The Francis Factor and the Challenges It Presents

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

In Rio today, Philadelphia archbishop Charles J. Chaput spoke frankly to Vatican reporter John Allen about the new pope: 

My sense is that practicing Catholics love him and have a deep respect for him, but they’re not actually the ones who really talk to me about the new pope. The ones who do are nonpracticing Catholics or people who aren’t Catholic or not even Christian. They go out of their way to tell me how impressed they are and what a wonderful change he’s brought into the church. It’s interesting to see that it’s the alienated Catholic and the non-Catholic and the non-Christians who have expressed their enthusiasm more than Catholics have. It’s not that Catholics aren’t impressed, too, but they’re ordinarily impressed with the pope.

I’ve certainly had that experience. Non-Catholics daily are asking me what I make of him, what to expect next. 

Asked what he makes of the “enthusiasm beyond the usual suspects,” Chaput said:

I don’t know how to interpret it, quite honestly. I think part of it is genuine appreciation for the pope’s extraordinary friendliness and transparency. But also, I think they would prefer a church that wouldn’t have strict norms and ideas about the moral life and about doctrine, and they somehow interpret the pope’s openness and friendliness as being less concerned about those things. I certainly don’t think that’s true. I think he’s a truly Catholic man in every sense of the word, but I think people are hoping that he’ll be less concerned about the issues that separate us today.

Call it the Elton John factor? He told Vanity Fair Pope Francis is a “miracle of humility” – he was not known to be a fan of Pope Benedict. Of course, the Church spoke of a preferential option for the poor and served in love before Pope Francis. But he’s getting the world’s attention for these realities — and the Gospel – in a whole new way. And he does so while talking about St. Joseph and the Devil and presiding over a weekend dedicated to the Gospel of Life in Rome, as he did in June. That might not be what gets one on the cover of Vanity Fair, but it’s there, too. I suspect he’s doing exactly what Christians believe we are called to do: Open doors, make disciples . . . which you can only ever do by being one!

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