to escape the busy streets to the content within.

Bright pink letters read: FRANCIS, POP POPE

But what makes Pope Francis such a popular choice for magazines? The Rolling Stone had never had a pontiff on its cover before, not even the media-friendly John Paul II.

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, ‘pop’ stands to mean, “enjoyed by many people and easy to understand.” Many would say Francis easily fits the bill, but his appeal is especially strong among one demographic cohort: Millennials.

According to the Rolling Stone 2016 reader profile, nearly 50 percent of the magazine’s audience is between the ages of 18 and 34. Pope Francis, with his more than thirty million followers on Twitter, gives Twenty-one Pilots – whose song “Stressed Out” was allegedly a “Millennial Anthem” – and their two and a half million followers, a run for their money.

Francis’s unique communicative method speaks to Millennials in a very special way through his “realness,” his anti-establishment persona, his focus on mercy as an all-inclusive practice, and his savvy use of technology.

Francis has referred to money as “the dung of the devil” and has criticized the free market, capitalism and trickle down economics in no kinder tones.

By standing up against the man while still remaining relatable, Francis has become the rebel that Millennials love to love.