A Radical Pope

Roman Catholic Church

A Radical Pope

Francis has challenged the Catholic Church. How much can he change it?

May 11, 2015

This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here.

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The philosopher Michael Walzer argues that a passionate approach to politics is always risky, but its hazards “cannot be avoided altogether, unless one gives up the hope for great achievements.” This quest for greatness ends, he adds, “when conviction and passion, reason and enthusiasm, are radically split and when this dichotomy is locked onto the dichotomy of the holding center and the chaos of dissolution.”

Whether or not Pope Francis has read Walzer, this passage offers a key to the success of his papacy and to the astonishing popularity he enjoys around the globe. The pope is not conflicted: His convictions are harnessed to a powerful passion for a merciful God, and he reasons his way to an infectious enthusiasm for life, love, and justice.

But even more important is his rejection of fear—fear that modernity has called forth an onslaught of secularism that threatens to undermine Christianity’s cultural and social role, and fear that Catholicism itself is endangered by these larger forces that might have worked their way into the Church in the name of reform. Francis emphatically does not worry too much about the center failing to hold. He does not court chaos, but he certainly believes in the saving power of surprise.

“If the Church is alive, it must always surprise,” he said in 2014 on Pentecost Sunday. “A Church that doesn’t have the capacity to surprise is a weak, sickened, and dying Church. It should be taken to the recovery room at once.” Michael Gerson, the conservative columnist who writes frequently about social justice, has called Francis a “troublemaker.” He meant it as a compliment.

“Be Not Afraid” was one of Saint Pope John Paul II’s signature exhortations, and it certainly captured his buoyant personal spirit and his fearless opposition to communist dictatorship in Poland. Yet his papacy and also Pope Benedict XVI’s were rooted in a strategy of consolidation and restoration that reflected deep alarm over what had happened to the Church, and what was happening outside its doors.

Theirs was a plausible approach if one assumed that the Church’s central task was to preserve its “deposit of faith” at a time of growing doubt. If those assumptions were true, Catholicism’s obligation was to be “countercultural” in offering an antidote to the acids of modernity and in establishing a community of uncompromising believers who would hold fast to the institution and to the truths it taught. In the West especially, this might lead to a smaller church in the medium term. But by being tough-minded and coherent, the Church would put itself in a better position to evangelize and prosper again in more congenial times. Not for nothing did Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger take the name Benedict—after an earlier pope but also after the saint who founded the religious order that bears his name. Pope Benedict explained that Saint Benedict’s “life evokes the Christian roots of Europe.” Europe, he believed, was straying far from its Christian underpinnings.

Pope Francis’s Catholicism is also “countercultural,” but in an entirely different way. What he preaches is decidedly out of tune with the messages of advertisements bombarding contemporary men and women, particularly in the wealthy nations; with the direction of economic globalization; and with a culture of instant gratification—and instant profit. Like his predecessors, he sees the Catholic Church, whose roots long predate the Enlightenment, as necessarily in a dialectical relationship with modernity. It criticizes it and learns from it, but never capitulates to it.

The contrast with his predecessors comes partly in Francis’s less gloomy outlook on the Church’s relationship to our time. He has spoken out against “querulous and disillusioned pessimists,” and is certainly the only pope ever to take people to task for being “sourpusses.” As the columnist Mark Shields has observed, in a Church and a world often divided between those who hunt heretics and those who look for converts, Francis is resolutely a convert-seeker. He seems to be speaking especially to those who identify with Kanye West’s plea: “I want to talk to God, but I’m afraid ’cause we ain’t spoke in so long.”

When it comes to his own institution, Francis most emphatically rejects the idea that “the holding center” should be his priority. On the contrary, Francis sees “the center,” including the Vatican itself and the traditional ways of the Church’s leaders and priests, as in great need of great reform. He speaks of “a conversion of the papacy” itself and has argued that “excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life.”


IF YOU DIDN'T KNOW HE WAS the pope, you’d assume Francis was anticlerical. He has argued that “the spirit of careerism” in the Church “is a form of cancer.” He scores the “theatrical severity and sterile pessimism” and the “funereal face” of those who exercise power in the Church. He has warned against the pursuit of “an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’” and has criticized “those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists.” He sees the Church not as a throne from which to judge sinners but as a refuge for them, “a field hospital after battle.”

Who ever imagined a pope would use the words “Who am I to judge?” Many of us thought that is what popes do for a living. The quickly famous line won him the broad affection of gays and lesbians even though he has yet to alter a comma in the Church’s formal teaching on homosexuality.

He called for a Church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets.” If Francis is declared a saint someday, he might become the patron of community organizers.

(Associated Press)

Pope Francis washes the feet of inmates at Rome's Rebibbia prison for Holy Thursday on April 2, 2015. On Francis's first Holy Thursday, in 2013, he washed the feet of a dozen young people at a juvenile detention center, including two women and two Muslims, an act that scandalized traditionalists.

The pope has backed up his words with actions that point down a new path. He tossed away the trappings of piety and might, disdaining the ornate regalia that appeal to so many prelates. The joke in Rome was that as priests got on board with the new Pope’s program, many lacy surplices went on sale at steep discounts on eBay. He gave up the papal apartments and is known to treat the Vatican staff more as co-workers than employees.

On his first Holy Thursday, Francis washed the feet not of the usual group of priests gathered at St. Peter’s or another basilica, but of a dozen young people being held at a juvenile detention center, including two women and two Muslims. In the foreword to Elisabetta Piqué’s biography of Francis, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston and a close Francis adviser, noted that this act scandalized many traditionalists, much as Jesus’s original washing of the Apostles’ feet stunned them. The pope, O’Malley said, “replicated the surprise and shock of the apostles even as he dismayed those who preferred the stylized liturgy in a Basilica.”

And, yes, Francis also declared that Jesus Christ has redeemed everyone, “including atheists,” even if the atheists might insist they are not interested and many theological conservatives might be horrified at the suggestion of salvation without conversion. 

Francis has captured the world’s imagination. Global polling finds his popularity to be nearly universal. He is certainly loved in the United States. A recent Pew survey measured his favorable rating among Americans at 70 percent; only 15 percent had an unfavorable view. (Among Catholics, his favorability hit 90 percent.) Intriguingly, American liberals gave Francis a slightly higher favorable rating (74 percent) than conservatives (67 percent). This was certainly something new for a pope.

The perception shared across the dividing lines of politics, philosophy, and theology is that the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope is moving the Catholic Church in a progressive direction. This is certainly true by many measures, but it is also incomplete.



A STRONG CASE CAN BE MADE that Francis is not a liberal but a radical. His radicalism is obvious in his pronouncements on the injustices of capitalism, which please so many on the left. But Austen Ivereigh, whose recent biography is subtitled “Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope,” takes the R-word in a direction that is not, shall we say, universally associated with liberalism or the left. “Francis’s radicalism,” Ivereigh writes, “is born of his extraordinary identification with Jesus after a lifetime of total immersion in the Gospel and mystical prayer.”

Any attempt to come to terms with who Francis is and what he is doing must bear Ivereigh’s observation in mind. It is a reminder that the pope is motivated primarily by his relationship with Jesus Christ and his faith in a God of mercy. “If you understand that preaching a God of mercy is central to his ministry,” said the Catholic writer Michael Sean Winters, “everything else falls into place.” Much of the discussion of Francis understandably relates to his political views, to his recasting of the Church’s leadership around the globe, and to what is in many ways a break with the last 35 years of Church history. Yet his profound spirituality, of an old-fashioned sort rooted more in popular devotion than in high theology, is central to everything about him. When he takes on “the individualism of our postmodern and globalized era,” he is speaking about more than just economics. And when he describes “a vacuum left by secularist rationalism,” he is reminding us of the Catholic dialectic with modernity.

But neither should his spiritual radicalism be used to downplay how much change he is bringing about, and how he is moving a profound critique of economic injustice to the Church’s center stage. These are other aspects of his radicalism.

He has explicitly denounced “trickle-down” economics by name. It is, he says, a system that “expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power,” a view that “has never been confirmed by the facts” and has created a “globalization of indifference.” That conservatives like Rush Limbaugh have declared the pope’s approach “pure Marxism” should not be surprising; yet Francis sent a powerful message when he responded not with defensiveness but with a surprising declaration about the capaciousness of his friendships. “The Marxist ideology is wrong,” he told the Italian daily La Stampa. “But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

Lest anyone misunderstand him, he used the interview to give an additional spin to the trickle-down metaphor by way of describing the mystery of economic growth detached from rising wages. “The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor,” he observed. “But what happens instead is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger, nothing ever comes out for the poor.”

Francis worries about not only the market’s injustices, but also its role as the primary source of values and meaning in advanced societies. “We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” he said. “In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

And try to imagine an American liberal politician—even Bernie Sanders—who would dare say something like this: “In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

“How can it be,” Francis has asked, “that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

(Jeffrey Bruno)

Pope Francis at the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II last April.

I have offered only a small selection of Francis’s observations on economic justice but it’s obvious that this cause is central to his papacy. Yet while he speaks with exceptional passion and urgency, what Francis says is consistent with a long tradition of Catholic social teaching, Both John Paul II and Benedict could be fiercely critical of unregulated capitalism’s injustices. John Paul regularly decried “imperialistic monopoly” and “luxurious egoism,” and he memorialized his friendship with unions and workers in his powerful 1981 encyclical, “On Human Work.” Benedict’s 2009 economic encyclical, “Charity in Truth,” put him well to the left of Barack Obama. Market systems, Benedict said, needed to be tempered by “distributive justice and social justice.” He condemned “corruption and illegality” in “the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries,” spoke approvingly of “the redistribution of wealth,” and warned that nations should not seek to become more competitive by “lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers.”

Francis is like his predecessors in another important way: He continues to preach the Church’s opposition to abortion. “Unborn children,” he says, are “the most defenseless and innocent among us.” He insists that the Church’s position is not “ideological, obscurantist, and conservative,” but rather is “linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”

So why is Francis’s papacy so different? The key is not only the concreteness and fervor of his language about justice, but also the priority he gives to economic and social questions. He signaled this early on in an interview with Father Antonio Spadaro, published in Jesuit magazines around the world. Here are the words, in English, from the Jesuit magazine America in the fall of 2013, which shook the church, cheered liberals, and alarmed conservatives:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

He added: “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

With these words, Francis moved Catholicism decisively away from the culture wars. His comment about being “reprimanded” was important, too, since conservative Catholics, including key bishops, were unhappy with the papacy’s new focus. They were even more troubled after the interview.

In the American Church in particular, conservative bishops appointed in the John Paul and Benedict years had moved the focal point of public Catholicism away from its long-standing emphasis on social justice and toward what many of them called the “non-negotiable” issues: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and gay marriage.

This was a sharp break from where the Church had stood as recently as the 1980s, when Chicago’s Archbishop Joseph Bernardin argued for what he called the “seamless garment” that linked the Church’s opposition to abortion and euthanasia with questions he and his allies argued should also be part of a “consistent ethic of life.” These included opposition to capital punishment, an embrace of economic justice with a “preferential option for the poor,” and a skeptical view of war. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops caused a stir in the mid-1980s with two pastoral letters, one on nuclear war widely seen as implicitly critical of the Reagan administration, and another letter on economic justice that was broadly progressive and even social-democratic in outlook.

Catholic conservatives pushed back then, and they gained considerable ground within the hierarchy in subsequent years as Bernardin-era bishops were replaced by much more conservative appointees. The views of the conservatives were reflected by George Weigel, one of the Catholic right’s leading intellectuals, in his book Evangelical Catholicism, published in 2013, not long before Francis’s election. It was a book for the John Paul–Benedict Era.

Weigel has argued that the Church’s public witness should focus on “first principles” and “areas of the Church’s special competence.” He did not place war and peace issues within these parameters. Weigel had taken sharp issue with the Church’s opposition to the Iraq War in 2003 and scolded bishops in the process. The Bush White House, he argued, enjoyed the “charism of political discernment,” a gift “not shared by bishops.” Elected officials, he had insisted, were “more fully informed about the relevant facts.”

Weigel did not mention Iraq or who was “more fully informed” in his book ten years later, but he did emphasize “the limits of the social doctrine” and criticized a “lack of discipline in identifying and relentlessly pursuing those issues on which the Church has competence to speak.” Going broader—meaning, in effect, emphasizing the areas related to social justice on which the Church had been historically progressive—“dissipates energies that could be better applied in a more focused way,” Weigel wrote.

Francis’s America interview could only be read as a rebuke to the idea of limiting the church’s witness to the “non-negotiables” and as a rebirth of Bernardin’s “seamless garment” idea. Clearly, Francis does not see his emphasis on economic justice and poverty as a dissipation of his or the Church’s energies.


AND HERE, THE POPE'S STATUS as a son of Argentina and Latin America is key. His radical language about poverty is the language of the progressive wing of the Church in his region. This represents another break with John Paul and Benedict.

In 1968, Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian, wrote a paper entitled “Toward a Theology of Liberation,” urging Christians to take on the economic injustices of Latin America and to battle the privileged. It grew into a book published in 1971. Liberation theology was unapologetically radical and its advocates often found themselves in alliance with Marxists in opposition to right-wing Latin American dictatorships. The repression of the progressive church was brutal. In El Salvador, Archbishop Óscar Romero was gunned down in 1980, and four churchwomen from North America, including two Maryknoll sisters, were killed.

The link between liberation theology and Marxism was certainly troubling to John Paul, a veteran of resistance to the communist dictatorship in Poland, and also to Benedict, a West German who started life as a relative liberal and acknowledged that he—like many subsequently neoconservative intellectuals—became more conservative in response to what he saw as irrational and even nihilistic aspects of the student uprising in the late 1960s. John Paul had named Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that arbitrates orthodoxy. In 1984, Ratzinger sharply criticized Gutiérrez and criticized liberation theology for its links to Marxism and materialism.

As the leader of the Jesuits in Argentina, Francis, then Jorge Mario Bergolio, was ambivalent about liberation theology—he neither supported nor attacked its advocates—and more radical Jesuits criticized him for failing to come to the defense of two priests sought by the Argentinean junta. (Francis’s defenders insist that he sought to protect rebel priests and the ensuing reporting suggests that he did so.) But as pope, Francis did something quite astonishing in light of the recent past: One of his first acts was to invite Gutiérrez to Rome. They celebrated Mass and had breakfast together. The gesture did not represent a formal revocation of what Benedict had written, but it sent an important signal.

So did the pope’s move to speed the beatification and sanctification process for Romero. It had been blocked. He unblocked it. The importance of this move cannot be overstated.

Leonardo Boff, another liberation theologian condemned by the Vatican in the John Paul years and forced into “penitential silence,” has re-emerged as a staunch defender of Francis. Boff praised Francis as “a pope who comes from the Great South” and who has a “new view of things, from below.” With this perspective, Francis will “be able to reform the Curia, decentralize the administration and give the Church a new and credible face.”


BOFF'S COMMENTS SPEAK TO the extravagant hopes Francis has inspired. Can he live up to them? He has moved deliberately to reshape the Vatican, to reform a Vatican Bank that had been riddled with corruption, and to appoint new officials sympathetic to his reforms. He has broadened representation from the Third World in the College of Cardinals. He has used his power to appoint bishops to send strong signals to local hierarchies.

The appointment of Blase Cupich as archbishop of Chicago was an especially powerful signal to an American hierarchy that includes many conservatives who have been openly skeptical of the direction Francis has taken. Inside the Bishops’ Conference, Cupich has been a courageous voice against the culture-war approach championed by so many of his colleagues, and he was as outspoken and candid as any prelate in condemning the crimes committed in the sex-abuse crisis. Breaking with many of his colleagues, he emphasized dialogue rather than confrontation with the Obama administration over the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

In March, Francis followed up the Cupich appointment with another that sent a message, naming Robert McElroy as bishop of San Diego. McElroy has urged the Church to “elevate the issue of poverty to the very top of its political agenda” and has specifically argued that issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage should not eclipse its commitments to economic justice.

Perhaps the clearest sign that Francis’s progressive moves are real and substantive is the pushback he is encountering from conservative prelates. Massimo Faggioli, one of the most important scholars of the changes wrought in the Church by the Second Vatican Council, wrote extensively in Commonweal about the resistance to the new pope’s initiatives inside the Vatican and the Italian Catholic Church. But the unhappiness of the conservatives is no secret, and they began speaking out very early in his papacy.

(Edgar Jiménez)

Francis has captured the world's imagination. Global polling finds his popularity to be nearly universal. A recent Pew survey measured his favorable rating among Americans at 70 percent.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, whose city the pope will visit later this year, is one of the most outspoken conservative voices in the Church. In 2013, he said that what he called “the right wing of the church” was uneasy with Francis. “They generally have not been really happy about his election, from what I have been able to read and to understand,” Chaput told the National Catholic Reporter. Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence was blunter, declaring himself “a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis,” adding that “he hasn’t, at least that I’m aware of, said much about unborn children, about abortion.”

There is also defiance-in-advance against what conservatives fear will be a strong papal statement on climate change in Francis’s forthcoming encyclical on the environment. It is highly unusual for Catholics to pre-spin against a papal document, but American conservatives who had been down-the-line loyalists to John Paul and Benedict feel no compunction about challenging Francis on issues where he parts company with the political and economic right.

In January, Robert P. George, a professor at Princeton University and one of the leading intellectual lights of Catholic conservatism, engaged in what might be called papal pre-emption in a piece for the right-of-center journal First Things. “There is no area of morality in which the papal writ does not run,” George wrote, suggesting he endorsed the same sort of loyalty to Francis that Catholic conservatives had demanded toward Benedict and John Paul. But loyalty in this case came with a magic asterisk. “The Pope has no special knowledge, insight, or teaching authority pertaining to matters of empirical fact of the sort investigated by, for example, physicists and biologists, nor do popes claim such knowledge, insight, or wisdom,” George wrote. “Pope Francis does not know whether, or to what extent, the climate changes (in various directions) of the past several decades are anthropogenic—and God is not going to tell him. Nor does he know what their long-term effects will be.”

Which presumably means that conservatives can dissent to their heart’s content. Liberal Catholics have begun to joke that they are now the true “ultramontanes” preaching loyalty to Rome against conservative dissidents.

And dissent there is. Stephen Moore, a Catholic who is the chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, called Francis “a complete disaster” on public policy who “has allied himself with the far left and has embraced an ideology that would make people poorer and less free.” John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a progressive group, cited Moore in a recent article on the Faith Street website that made the essential point of why Francis could matter a great deal to American politics—even if the pope is primarily about something other than politics. “The right is rattled,” Gehring wrote, “because a popular pope is shifting the power dynamics in the church and emphasizing priorities that could lead to a different kind of values debate in American politics.”


IF FRANCIS IS IN MANY WAYS radical, there are limits to how far he wants to go in changing the Church. He has signaled that he will not open the question of allowing women to become priests, though he does seem open to married male priests and has improved the Vatican’s relationship with the American nuns who had been under investigation in the previous pontificate. There are other ways in which he can give women more power and authority in the Church, but this is one issue on which the 78-year-old pontiff is unlikely to be as radical or progressive as many Catholic women might hope.

In a 2014 interview with Corriere della Sera, he was also uncharacteristically defensive and aggressive on the pedophilia question. He insisted that the Catholic Church “is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility” and added: “No one has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked.” His comments upset advocates of the abused—and many rank-and-file Catholics still angry about the scandal—and the pope has since toughened his approach. Last year, he appointed an eight-member commission on the problem that included four women, one of whom was herself a victim of sexual abuse in Ireland. The commission also included Cardinal O’Malley, known for his efforts at transparency and compassion for victims in a Boston diocese that was badly demoralized by the scandal. Francis now seems to understand far better than when he started how criticial it is, for Catholics of all ideological dispositions, that he get this issue right.

Last fall, at the Synod of Bishops on the Family, a meeting in Rome of bishops from around the world, the pope’s allies were clearly seeking a more conciliatory approach (“pastoral” is the operative Catholic word) to divorced and remarried Catholics, and to gays and lesbians. An initial draft that was strongly welcoming to gays and to the divorced was hardened in its final version, though it still reflected a move in the pastoral direction Francis seems to seek. Francis himself gave a carefully balanced speech in response to the document, which will be discussed for the next year in preparation for a second meeting.

But his openness to change has alarmed conservative Catholics. Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist, wrote last October that such changes in practice toward divorced and remarried Catholics “would put the church on the brink of a precipice.” It would “sow confusion among the church’s orthodox adherents” and perhaps even lead to “a real schism.” Douthat, an irenic sort who is not immune to Francis’s charm and simple goodness, softened a bit in an America magazine exchange with Father James Martin, the Jesuit writer. But Douthat’s concern is another marker of the profound nature of the changes Francis is willing to entertain.


FOR MANY PROGRESSIVES OF a certain age, the model Catholic pope is John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council that fundamentally altered the Church’s stance toward human rights, religious freedom, toleration, and democracy. John’s two encyclicals, “Mother and Teacher” (Mater et Magistra) on the subject of “Christianity and Social Progress,” and “Peace on Earth” (Pacem in Terris) remain touchstones for more liberal Catholics. In one of the magazine’s best-known one-liners, William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review reflected conservative displeasure with the second document by declaring: “Mater, si. Magistra, no.

Arguments over the impact of the council raged during the John Paul and Benedict years, with conservatives (notably Benedict) arguing that the “spirit of the Council,” a slogan much invoked by liberals, had wrongly superseded a kind of strict-constructionist reading of the council’s documents. Conservatives often spoke of “reforming the reform.” Liberals saw a retreat from the openness John XXIII had championed, a misreading of its declarations, and an attempt by conservatives to roll back the council’s changes by redefining its meaning.

Thus, one of Francis’s most important signals: his decision to canonize both John Paul II and John XXIII simultaneously on April 27, 2014. At one level, it was a deeply unifying act. Conservative Catholics—and many others—cheered swift sainthood for John Paul, while progressive Catholics were elated that an overly long process of elevating John to the same status finally reached its culmination. One for one side, one for the other was a good formula for harmony that the Church badly needs.

But more was going on than a quest for unity. Rapid sainthood for John Paul was already seen as inevitable, partly because of widespread devotion to him around the church and not simply in its conservative wing. But elevating both popes was the best way to signal support for the more progressive reading of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. It also opened the way for the Church to affirm that John Paul’s greatest achievements—his commitments to human rights, religious liberty, and democracy, as well as a stern opposition to religious prejudice, including anti-Semitism, and an emphasis on social justice and workers’ rights—were all rooted in what John XXIII had started.

By lifting up John, Francis also reinforced the comparisons so many progressives have already made between his papacy and John’s. Of the earlier pope, the current one once said: “I see him with the eyes of my heart.” What might once have looked like wishful thinking on the part of progressive Catholics for their church’s re-engagement with Pope John’s purposes now seems to be nothing more—or less—than an accurate reading of where the new pope wants to lead.

Pope John once said: “Distrustful souls see only darkness burdening the face of the earth. We prefer instead to reaffirm all our confidence in our Savior who has not abandoned the world He has redeemed.” Francis, who doesn’t like sourpusses, seems to feel exactly the same way.

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