Vatican City, March 13: Pope Francis marks the first anniversary of his papacy having become so globally celebrated that he recently felt compelled to deflate his own “superman” aura.
He is a star of magazine covers and social media, praised for his welcoming, nonjudgmental persona, his embrace of the poor and his decisiveness in moving to reform a Vatican bureaucracy.
Year 2, however, is likely to prove more challenging, if partly because of Francis’s own success. He has raised expectations that he can bring major change to the Roman Catholic Church — even as opinions differ on what changes are needed.
He has become one of the most recognised and popular figures in the world yet his public comments are often deliberately ambiguous, as he is careful not to get pinned down on ideologically charged issues.
“What he is really trying to do is change the culture of the church,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior analyst for The National Catholic Reporter. “To reform an institution like the Catholic Church, you don’t just move boxes around in an organisational chart.”
The church agenda for 2014 is framed on the theme of family, which includes social issues that have alienated many followers in the US and Europe: the treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics; the church’s positions on homosexuality and same-sex marriages; abortion and contraception, and more.
It is a highly politicised list, and Francis has encouraged debate and discussion rather than seeking to tamp it down.
Yet in a global church of 1.2 billion followers, Francis faces a daunting challenge in trying to reconcile divisions and build a consensus for any changes that might be coming.
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE