A Pope You Can Eat

Francis has sensed the world’s appetite for a sweeter kind of sermon.

Comments: 151

  1. Pope Francis seems like a nice guy. He's managed to woo back a dispirited flock that was wandering away from the church, repelled by the self-inflicted wounds and excesses and hypocrisy that had plagued it.

    Considering the depths to which the church had sunk, it was surprising that a few candid comments and self-deprecating remarks from a likeable pope could turn things around they way they did. When a recent Times article revisited the accusations of child molestation against Woody Allen, the vitriol was extreme and unforgiving. Mere suspicion was enough for most people to swear never to watch one of his movies again. But when the church has thousands of confirmed cases of such abuse, and when the church hierarchy moved pederast priests from parish to parish and perpetuated child rape, it only took a shrug and a wink for people to flock back in droves, ready to forgive and forget.

    Promoting condom use could have saved thousands of African men, women and children from acquiring AIDS. Only when it was too late did the church reluctantly relent. We don't generally respect organizations that treat women like chattel. Nor do we tolerate hospitals withholding lifesaving treatment, if that treatment requires aborting a fetus.

    Nothing substantive has changed. However popular this pope may be, the whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

  2. Pope Francis fans also overlook his rejection of Gay adoption of children; this from a custodian of an institution with a long history of its members engaging in child sexual abuse. "Who am I to judge" indeed.

  3. No large vessel was ever turned on a dime without capsizing. The church will take more time to turn than this pope has. The US will take more time than I have.

  4. The best thing about this Pope is how much he's annoying conservative Catholics, especially the prominent ones who are always mouthing off. HA-ha.

  5. Let's not get carried away. We in the US surely ought to be able to distinguish between the warming sounds of oratory and the transformative effects of action. Maybe Pope Francis is talking the talk, but the institution/corporation he heads has a tradition of not walking the (perp) walk. Until the Catholic church can own up to its own failings, own up to the misery it causes and has caused, the welcome speech of a (possibly) more enlightened Pope must be regarded with suspicion. There are too many of humankind suffering too much because of this particular brand of deism.

  6. I'm carried away. If there's a big wall ahead, I guess I'll get big bump on the head. But this pope has administered that which I have needed most: hope.

  7. Is an enlightened huckster better than a run of the mill con man? Guess what I think.

  8. By transformative action I assume that you mean officially accepting the use of contraceptives as normal and responsible behavior, ordination of women and allowing priest to marry.

  9. I think people have been so hungry for someone with a heart in any high level public figure, including religious, that Pope Francis' humbleness and loving acceptance of our complicated shifting throbbing humanity is a breath of fresh air, and a complete relief. It remains to be seen how far his acceptance will or can reach, and what he will be able to accomplish within the Church, but the tone he has set, and the love of life and people as they are right now he is demonstrating so is a cool drink of water for those parched and aching to be cared for. The outpouring of chocolate Popes et al is the expression of repressed love finally finding its outlet, its opening, in Francis.

  10. Maybe. Bruni has looked at what Francis has done and interpreted it in the least generous way. Maybe he's right. But I think we need more time to get to know the man. Right now we have a Rorschach blot of a pope. "He's a go along, get along guy who has read the tirmes." or "He said himself he'd been too enthralled with the institution, and had a genuine awakening."

    Who knows. Let's wait and see.

  11. His job is to lead the faithful. His success will be judged by how many seats are filled in churches around the world. Francis mania is a media invention that he seems to go along with to some extent since it also serves his purpose.

  12. His job is to lead The Church. Whether he fills the pews is incidental to the requirement that he provide doctrinal and ecclesiastical coherence. That's the criterion of the men whose judgment matters. The rest of the flock, well-- their numbers may shrink and grow, but they are sheep after all.

  13. "His success will be judged by how many seats are filled in churches around the world."

    I think, instead, that his success will be judged by the respect with which people look at and treat one another.

  14. I think Pope Francis is also a Christian realist. As an active Catholic, I am aghast at the opulent behavior of certain elements in both the hierarchy and the institutional church. I suspect that the Pope has observed the same disparity between the lifestyles of the upper hierarchy and the poor in the street. One who believes in Christ _must_ demand and work for change. The institution of the Church needs to return to and focus on the essential mission espoused by Jesus -- love of God and love of neighbor through charity.

  15. I'm a partisan of this Pope's tent,
    Since he is Equality bent,
    His screed against greed
    Is one we ought heed,
    I'm in sync with Pope Francis' intent!

  16. Well, it's rather nice to have a pontiff who appears to have actually read and understood the four gospels. We could use a few more Christians like him.

    (speaking as a mystical atheist, myself ... with vast tolerance for the core of the world's religions, as long as they teach compassion and caring for the earth and for each other)

  17. Susan, I have been a Christian for 41 years and read each gospel at least 125 times and I do believe I have a pretty good understanding. I do appreciate your tolerance. I try to exhibit the same tolerance towards atheists. It's all about respect.

  18. Perhaps what makes Pope Francis so appealing is that he disdains the jeweled towers of the Vatican and actually enjoys being in crowds, with people. As a 'fallen away' Catholic - a term I've never quite understood - he is more appealing than many a pontiff before. He also doesn't seem to take himself too seriously.

    Setting the right tone is what it is all about, his appeal is that of inclusiveness and real understanding. Once as a boy of about 7, I had just impulsively thrown a rock through a school window. I was unaware that the monsignor was nearby. He walked over to me and asked what happened. I explained in all honesty that I had a rock in my hand and suddenly my arm swung up toward the window, as if I had no control over it. As I remember, he struggled to hide a smile.

    My mother told me years later that this wonderful priest had told my story of what happened with the rock and window all over the parish, with great delight. He passed away while shoveling snow in mid winter, his heart giving out.

    His replacement was stern and harsh, no one seemed to care much for that man. I won't ever forget the first priest, the caring priest, the one who understood foibles and momentary pranks and had a sense of humor. He was very loved and missed by many.

  19. Pope Francis has brilliantly highlighted the Church's mission as one of bringing succor to those given little consideration by secular society: the disabled, the sick and, especially, the poor.

    I applaud Pope Francis for speaking truth to power and for reminding us all that a key part of our mission as human beings is to improve the circumstances of our fellows. This is a message that has been weakened in recent decades as the world has increased its focus on the pursuit of profit.

    Pope Francis has observed, correctly, that 'trickle-down' economics has not worked. The Pope is right that inclusive economies are imperative. I admire Pope for using his pulpit so effectively and morally.

  20. This papacy seems a welcome gift to many people. However, what is inside the warmly decorated box ? Is there anything at all ? In the real world nothing much seems to change. Certainly not in the US where the church wields more political power than anywhere else. It may be wise to keep an eye out - for the turnaround artist.

  21. Pope Francis brings so much of Latin America to the papacy. He knows from experience the importance of an emotional bond with the people. That is something so common in the History of our continent, at least when it comes to politics... He was certainly influenced by figures like Eva Perón and her love for the descamisados (shirtless in spanish, a word used as a reference to the very poor in the peronist time in Argentina)
    It is important to say that, when it comes to religion, style IS substance. The tone shift is already revolutionary. There are many sins, popes don´t emphasize all of them....( at least I have never heard a pope talk about the dangers of gluttony)
    However, we know this is not enough for such an outdated institution. We want more, and I think He wants too.

  22. Linker asserts that the church, under this pope, has not in fact changed its teaching about homosexuality, the ordination of women, celibacy or any of that.

    While I am very pleased to see this pope take on capitalism and emphasize loving the sinner, on the above I must agree . . . .and let's add "contraception." Pope Francis is to soon come out with an encyclical about the environment; I doubt that it will address habitat loss or human population issues.

  23. milk or dark chocolate? Either way, I'd eat this Pope anytime.

    But seriously, I refer to myself as a Roaming Catholic. Until the hierarchy change the substance - the oppression of women and homosexuals, the dysfunctional clerical culture - not just the rhetoric, I (for one) am NOT flocking back to the RC church.

  24. It seems to me that Francis has become the Elvis of the non-Catholic and of those who always have called themselves Roman Catholic but rejected the traditional dogma and wished that the gates to heaven weren't so deucedly HARD to enter. It remains to be seen, though, whether he builds a viable Church of comfortable adherents, or if he fails utterly and loses everyone, including the dispirited dogmatic traditionalists.

    Immense, transformational currents in the Church have been very few and always have been heralded by both general acceptance among populations of new "truths", as well as rising prosperity that allows people to put the plow aside for a moment and think about God, life, the universe and everything.

    Yet, what religions are strongest today? The evangelical protestant ones, of course, as well as the schismatic hyper-conservative Catholic ones, such as Opus Dei -- hardly new "truths" yearning to transform society and religion. And with the gradual disappearance of well-paid work for the lower-skilled, and perhaps a more intense scrambling in our future, "rising prosperity" doesn't seem in the cards, either.

    Corporate turnaround artists don't last long if they don't deliver -- but the papacy generally is for life. If Francis doesn't deliver bodies, it could be awkward. And it's way too soon to know if parrots and porn stars can save the Roman Catholic Church; or even if what might be saved is worth having to many of the most dogmatic.

  25. Amazing

    It's amazing that a follower of Jesus Christ is assessed as a if a politician, praised as if a politician or criticized as a politician.

  26. Are you saying you believe the Church hierarchy is apolitical? That politics is not the engine that drives the Curia?

  27. There is something a bit disingenuous about Francis, a trait which becomes more pronounced as time goes on. I think it safe to say that he would not, in a million years, have been given this position, had his colleagues thought for a moment that he would make overtures to strip the office of the pageantry and pomp so associated with the papal reign. I also think somewhat off putting that he is, to a certain extent, throwing his fellow soldiers under the bus in the name of advancing his popularity. It is hard to put into words, but something, some intangible "something", simply does not ring true. It is one thing to live in a simple home, drive a non-assuming car, send your high ranking colleagues out, (in a highly publicized event) to serve the homeless. It is quite another to strip away the facade of legitimacy and the reign of intimidation which has characterized the abusive actions of the Church for so many hundreds of years. If he is the leader that he clearly wishes to be, that beacon of light in a darkened field, we should soon see true, hard, factual changes in doctrine, practice and influence. If we do not, if he does not, he will be a highly likable, far more popular pope than we have seen in many years. Not a bad thing, but then again, not the piercing cry of salvation so desperately needed for a Church which has long since lost its way.

  28. the new pope has not spent his life hanging around the Vatican. he is in this way a breath of fresh air. that is welcomed. give him some time.

  29. Ah, with this pope, it's not optics; tired I am of the 'good optics' spin. I am blessed to have my children taught by Jesuits. This Jesuit man loves unreservedly and joyfully, and from his position, it becomes the love of God. Of course he did not agitate; Jesuits model love, they do not expect to harangue loving behavior into others - an act that would never work anyway. From inside and outside the Catholic religion, this man gathers [Dumbledore's] army; those of us who love the Pope, Catholic or merely catholic, will follow his example of humility and love, and we and he will change the world.

  30. No, the doctrine hasn't changed, but the change in presentation has the capacity to change minds and hearts. This Jewish girl calls him - what else? - Pope Mensch.

  31. A realistic appraisal of Pope Francis to date. We all wish Pope Francis well and hope that he will succeed in his ministry. Time will tell. If we are alive to appraise the changes that occur during his papacy, we shall know whether Mr. Bruni has written a prediction as well as an appraisal. Until then, we can enjoy the smiles, shrugs and charm of a charismatic leader.

  32. Frank,

    Though this article is vaguely complimentary to Pope Francis, in my opinion, your assumption, almost explicit, though not quite so, is that the Pope's tone, persona and attitude are all calculated for effect, to retrieve the Church's credibility and so forth. I'm no scientist, of course, but the simpler more elegant assumption would be is the Pope is one who is capable of letting the calculations go, of being led by his heart, and by his intelligence as well, and perhaps most importantly by his past experience.

    Above all, and here I'd like to strike a note of compromise with you concerning his complicity in the Church's many faults, I would say that he carries the burden of this faults. He seems acutely aware of his own sinfulness, of having falling short, say when he didn't support the social activist priests under his charge. or when he spoke harshly against gay marriage while still in Argentina.

    You may well be right that the world is hungry for sainthood-I tend to agree with you on that. But I think perhaps the world is hungrier still for someone saddened, sobered and humbled by the sins of his past, not in the spirit, not of "mistakes were made," or "I'm sorry if anyone is offended," but in the spirit that announces, "I am a sinner," and implores, as the Simple Act of Contrition we learned at age seven or so, implores us-" to confess our sins, do penance, and amend our lives. Amen.

  33. I think we all need to be generous with the pope. As an atheist I almost have taken him to be "my" pope. The institution he leads is so corrupt, so rich and so anything but what Jesus is depicted as in the New Testament. Yet I think most Catholics are really nice folks. At least the ones I know. Why they stay in the church is a puzzlement! I truly hope Pope Francis really is able to make some significant changes. Because that Vatican and all it represents seems to me like the very depths of Hell one envisions from the Puritan version of it.

  34. Bruni's assessment of Pope Francis may seem a bit unkind to some readers, but he is right in that so far it has been one man, yes the top man, saying nice things. But, the real question is whether it has changed the organization and its culture. In Bruni's assessment, it has not, and I have to agree with him. However, I believe that the posture and tone and language adopted by the leader will slowly seep into the organization and effect some change. This change may not be fast enough in many people's view, but it is likely to be longer lasting. So, patience is called for. May Pope Francis have a long tenure!

  35. The Roman and Orthodox Churches abandoned Jesus' teaching pretty quickly because it did not fit with the requirements of powerful institutions. Suppose this Pope could lead the Christians back to Jesus. It would be enormous.

  36. I am a Christian and I don't need to be led anywhere. I never left. Broad generalizations are for those who give an opinion and frame it as fact.

  37. You’re right, Frank, but what is the man to do? He certainly seems well-intentioned, a person who wants to leave the world better than he found it, but he does have a constraint or two.

    For some reason, your column made me think of Winston Churchill’s comment that he had not become Her Majesty’s first minister in order to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire.

    Whatever did happen to the British Empire?

  38. The Pope may be ecumenical and humble but he is still sitting at the top of an autocracy. What so many people see as the most needed changes (modern view of women, human sexuality and reproduction) are really only shadows of the most urgently-needed reform: a structural redesign of Church governance. The Church’s top-down hierarchical governing system, like its views of family life, women, etc., is stuck in the Middle Ages. Sure, this monarch is a benevolent one, but he’s still a monarch. And the next Pope to come along will also be a monarch - and he might not be so sweet.

  39. What keeps the Catholic church afloat seems to be their services for the poor. On this front Francis has credibility; the Jesuits are not the high-living type. That is perhaps why so many are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the conservative theology.

  40. "He understands that tone trumps content"

    Sorry, I think you've got it wrong. Lets just wait and see how this turns out. The content has never changed, and won't.

  41. Like almost everybody else in the deeply Protestant country of America, including most American Catholics, you do not understand the most salient feature of the Catholic and Apostolic faith: its ability to use science and scholarship to reverse course on "moral theology," as opposed to "dogmatic theology." The Church has done it many times in the past--about slavery, about liberal democracy, about clerical celibacy, etc., ad infinitum. It is not a Bible-based religion, like Protestantism, because she holds that its "tradition" is ALSO a "revelation" from God. Confident of her capacity to "bind and loose," guaranteed to her by the "Petrine Commission" from her Founder, she feels that she is continuously led, through the time-space continuum that is human history, TOWARD the "Truth" that God--not she--owns, by a "Holy Spirit."
    So what Mr. Bruni, and all those Protestantized Americans don't understand is that it is fully within Pope Francis's job description to "find" that he has the ability to make women cardinals, to alter the Church's teaching on birth control, to create bonding rituals of "chaste friendship" for the "same-sex-attracted," to allow priests to marry; none of those things involve "dogmatic theology," and none of them are set in stone. Many are appropriate for some historical epochs, as fulfillment of the SPIRIT of the New Testament, but inappropriate in other periods. John Henry Newman's Development of Doctrine is the relevant text.

  42. In addition to being informed by tradition, the church has also the duty of being guided by the sensus fidelium, or the "sense of the faithful." Different from majority rule, I would say the closest example would be if the reports of the near rejection of church teaching on contraception by Catholics are true, this would inform the church that it needs to reconsider. Maybe this pope who listens will employ that tradition a bit more than we are used to.

  43. It's time the RCs get on with reforming their own house then, and stop trying to impose their outmoded moral rules on others. No one is trying to force catholics to use birth control, get an abortion, marry people of the same gender, or choose to pull the plug when life gets unbearable. Stop trying to use the law to prevent the rest of us from doing these things! Nor should the church be exempted from laws, such as free birth control in Obama care, intended to promote the welfare of all of our citizens. Perhaps it is time to consider banning the discrimination against women that is fundamental to RC "morality". For far too long the RC church has imposed its morality on secular society. Society should return the favor.

  44. The first step -- awakening the laity -- is showing signs of being a success. Now is the harder part, changing an institution to conform to the teachings of Jesus, who was condemned by an institutional structure.

  45. I was at a Catholic wedding today, though I'm largely an outsider to this faith. What I loved most in the service was taking the hands of those around us and wishing them peace. To me, this act reflects the heart and soul of the Church; embracing one another, strangers unguarded and welcoming. Pope Francis embodies what is shown in the Sign of Peace, which is both a Christian and human wish: peace on earth, good will toward men.
    May this message resonate from wherever he speaks, be it in a magazine or house of worship.

  46. So do you like him or not, Frank? I feel a little whiplash after reading your piece. I know it must be hard to really, really, like a guy that won't condone gay marriage or the ordination of openly gay priests. But we liberals have to realize that freedom of belief allows Catholics to hold to those doctrines just as we (well, not I, but liberals in general) hold to the belief that they are retrograde for holding such outdated beliefs.

  47. What Francis seems to understand, and what too many of his predecessors, with the notable exception of John XXIII, seemed not to understand is that the Pope is a human being. Not a Cosmic Emperor or a plaster saint but a human being like the rest of us, subject to the same vissisitudes of flesh and blood.

  48. He's in the honeymoon period. I reserve judgment until I see how he is in two years.

    As a Jew, I can only hope that he is more like John XXiii than the last bunch of guys.

  49. Francis is brilliant in his delivery of a theological point, one might add, as much as in the delivery of lines: but his ecumenicism is itself the more inspiring underpinning of this theological vision, for it comprehends a new geographic understanding of the church, rooted not in chocolate, but in the geographic breadth with which he is potentially centering the church; this is not only savvy, but, as I note in a short blogpost, http://wp.me/p36T6t-1sR--"The Infographic Pontiff"--manipulating visual demonstrations to good effect is a part of this ecumenic vision.

  50. This papacy seems a gift to many people. However we don't know what's inside the warmly-colored box. If anything. Is it more than a change in tone ? In day-to-day reality little has changed. Certainly not in america, where the church has more political power than anywhere else.

  51. Frank, this is yet another article about our new Pope but now you've explained it--2 years of covering the Vatican for the Times gives one special insight, if not admiration.

    In other columns I have lauded your lovely sentiments about the breath of fresh air that is Francis. But now, what's striking me is a bit of fear--fear that people will read too much into Francis, too many of their longings, too many hopes built on nothing more than the change of tone, not dogma, you write about.

    Thus I just don't want people to get their hopes up any more than they have. Pope Francis reminds me of the man who stops beating his wife, who then praises him because she is finally free of the pain. Given the hunger disaffected Catholics feel for change in the church, a mere change in tone won't cut it.

    Sure it's nice. Its novel, welcoming, and getting lapsed Catholics back into the pews. But let's not forget reality, which is this Pope is head of a centuries-old religion that many of us feel is long overdue for some updating. Not of core doctrine, but certainly of some the arbitrary rules and practices not rooted in the Gospel, those written by musty old men in the Middle Ages who wanted to protect property rights and such.

    So while Francis is like that wonderful blast of warm air in April that makes one thinks winter is over, I'm not totally sure it is. I can hope all I want, but hoping doesn't necessarily make it so.

  52. Maybe if a lot of lapsed RCs come back they will make a difference in their parishes and dioceses.

  53. Right you are, Christine. Hoping doesn't make it happen.

    I think the message Francis hopes we all would emulate is to get out there and make it so.

    Following faith is hope; and following hope is charity.

  54. I hope people are as understanding of you when you begin a new undertaking when you had no ability to affect change. Cynicism does aid, it inhibits. Even though he is the Pope he is still one individual trying to undo a long period of abuse.

  55. I only hope that my progressive and/or liberal brothers and sisters give Francis some elbow room. Turning the Church which as all the maneuverability of a 70 ton battleship is never going to be easy. Certainly there is more that we may wish done than Francis can accomplish short term.

    But I was heartened by the reports that Francis met with Schonbron and other Austrian-German prelates and they reported that 95% of the responses to the opinion survey Francis asked for were in favor of dramatic changes in the way the Church deals with unmarried couples and divorced individuals (and their children).

    Something is happening and will happen. The battleship is turning to correct its course. The Church as seldom maneuvered like a PT Boat. Maybe the's why it's lasted two millennia.


  56. Tone and timing are important, but they're not "everything", and they for sure do not "trump content" except in short-run p.r. So while we are applauding, let's not be seduced or distracted. We eagerly await substantive, permanent, reformation.

  57. While obviously we need to wait and see exactly what plans the Pope has for the future, for me anyway, it is a great joy that someone who believes in God is speaking out for those in need. It has been revolting and dispiriting to hear the name of Jesus being used to condemn and abandon the least of our brothers and sisters. Cutting food stamps, ignoring the homeless, abandoning our soldiers in need, the list is too long. Advocating for guns and money has been their main goal, not care and concern. And these actions are being taken by those that claim to love the Lord. They seem to feel no shame with their love of money. I doubt the elected are truly listening and I'm sure they will find ways to condemn and twist his words. But, as a Christian, it gives me real hope that someone finally is advocating for the poor, the elderly, the children, the vets, the homeless, our children. They have been ignored and scorned for far too long. Love thy neighbor is the main message of Jesus. We can only pray that those in power actually listen to Pope Francis' words and follow them. And right now, that seems to be all we can do. Please, please don't stop, Pope. We need you. Badly.

  58. I view the Pope the same way I view the GOP.....how can we make ourselves appealing - by changing the way we present our message while the message remains the same....It suggests how hungry everyone is for a softer, fuzzier Pope. Sorry; I'm sure this will be a very reviled comment

  59. On the contrary, you are exactly right. As Mr. Bruni says, "He understands that tone trumps content — that it’s everything, really." But tone is not content and it's content that actually counts. So far this pope is great at PR but that's about it. While the church is responsible for or a bystander to much of the pain and suffering throughout the world the pope, most of the bishops and the other rulers of the church live in splendor.

  60. I humbly and respectfully disagree.
    "By their fruits shall ye know them."
    Would a cynical, disingenuous man, such as Mcacho appears to deem this Holy Father, really go so far as to deny himself the luxuries and trappings of institutional and personal wealth, power, and status, as this man has done?
    With just a few brief statements, Pope Francis has already changed the Church, and our world, for the better.
    I eagerly await the rest of his mission.

  61. "Who am I to judge?" Yes, who is he to judge? Pope Francis' question gets to heart of Catholicism. He exploded the concept of papal infallibility with one question. With one question the Pope explained why the image of God at the center of the Sistine chapel ceiling does not stretch far enough to touch the hand of man.

    God's role in governing human behavior became an advisory one at the moment that Adam took a bite of the apple of knowledge. That ended the dictatorship of God and made Him a mere leader of men and women.

  62. I got to "the coordination of message and optics" and reflexively reached for Control%2BW to close the tab, then remembered who was writing and decided that the rest of the article might be worthwhile. Instead, I went in the next room and read The Economist until my blood pressure subsided.

    Images, or even the deplorable "visuals", are things that you see. Optics are things that you see through. That is, lenses, prisms, and mirrors. I seriously doubt that Francis has any involvement in coordinating optics unless he's taking a selfie with a cell phone.

    The illiterate conflation of these two distinct concepts in the past couple of years is baffling. Most of the time I can use the error as an indicator that the author isn't worth reading, it's almost as reliable as seeing "exponential" used to mean "really big".


  63. I attend a Catholic church 23 miles from home. It is a small friendly group with an amiable priest. In the 2012 election cycle, we were hounded by political sermons and adulation of Cardinal Dolan on a regular basis. We were told that "this regime" (Obama) was stripping away our religious freedom. That and the near constant harping on abortion was wearying. In the Mass, there is a part when you bring your own private intentions to God. I always asked him to rescue the Church from angry old men. With Francis as pope, I believe God was listening.

  64. Many of us question the institution of organized religion with its archaic man made rules. Perhaps the most important thing Pope Francis has revealed, by example, is that the priests are not always the humble servants that religious tenets demand.

    Emulating the Pope's thinking, by the clergy, may be the first step to bringing a religious institution into the modern world.

  65. Our new Pope understands that he is a pastor of a flock, first, and that his parishioners include everyone; something that his predecessors did not understand.

    Barbara Nestingen
    Mequon, WI

  66. Francis' message of tolerance, after centuries of official Catholic intolerance, cannot be denied. It is perhaps especially meaningful to those who were raised in the powerful culture of the Church, but ultimately found themselves excluded by it. Yet pining for acceptance from the institution that has rejected you has its limits, foremost among them a deference to authority and an acceptance of its right to dictate the pace of change. The idea that "tone trumps content" is one of the more naive and damaging concepts in our time. It has persuaded people to applaud superficial changes when more fundamental ones are clearly in order. The liberal embrace of Barack Obama is a primary, political example, but so, too, is the celebrity culture that saturates the media. Let us grant long-suffering Catholic humanists such as Frank Bruni their embrace of an apparently different kind of Pope. Let us hope as well, however, that they and the rest of us continue to push relentlessly for genuine changes in the Church's dogma and practice as it relates to women's equality in and beyond the church, the LGBTQ community, reproductive rights, child abuse, and so on. If and when, Francis hesitates on these issues, let us expect that he be held accountable.

  67. And the message he brings you the pundit and me the reader of punditry is the one you have already included in your fine column today, Frank:

    "He understands that tone trumps content — that it’s everything, really."

    Now if we could just get the media, including our politicians, to sign up for Francis' tone and acceptance of others, especially those with whom we may disagree, our collective betterment could begin.

    What a papal blessing that would be. Even better, you wouldn't have to stand in St. Peter's square with a parrot to get it.

  68. Speaking for myself (I am of Roman Catholic ethnicity), it's too narrow to view Francis as a triumph of style over substance; it's nothing short of a revolutionary return to the simplicity of the early Jesus-movement and the Gospels

    I have no idea if there was a Jesus, and if the man existed. was he a deity. But no one can doubt the power of the message and the pent-up hunger for it. And when I say pent-up hunger I mean that literally and metaphorically. Literally the Jesus-movement started out as a communal ethos to combat most people going hungry. The historical Jesus scholar and ex-priest, Dominic Crossan, notably said "the meal most certainly came before the good news". The metaphoric pent-up hunger was for more social and economic equality.

    Francis's message is just as revolutionary today as it was 2,000 years ago. After his honeymoon, for every convert, there will be a dissenter. Roman Catholics to a large extent, and Christian Fundamentalist to a larger extent; ignore what Jesus said and focus on him solely as a means to get into "heaven". Francis's message turns all of that around.

    Emotional and economic investment, that marks many Christians lives today, Francis is essentially bankrupting. Forcing people to make a painful choice, whether to start over, to become a real Christian. That is to say, less worship and rules, less wars and suffering; and instead more social and economic equality

    Either people will make the change or Francis will be lost to history.

  69. That Jesus actually lived is a fact. He breathed. You, each time your breathe, are breathing a molecule of oxygen that he breathed. (This is a scientific fact.)

    Beyond the fact that he lived - and died - the rest is a matter of faith.

    Francis will never be lost to history! Just as Jesus has never been lost to history. Dissent there will always be. But I predict that Francis, in his humble pursuit of the Gospel, will do far more good and benefit far more people than the dissenters, mocking from the sidelines (See Psalm 1).

  70. As I've written to the Times before, Pope Francis really gets it. Must a Pope be willing to forgive less than Jesus? Must he the judge rather than say "Anyone, including me, that is sinless cast the first stone?"

    This man IS no renegade. He just is doing what the Pope should do. Live as humbly as a Pope can, be a good example for all people to follow, and to love first no matter what the other side thinks or acts against him. Although I am not a Roman Catholic, I am happy to be alive when he is Pope.

  71. He doesn't "get it" when it comes to women. He's still all for keeping half the population down. Until that changes (and I'm not holding my breath), he's just like all his predecessors - a sexist dinosaur.

  72. The Church has a long way to go but Francis is a start. He gives to the poor. He lives in a guest house rather than the royal apartment. He talks about helping the poor. He says he has no right to judge gays (a decidedly Christian view which seems to have been lost over thousands of years - he seems to recognise that God does the judging, not him.) He seems to realize that the church has been lead astray by concentrating on intolerant doctrines rather than love. He remembers that the only one Christ really got angry at were the money lenders. This is bringing Christianity back to its roots. People believe this will not be a Pope who sweeps child molestors under the rug. In a huge institution like the Catholic Church it will take generations to really change things but he has to start somewhere. Give the guy a break.

  73. It has been said that the Church measures time in centuries. Given that, the Church is still digesting the revolutionary changes of Vatican II which occurred as Francis was entering the novitiate. In our fast paced 24/7 culture it seems inconceivable that any institution would not have changed regarding the equal role for women or the acceptance of homosexuals although those changes only happened in the last 50 years, some are quite recent, and still the journey is not complete. While I don't excuse the Church for still grappling with the issues of the1960's and in many ways still stuck in the post Vatican II conflicts, it is a fact (as a further example of an institution in a timewarp: the Republican party).

    I agree that Francis would not have been elected if he was vocal about the sex abuse scandal or any issue where he has tried to soften the edge since becoming pope. But isn't better that he bided his time so that he could be elected and speak out now, that he could change the Vatican bureaucracy and name better, more pastoral bishops? Isn't this how reform will come to the Church and antiquated policies be replaced?

    LBJ was vilified for passing a weak Civil Rights bill in 1957 when he was still Senate majority leader. When he had the full power of the presidency in 1964, he passed that Civil Rights bill that led to real change in this country. As his biographer, Robert Caro says, "Power reveals". Let's see how Francis uses his power. So far, so good.

  74. Francis walks the walk not just talks the talk.
    He is much more than a breath of fresh air; his humility and integrity are a refreshing burst of genuine spirituality.
    A stellar rolemodel, not just for Catholics.

  75. If Francis continues on this tack, we may see substance winning out. He will be so popular, no one will try to bump him off, like the last truly progressive pope was. He is a breath of fresh air. Love is love. I am hoping for spiritual renewal of the church, because it is good for the world and its people. I do not belong to any religion, but I do believe in love and its power. The centuries old church may not be able to help that it is undergoing a transformation, eventually, under Pope Francis. Since the church represents so many people it would be lovely to have a movement toward peace on earth, good will to men (and women too!) The cruel aspects of the Catholic faith will melt away now, if given a chance. That's good for everyone that resides on this earth. The world wars, the localized violence fomented by greed and religious intolerance among Muslims and Christians could begin with this Pope's efforts to appreciate our common humanity and the possibility of its goodness. Pope Francis has an opportunity to lead the world towards peace and social justice, and it appears he may be the real deal to do it.

  76. Look beyond this pope's living quarters and folklike way and you'll see a man deeply committed to traditional Catholic teaching. Look beyond the shoes, less intimate disposition, and bulldog commitment to orthodoxy of the previous pope and you'll be see a tender and compassionate man with a deeply engrained love of and concern for humanity.

    The problem with the commentary that has been generated by the rise of Francis is that it, much like the distorted view many have of Benedict, eminates from a completely misinformed understanding of Catholicism in general and Church teaching in particular. Moreover, a significant portion of the conversation seems to be motivated by a hitherto suppressed spiritual longing among skeptics and secularists who, for some reason, yearn for a church that reflects the values and precepts of post-modern culture. For some, atheist church's will do. For most others, a conversation of the Church of their childhood is much more desirable.

    In the end, the hope expressed by those who see Francis as a post modern friendly reformer is sure to burn and crumble to the ground. The irreconcilable is, well, irreconcilable. Francis will then be treated like a two-timing fork tongued stool pigeon worthy of scorn. The Church will once again be seen as an enemy of worldly ways. That is when She will know that She is back on the right track.

  77. What a brilliant commentary! You nailed it.

  78. Your third to the last paragraph sums it up perfectly. Thanks.

  79. @Michael--- 'His success will be judged by how many seats are filled in churches around the world.' I disagree here. As a former, disillusioned Catholic (driven-away, I think, rather than 'fallen-away), I am very impressed with the pope as a religious leader. A leader not just for the Catholic church alone, but like the Dalai Lama, one for all people. I hope he is effective at persuasion, and makes a real difference in people's attitude toward poverty.

    Church attendance shouldn't be a measure of his success. After all, as a wag put it, going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

  80. Francis's celebrity is all very well and good as well as his outreach to "non-Catholics", but he continues to cling to unyielding dogma conceived by an all-male cult, the Roman Catholic hierarchy centuries after Christ, including no marriage for priests, no women as priests, no birth control, etc. My hope is that Francis will take a few more steps out of the darkness of ancient dogma.

  81. I wouldn't get on the Francis bandwagon until he really does change the attitude toward gays, contraception and most importantly women's role in the Church. Methinks he is just a really good conartist.

  82. Pope Francis is authentic, but more importantly he presents himself in a manner so people are open to the message of the Church. If people respond to him, it is because the message of Christianity (aka. "The Good News") is universal and resonates deep in people's hearts. He is proving, once again, the religion and faith will always play a role in our World.

  83. Pope Francis is a hypocrite. While he preaches compassion and tolerance his team has destroyed the most successful Franciscan community, the Franciscans Friars of the Immaculate (FFI). The Pope’s appointed leader of FFI, Father Volpe, has dismantled the entire management team of FFI. He has closed seminaries, closed friaries and abolished publications. Some priests have been sent into oblivion in Africa. The FFI founder, Father Manneli, has been placed under house arrest preventing all outside communication. What did they do to warrant such harsh treatment? No they were not corrupt, not teaching heresy, not preying on children. What they were doing was saying the Mass in Latin, the traditional form of serving God and the church. The Pope doesn’t support tradition, so his appointee (Godfather) Volpe has treated these friars with incredible hostility. Meanwhile in the United States, some priests continue to prey on children with the full knowledge of their Bishop and nothing is being done about it. I gather this is the Pope’s definition of tolerance and compassion.

  84. http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1400434.htm
    "The cardinal and archbishop also were asked about the appointment in August of a special commissioner to oversee the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and Pope Francis' order requiring all the friars "to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite," the post-Vatican II Mass. Use of the so-called extraordinary form or pre-Vatican II Latin Mass "must be explicitly authorized by the competent authorities for every religious or community that makes a request," the pope had said.

    Archbishop Rodriguez Carballo said the appointment of the commissioner came after an apostolic visitation during which "74 percent of the members requested, in writing, an urgent intervention by the Holy See to resolve problems within the institute."

  85. Not saying what people know he's still thinking is a winning political strategy. Francis is a Jesuit.

  86. This is inspired, hopeful writing. In an age where politicians use sleight of hand to deny the importance of something as basic as healthcare and promote the virtue of selfishness, this comfortable leader reaches above the madness and lies to show us that virtue and beauty can only be achieved through kindness and sharing. Whether he can motivate change and undo the damage in this nation of congressional sinners remains to be seen, but for this former Catholic I am truly humbled by the audacity of compassion heralded by this human angel.

  87. Helps to be appointed by a closed system, no doubt. But here we democrats elect our all-too-human leaders and we sure don't worship them.

  88. Just remember, Mr.Bruni, the teaching is still the same...don't be warmed by his "Who am I to judge?"...sex with someone of the same sex is sinful in the eyes of God..because it closes off the possibility to create life...that is the teaching..Francis is emphasizing more the "hate the sin, love the sinner"...

  89. Leaving out the hate altogether is more the point. Hate, being the greater sin, closes off more life (just check your history) than consensual sex ever did or will.

  90. don't worry, no one has forgotten. we don't need your reminders either. read the news about Nigeria. we'll never forget this sort of bigoted hatred

  91. Dear Mr. Bruni, I want to be respectful, but I find your column very upsetting. Are you serious? Please consider the real life implications of the teachings of the global institution this human being was elected to lead:
    e.g., birth control in the Phillipines? "More than 80 percent of the country's 100 million population are Catholics, making it Asia's bulwark of the faith."
    e.g., women in El Salvador going to jail for having a miscarriage?
    Public Broadcasting Servi...

    Dec 13, 2013 - All abortions are against the law in this Central American country, with no exceptions.

    Oct 17, 2013 - El Salvador has one of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the world. A side-effect is that women who suffer miscarriages or stillbirths are ...

    Please reconsider your opinion about this papacy in light of reality. Bill Maher said words to the effect that American Catholics don't follow Church teachings: "Catholics use birth control, they get divorced, they have premarital sex, they masturbate — sometimes all in one night." Funny here in the U.S. where people still have some rights.....but not funny in other countries where "the Church" exercises more control. Please look at reality. Thank you. (A person who endured 12 years of Catholic education)

  92. Time magazine made three popes their man of the year. Yet, under the cover the Vatican remained a cave of corruption, pedophilia enabler and as Paolo, Benedict's butler stated, there is - evil and corruption. in the Vatican. He landed in a Vatican dungeon. There are no Christmas speeches by the Italian Pope Pius XII condemning Hitler, Catholic Poles and Slovaks were on a lesser level than Italians and after all Hitler was a Catholic whose parents Catholic gravesite can be pulled up on line with Cross. But at the end of the war how do you appease the Poles and Slovaks especially the Catholic Poles and Slovaks, you elect a Polish Pope, and a Time man of the year ... but the corruption continued. Today we hear about another Pope Francis Time man of their year ... and the corruption continues. The Vatican has an endless campaign to change the cover of the Vatican, for public consumption ... but to release 517 defrocked pedophile clergy as a show of change, is just a show of the Catholic Cover up campaign ... and the UN got it right ... If you want to be a world power ...pedophiles and pedophile enablers have to be jailed, gay and lesbian discrimination needs to stop, money laundering denied, same sex marriage recognized ... after all where's the Love. Jesus Mary and Joseph, Jews, were dead and buried 400 years before Catholicism ... It is long overdue that they are not, nor were they ever ... Catholic.

  93. It seems organized religion is the heart and soul of much of the worlds disagreements. It's all well and good to put a smile on, bless a parrot, and wash the feet of the "unclean" but change in the man-made dogma have not been forthcoming. The hierarchy of the Catholic church had this gentle man in a role that allowed him to see the horrific nature of pedophilia, to see the criminal behavior of the those acting against people who are LGBT, to see the less then respectful way women are treated. I am not expecting him to change the world immediately, but he could have, and should have, thrown the door open on every priest who abused children and let the criminal justice system mete out punishment. He then should use the vast riches of the Catholic church for therapy, restitution, cleaning the varmints out of the corners.

    I do like the tone of this pope very much but let's not forget, he has within his power the ability to show the world that tone over substance is only one layer of winning the faithful.

  94. I too had given up on the Vatican and any hope that true reform ("the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ") could ever happen in our day. Or any day.

    How wrong I was!!! I consider the election - and the Papacy - of Francis to be a true miracle. I've got a Ph.D. And I'm not kidding!

    Recall the lightening bolt that struck St. Peter's the night the former Pope resigned. Recall the dove (or pidgeon) that sat and sat and sat on the chimney just before the "election smoke" arose. Recall that humble silence and loving gaze upon those gathered in St. Peter's Square, when Francis appeared on the balcony for the first time. Recall your favorite memory of this man.

    We are seeing a miracle in our time!

  95. Has it occurred to Bruni that perhap Francis' ecumenism, love and compassion are not part of an orchestrated, secular-mimicking outreach but the inevitable manifestations of someone with a deep spiritual inner life who actually lives and practices what he believes?

  96. Yes, he's welcoming everyone like Jesus did (and does), and like both of his predecessors did. It mystifies me however that so many think both Benedict and JPII did not have this openness when they did. The first thing Benedict did when he was elected was drive himself back to his former residence and thank the people who had cooked and kept house for him. Francis welcomes the people for an encounter with the Lord. And as with The Lord, these encounters are invitations to follow and sin no more. A possibility through the grace of an encounter to be embraced, be forgiven, but not to continue as before. Remember that all those in the Gospels who met Jesus this way left their sin behind. Francis's warmth isn't carte blanche to ignore the will of God for us, just another method Christ uses to allow people to be converted. It's more than just a nice hug.

  97. Bruni writes about the new Pope: "He understands that tone triumphs content..." That's quite right. Nothing substantial on the key issues that have many Catholics disillusioned has changed. The church still harps incessantly on sin and coming "short of the glory of God." Francis appears to be a subscriber to the lyrics of that popular song sung by Julie Andrews: "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down..." If you regard that as substance, good luck to you.

  98. Although I am not Catholic, I can sense the great hopes of Catholics worldwide that the new Pope will fulfill the promise he has inspired. I also understand the skepticism voiced by Frank Bruni. I think the Catholic Church is aware of the headwinds it faces, and will, in its own way and in its own time, take steps to reduce them. Representatives of the Church have had ongoing contacts with representatives from other faiths, dialogues that by necessity are marked by patience, good intentions and hope. I think it is unwise to focus too much attention and criticism on the Pope, when it is the Church itself that is seeking its way forward.

  99. PR Wizard, that is all.

  100. Gandhi lived ever so modestly spinning in India. Mandela spent most of his adult life in prison. The Pope lives at the Vatican where an art auction could keep every Catholic school and parish open and thriving around the world. The Vatican Museum is an incredibly beautiful disgrace not far from Francis' apartment.

  101. Then there's that nagging case of the two Jesuits turned over to the military in those bad old days of Argentine dictatorships and dirty wars....

  102. Francis has brought the Church back to its roots - pushing back against the established religious leaders penchant for rules and ceremony with no heart. Embracing the untouchables and outcasts of society. Speaking a message of God's love and forgiveness for all our sins - no matter what the are - if we would just accept that we are in need. Asking his followers to take care of each other and enjoy and be thankful for the blessings we have been given.

    I pray for Francis every day (even tho' I am not a RC) - the last time someone like him stood up to the establishment they crucified him.

  103. Mr. Bruni think tone is "everything." A man who says he loves you while he's sticking a shiv in your back is still a murderer. Words are cheap and the fact is this: Pope Francis continues the Vatican tradition of excommunicating people who disagree with him. That's an action not just P.R.

  104. How Sweet it Is

    Pope Francis is not just a Jesuit, he had been a leader of Jesuits for many years. They are arguably the most intelligent group of men ever assembled and Francis knows how fleeting and unimportant that can be in the larger picture. A reading from today's mass explains it all - and Francis too:

    "I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God." 1 COR 2:3-5

    That being said, his description of the, "Economy of Exclusion" is much more than good timing about, "welling anxiety about income inequality". Francis spoke about, "something new" which is. "no longer simply about exploitation and oppression" - [basic inequality]. The economic exclusion "kills" because those excluded from a fair share suffer economic pressures to delay marriage, abort children and lose hope.

    A couple of months ago Francis helped President Obama avert an escalation of war in Syria and has additionally influenced the President to give his best ever economic speech. The two will discuss the world economy on March 27. Obama has a lot to learn.

  105. Jesuits are the most intelligent group of men ever assembled? Intelligent men do not spend their whole lives studying a 1300 page book of old fairy tales. I can see studying the Bible for asemester, but really, there are plenty of other books out there that contain much more useful information.

  106. No, he doesn't have 'a lot to learn,' he's already aware of the problems. But having a much admired religious leader back him up will surely help him get done what he knows needs done.

  107. I left the church years ago after visiting Rome. I'd consider going back to an organized religion again only if they stopped blaming Eve for all the evils in this World.

  108. Old saying--"actions speak louder than words"! He talks the talk but dont walk the walk. When he tells the us church to get out of our bedrooms and lauds the nuns for their good works i might start buying his sales pitch.

  109. At the moment, the Little Sisters of the Poor aren't doing such great work, in fact, they're doing much harm.

  110. On Feb. 5 NYT published its record of the UN's condemnation of the holy See's complicity in the crimes of Priests and Bishops. This included responses to the finding, made by a Bishop representative of the Vatican: "At the hearing, Bishop Scicluna said that“the Holy See gets it,” and that certain things “need to be done differently.” He argued, however, that legal action to prosecute abuse cases was the responsibility of civil authorities and not the church."
    The lies, the failure to take responsibility, all wrapped in a single sentence. The Church for many years with all its resources RESISTED involvement of civil authorities and insisted that it handle the cases WITHOUT involvement of civil authorities, then moved predatory priests to other parishes where they could harm other children.
    Pope Francis is now responsible for perpetuating this evil. People must think clearly about this, yet I fear that there is instead a muddy-headed yearning for a hero. Francis is a tragic figure of Shakespearean proportions. He is a charismatic personality, and is doing some real good in a number of arenas, but his perpetuation of this evil is a deal breaker. Remember, that child whose privates are touched, who is damaged for life, he is your child, he is my child, but the Church is saying "he is not our child." The Pope is harming this child personally. He is harming him himself. The Church remains sick, deeply sick, not just in spite of Francis, but now because of him.

  111. 2 Tim. 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

    The NYT reporter rhapsodizes that the Pope has joined with the intilektchuals of the fallen West: "He understands that tone trumps content — that it’s everything, really."
    "Tone is everything" is the Post-Modernist tenet rejecting of the possibility of Truth.

  112. Judge not lest you be judged.

  113. As Christ walked along the the shore of the Sea of Galilee, collecting fishermen telling them He "would make them fishers of men", the message continues. Francis is the latest head fisherman. He has said nothing that does not follow the message that has always been that of the Catholic Church.

    The saying that you can catch more flies (make that sinners) with honey than you can with vinegar holds true. Francis fishes with a different fly (make that message). Each generation is free to determine how the message will be received. The message has not changed.

    Many are looking for a softer, kinder, more "progressive" church. The Church has always been forgiving, as it knows it is made up of sinners. The current scandal is illustrated. There are already progressive churches for those who want one. The choose is ours. Francis chooses to err on the side of forgiveness. That is a good thing..

    For those put off by penance, think that a knowing change of heart as the ultimate penance. This is what the Church teaches. The ultimate social justice is to assist and teach those in need how to make a better life. As in all things the choice is first in ourselves.

  114. All I can say about Pope Francis is this: My son, whom I fortunately or unfortunately raised to be staunchly non-religioius, is now posting quotes from Francis. He's read the exhortation and get's it. Francis is doing his job.

  115. A great Pope. A lifetime too late.

  116. Mr. Bruni completely missed the key point. Pope Francis has dedicated his papacy to completing the reforms begun by Pope John XXIII. Vatican II revolutionized our church and John XXIII reminded us that "We are all made in God's image." Pope Francis has picked up the torch. He will complete the mission and our church will progress. His focus on poverty, the innocents in Syria, etc., is the message.

  117. Pope Francis is doing his boss's work. The 'Big Tent' was always there even if many within it were trying to keep many out. Francis knows this, and is doing what The Holy Spirit guides him to do. But that is what Mr. Bruni never mentions here. The Roman Catholic Church's 'Creed', that defines all we Catholics believe begins, " I Believe in One God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth and all that is seen and unseen. " It is this very significant 'UnSeen' that Mr. Bruni never brings into his account when discussing the Catholic Church. God, the greatest power in the universe, is a spirit, and unseen by us but not unfelt by us. We are not unaffected. It is this that makes Pope Francis all he is, including inviting sinners that Christ came down from heaven to save, into the church. Silvio the porn star is welcomed by the pope, and more importantly, his Boss, the unseen and all powerful God of all.
    The New York Times has an agenda in world politics, and Mr. Bruni does his part admirably I am sure, but the business of The Roman Catholic Church is not any of that, though Mr. Bruni is not the first to always interpret what it does that way. The Catholic church serves Christ who founded it, and His Business is the salvation of souls, all souls, all sinners, so the worst sinners have the greatest Right to come in and join us. Probably explains why Silvio caught The Pope's attention, he'd be a natural.

  118. A beautiful statement. Now if soreheads like Frank Bruni would just stop harping on the child abuse.

  119. Nice column - fair an balanced (no, really).
    Pope Francis is providing an example of powerful servant-leadership that would transform the Church without changing any doctrine if it were emulated in the Vatican and, more importantly, beyond. His challenges will be balancing a more open and conciliatory approach against the fast growing populations of Catholics in the third world - a very conservative lot, as they are just entering, and have great need for, a highly structured and rigorously-enforced doctrine.
    I would say at this point, that while Americans and the west love him, those in Africa, Asia and parts of Latin America wish he would toughen up. It will be interesting to see how he handles this balancing act.

  120. What I hope Pope Francis advocates for is switching from the narrow concept embodied in the name of the organization "The Right to Life" to the broad encompassing, true and realistic construct for a new world-wide organization we all join into which has the sole aim of ending poverty now, a worldwide organization named - - THE RIGHT TO LIVE; that is The Right to LIVE and not be killed by the greedy, selfish, avaricious of human beings.
    The ill-effects, including death, which are the outcomes of poverty, are caused by human beings; and we know it; knowing this makes the perpetuation of poverty a formal Crime Against Humanity.
    I think that Pope Francis knows this.
    Mother Theresa knew this for sure.
    Let's end the dreadful state of poverty.
    End the sense of entitlement that comes with being unreasonably and unnecessarily rich and comes with wanting to be unreasonably and unnecessarily rich.
    When all is said and done, Christ's fundamental directive was: End Poverty.

  121. Christ's fundamental directive was to "love your neighbor as you love yourself". He recognized some of His children would be poor, others rich, but he informed the wealthy ruler to give up all of his worldly belongings and give them to the poor - that is why I recommended your comment to "End Poverty". The Book of Acts was all about that the wealthy in the first church would supply to widow, orphans, all those at risk for poverty. That is why I recommended your post. You simplified too much without adding Christ's main directive was to love all others as He loved us.

  122. The bible teaches that the worst of the worst are those who profess to believe in God and by their actions cause others to turn away from belief in God. That is what the past Popes and the Catholic Church have been guilty of. How many have turned away from faith because they see the so called believers treating their fellows with hatred and distain. How many have turned away from faith because of the hypocrisy shown by the leaders of the Church bedecked in their pope hats, robes, jewels and red Pradas. I was a believer who turned away from faith because of the cruelties I have witnessed by so called Christians towards their fellow man.

    At last a Pope that actually practices the teachings of Christ.

  123. Perhaps one day this new pope will come to the same realization that many do not, that no one, no priest, no prophet, no king, or queen will ever enter paradise without their beloved, the one they were created for. and yes all sins will be forgiven except those against the spirit. when he, like so many others betrayed his beloved he betrayed his own spirit.

  124. Bob - huh? You see Pope Francis as betraying the Holy Spirit of God when Jesus basically was saying the same things in His own time 2000 plus years ago?? Jesus said to the rich man, "Give up all you have and give to the poor and then follow me."

  125. A Pope you can eat? In some parts of the world, it could happen. Perhaps, it's a good plan.

  126. I see we are having a cynical morning. The reason people respond to Francis is that they feel in the core of their being that he is who he appears to be. What he says has resonance with his his being, and well as with others. He is connecting because he is real. Do you really expect total reform of an institution of that size, history and complexity in one year?
    I am no lover of the Catholic church, I found myself drawn to Francis from his first words on the patio when he was made Pope. Fratelli y sorelli. It was not just the words, it was the tone, the total warmth. Give the man some credit.

  127. From Francis's interview in America Magazine: "Discernment takes time. For example, many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment. Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought you would do later."

    Who knows what Francis has in mind, but his comments make it clear: he's going to do things in a way that maximizes their chances of success and not simply for their own sake or to please people who want more rapid change.

    Changing the tone opens people's hearts and minds for what’s to come.

    But he has done some significant things: appointing 8 cardinals to advise him; replacing heads of offices with men (yes, so far, men) open to doing things differently; abolishing the title of "monsignor" for priests under 65, to discourage careerism among priests; initiating a survey of the laypeople, which has taken on a life of its own, at least in some countries.

    Francis also said: “One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses.’ Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle … We have to march on without giving in.”

    Let’s not become sourpusses.

  128. One can easily recognize that the new Pope has certainly brought about a huge amount of conversation from ALL Camps. From statements as cruel that he is just a front man for a new false front for the Church to statements labeling him a Rock Star!
    One should consider that his multiple comments regarding greed and its influence on the Peoples leaders and Representatives of all Nations is extremely transparent, - here in America as well as many other Nations, - developed or emerging. That to me is a significant effort on the part of any Religious Leader. Here at home in America we see a grand effort by an element of a long respected party to identify the poor as nothing but scam artists who conspire to steal from the' Wealthy', and more importantly try to create an argument that it is the middle and lower middle class American who are the victims. While facts illustrate that 70% of the poor hold 40+ hour
    a week jobs in an attempt to feed their families, provide them shelter and clothing they are conspiring to steal our economy blind. (Was it not obvious when the Candidate for President of that party clearly stated he was not concerned at all about the 47% of the electorate who were strictly relying on Government handouts to live the good life without work?
    If a Religious leader like the Pope can have a 'DROP' of influence on any of the Peoples representatives, (including a 'Supposed' Catholic like Paul Ryan who thwarts any true Economic data to sell his Budget!

  129. Just because the figurehead wears a velvet glove the rest of the catholic church remains as reactionary and corrupt as ever. The Bishops needed to put a gentler face on their oppression and Frances fit the bill.

  130. Parrots can be Catholic? Who knew?

  131. Thanks, once again, for an insightful column. I particularly enjoyed "'Who am I to judge?'...This, from a pope, is like Streisand saying, 'Who aim I to sing?'"

    Concerning doctrinal matters: As you know, official Church teaching proscribes most modern birth control, but the clergy and many practicing Catholics have learned how to glide over that. Another example: As far as I know, "Outside the Church, there is no Salvation" is still official Church doctrine, but it no longer front and center. The Church, however, no longer emphasizes drives to try to convert others to Catholicism.

    The Pope is telling us to focus on other matters. He made clear in his recent formal letter he sees his role as setting priorities (the term he used in Latin was translated as "discernment"). So far, in my view, he has done that extraordinarily well.

  132. Pope Francis seems a good person, with good intentions and an ecouranging start to his reign. But for those of us cast out or cast aside by the institution he leads, the concept of "get by seven, have 'em for life" is a stinging memory. I have often wondered if for one year the church would close down, celebrate the High Holy Days, seek atonement and begin again with a new heart, if not new clergy. If judgement delivered is judgement received, many of us won't wait with baited breath for that to happen. The implicit and casual cruelties inflicted by these righteous, against which there is utterly no recourse, is Holy Mother the Church's burden, not ours. I wish him well, and hope for his encouraging path finding. But to quote my grandmother, "I'd rather spend eternity in hell with the Presbyterians."

  133. Pope Francis has said and done a lot of good things, yet he has not taken one action to deter the cover up of child sex crimes that would protect kids today.
    Tragically the sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy throughout the world is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops/cardinals to change their ways of protecting their image and the institution rather than protecting innocent kids.

  134. "... people of all stripes — liberals, conservatives — are as hungry for saints as they are for, well, chocolate."

    If by "saints," you mean individuals who are canonized by an organized religion, then no, many of us aren't. We hunger for good, ethical people, especially ones who are exceptionally self-sacrificing or heroic. We don't need or even want them to be canonized by clerics, which only serves to add an unnecessary and deceptive layer of fantasy and mystification.

    "They may not have much patience for the vocabulary of shame and the fustiest definitions of sin, but they want examples of goodness and calls to grace, and they’ll respond eagerly to the ones that don’t come with exclusionary rules and harping about penance."

    If by "grace" you mean some imaginary appearance or imagined perception of the supernatural in the real world, then no, many of us don't.

    What you're saying, in essence, is that to the extent that Francis selectively ignores substantial parts of Roman Catholic doctrine, his statements appeal to large swathes of sensible, humane people. But if the doctrine is only there to be sifted through in accordance with contemporary widely accepted notions of morality and fairness, then why not discard the doctrine entirely and be guided instead by the ethical principles themselves - principles that Francis seems tacitly to acknowledge must at times supersede Catholic teaching?

  135. Thanks for articulating the analogy with de Blasio/Bloomberg that's been bouncing around in my brain for a couple of weeks. In addition to the anti-greed message, and the welcoming "parrots and porn stars," it is Francis' welcoming of agnostics like myself that sends the world a positive message in the recognition that one can readily be MORAL without also being religious.

  136. It is important that Pope Francis has changed the emphasis of the church's message to "love thy neighbor." That teaching has always been there, but it had been obscured by the "judge the neighbor" crowd. It's good to have the priorities back in order. It's so much easir to judge than to love the neighbor, let alone the Samaritan.

    Another church teaching that is rarely mentioned is the primacy of individual conscience. When this becomes an important issue in the pews, there will be real change in the church.

  137. An unfortunate comparison between De Blasio and Bloomberg, methinks, although I know who thinks he deserves an infallibility label right now. Also unfortunate is the cynicism that links this Pope to a corporate about-face. There is no Ides of March outing in the offing here. Give the guy a break, and, by the way, I can list "Christians" from other denominations who fail to pass the hypocrisy test. Not everything the Catholic Church does is good, nor does it do everything wrong.

  138. Mr. Bruni wrote not too long ago about the very serious problems that remain at the local parish level, in a column about those who lost employment with the church or church schools after getting married or coming out. It was exactly right to focus on parish life, because that is the real life of the church. But this article strikes me as an example of "savoring" in the Jesuit tradition, which is of course the background of the pope; really focusing on the goodness of something, appreciating it in a purposeful way. That's so important to do, especially when times are hard, or in a transitional moment. Without disrespect to Pope Benedict, I think His Holiness is exactly what the church needs right now, and he deserves to be savored like chocolate.

  139. Mr. Bruni,
    I think you should select the titles of you columns bit better. Initially I did not want to know anything about a 'pope you can eat' originally abut a few hours earlier but I read this column anyway.

    Francis the Pope was actually made from chocolate! That is an edible pope, sure, but not a Pope who may or may not be made a saint soon after he dies.

    His miracle? He will have to conquer the Vatican hierarchy and he does not have that much time to do so. And, of course, call Vatican III to codify his way of thinking...

  140. Unless he actually does something substantive fairly soon, he'll be in a worse position than Benedict. He's already beginning to wear thin.

  141. Such darn great writing. Such wonderful turns of a phrase. Thank you! And then there are the thought-provoking parts, too. You're an inspiration, really.

  142. Francis told pastors they should "smell of the sheep".

  143. February 9, 2014
    It’s humane as well all that come in peace are welcomed to the express their faith- in love and peace. The meal is of spirit and reductionism to temporal food misses the beauty of the Roman Catholic liturgy and its historic sacred offering – in grace towards that are with conscious and solemn reconciliation towards living truth’s b blessings.
    I would note
    “We give thanks to the Creator of all, and, along with thanksgiving and prayer for the blessings we have received, we also eat the bread presented to us; and this bread becomes by prayer a sacred body, which sanctifies those who sincerely partake of it. “

    Manhattan, NY

  144. I happen to like this Pope very much, but I have to say that I LOVE Frank Bruni. His articles are always so intelligent, balanced, informative and compassionate. Perhaps, that's the trick, as he points out in his article. Compassion is the name of the game.

  145. The Times continues to grow more cynical as it realizes that Pope Francis isn't going to do what it wants, i.e. completely abandon the church's mission to teach a Christian vision of human sexuality. The trouble is they can't really catch him doing anything wrong, other than not shouting "We're all hypocrites because of the sex abuse crisis!" nine times a day as the Times would wish. Hence the reserved praise, the acidulous musings, the frankly weird article titles...

  146. "[Francis] understands that tone trumps content — that it’s everything, really." Frank, that statement may - sadly- be true in politics and the secular world but it makes for really lousy Christianity. Chapter 23 in Matthew's gospel has Jesus leveling a litany of accusations against the hypocrisy of scribes and Pharisees and the chasm between what they say and what they actually do. It's a condemnation of those who have a great tone, yet are devoid of content. God in Jesus calls us to wholeness which among other things, means reconciling those places where we do not practice what we preach.
    I for one did not join the throngs who swooned when Francis offered a kinder and gentler rhetoric than his predecessors. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Now that Francis has been pope for almost a year, it is becoming clear that the externals are just a white wash and the substance is the same old, same old, grossly lacking in any positive amendment of life.
    Woe to those who behave as such, Jesus said.

  147. This UN report gives hope to the thousands of still suffering clergy sex abuse victims throughout the world. This report says Catholic church officials are to....

    ---Immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes;

    ---Ensure a transparent sharing of all archives which can be used to hold the abusers accountable as well as all those who concealed their crimes and knowingly placed offenders in contact with children

    ---Promote the reform of statute of limitations in countries where they impede victims of child sexual abuse from seeking justice and redress; (In reality, time and time again, Catholic officials have worked hard (even hiring lobby groups) to fight against the SOL reform.)

    Now it's up to secular officials (especially legislators and law enforcement) to follow the UN's lead and step in to safeguard innocent children, because Catholic officials are either incapable or unwilling to do so. According to this UN report, "the Vatican still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to still be in contact with children.

    Silence is not an option anymore, it only hurts and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.
    Judy Jones, SNAP "Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests"

  148. Until Pope Francis opens the priesthood to women, changes church doctrine on birth control and homosexuality, and proactively apologizes and makes amends to people the church has harmed (through child sexual abuse and other misdeeds) he will continue to be just another run-of-the-mill pope, albeit one who speaks with a softer tone and with more compassionate words. I'll wait to put Francis on a pedestal when I see these actions.

  149. From reading some of the comments there are people who severely question his intent and motives. That's understandable to a point. But unless you know the man's heart how can you possibly question what he is doing and why? To me there are some who would actually like to see the pope not effect the changes his making since it will reinforce the anger and resentment they feel towards the church as a whole.
    Having said that the church has done a horrible job of shielding priests from accountability when they should have been in prison. The rules for them are no different.
    But he is faced with the daunting task of eradicating some very long standing, deep seeded anger the people feel and legitimately so. But ultimately the only ones who suffer from this anger are the people who feel it. The church to me was not too concerned since the outcry was publicly ignored. But that was then, this is now
    I believe Pope Francis is a totally unique individual. He has connected to the people in a way that I can't recall any one being so accessible. I think of that young child that was hanging aound his papal chair when he was speaking. He acted instinctively and showed that what he does is not scripted but honest and sincere
    I just wish those who condemn the Catholic Church was as upset over the horrific acts of Islamists who kill homosexuals for just being gay, who murder and torture Christians. Where is your outrage? Does their loss of life have any less meaning? I really have to wonder!

  150. Francis is surrounded by good PR. What insight. It's all about optics and saying what people need to hear. Let's see what changes under him. So far, really nothing.

  151. This is the best NYT edition I've ever read. Your column, Maureen Dowd's "Still Mad as Hell," and Porter Fox's "The End of Snow" are a trifecta limning today's world.