Whither American Catholicism?
Pope Francis may be the leader of a great awakening in America and the world.

Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus


LOPEZ: What do you make of all the media coverage of Pope Benedict’s resignation, the conclave, and the installation of Pope Francis?

ANDERSON: I think it clearly reflects the recognition that, in our time, a pope changes the world. He will do this at one level by directly affecting the lives of more than a billion Catholics around the globe. But he does so in other ways as well, for example, by championing respect for human rights. We saw this clearly with Pope John Paul II and the fall of the Iron Curtain and Soviet Communism. Whatever the media and others may say about the diminished relevance of the Church from time to time, I think the world’s collective focus on the conclave shows how incredibly important the Church and its leadership is in the too often confused world of today.

LOPEZ: Were you surprised that cardinals from the U.S. were talked about as much as they were?

ANDERSON: Not really. The election of Pope John Paul II showed that during a time of accelerating globalization a pope could come from beyond Italy. And in a way the speculation about people from this hemisphere, from both North and South America, made clear that going into this conclave there wasn’t a geographical limitation at work.

LOPEZ: Does Pope Francis have the ability to heal the divide between the Right and the Left?

ANDERSON: Pope Francis has written extensively about the Church’s need to be faithful to and motivated by the Gospel rather than by politics. He resists the temptation to judge the Gospel by worldly criteria. The Left–Right divide is essentially a secular political dialectic, which should have no place in Christianity. His witness to charity is fundamental to Christianity and it is a mistake to view it politically. I think his example can do much to heal this divide, but the responsibility for healing political divides really lies with those who approach their Bible politically, rather than approaching their politics Biblically. He will certainly lead the way in how to do that. The overly politicized among us will need to have both the courage and the humility to follow his lead.