The First Two Years of Pope Francis’ Papacy

With Pope Francis’ papacy entering its third year, a number of Catholic writers, scholars, and activists have taken the time to reflect on Francis’ first two years. Here are some highlights of their analysis:

Pope Francis Has Taught the Church To Thrive Again by Christopher Hale: “Mercy is God’s most beautiful attribute. And Francis understands during this time of crisis where too many times the Church has failed to communicate God’s unfailing love for us, we must re-present the basic truths of our faith: that we are children of the God. The Lord loves us. Jesus Christ saves us. The Pope cherishes us, and the Church welcomes us.”

Growing Up Catholic by Mitch Boersma: “By calling us to first serve those on the margins, both spiritually and materially, Francis inspires us to build a community where everyone is called to participate, where everyone has a voice, where all have a seat at the banquet. And, as Francis sees it, this project begins by reigniting an appreciation for the vital role of the family in building the future.”

Pope Francis’ 2nd Anniversary, Part II by Michael Sean Winters: “This leads to a second central motif of the morning homilies and of this papacy: The Church must get out of itself and go to the peripheries, there to encounter the Lord. The “culture of encounter” is a central motif in Pope Francis’ teaching but he especially calls for us to seek that encounter at the peripheries.”

The Great Reformer: Pope Francis’s Pastoral Revolution, Two Years On by Austen Iveriegh: “Francis – the great unblocker, reformer and bridge-builder of our age – does not seem worried. Those close to him report a man often exhausted and yet at peace, confident in God’s actions, however invisible they may be in the present moment. His task has been to open up a new era for the Church, in which the vigorous missionary energy and option for the poor of Latin American Catholicism becomes the wellspring of the conversion of the Church worldwide.”

Pope Francis’ Philadelphia message by Christopher White: “Over the last two years, as Francis has dined with the homeless, celebrated Mass with six million young people on the beaches of Brazil, cold-called ordinary men and women who have written him with their concerns, and continually expressed solidarity with those in need, he has offered a lived witness of what it means to know the needs of those around him. Francis’ posture has been focused outward, and by example, he has encouraged all of us to reorient ourselves as well. That’s why restoring a culture that promotes families continues to be a consequential subject for him, for it is in the family that we first learn to sacrifice for one another, overcome differences, and love unconditionally.”

Here are five Francis forecasts for Año Tres by John Allen: “From Francis’s dream of a “poor Church for the poor,” to his decision to launch two summits of Catholic bishops to debate issues such as Communion for the divorced and remarried and outreach to same-sex couples, to soundbites such as why Catholics don’t have to breed “like rabbits,” this is a pope who generates shockwaves almost as often as he holds audiences and says Mass.”

And here are some key points made at a recent teleconference organized by Faith in Public Life:

Stephen Schneck, Director, Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, The Catholic University of America:

  • Francis has transformed the public perception of the Church, so that it is seen as humble and welcoming. This marks the end of the “Big No!”
  • His vision of a poor Church for the poor continues to astonish us
  • He has emphasized that we cannot allow automatic market forces to deform human dignity

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK, Nuns on the Bus

  • Pope Francis points out that the market is a human construction; the role of government is to curtail negatives that come from such human institutions.
  • Congress needs to work on peacebuilding among themselves so they can actually accomplish something.
  • Francis has encouraged dialogue and tapped into our hunger for unity.
  • Francis says that the stories of real people are at the heart of good policy. More powerful than abstract theory.
  • Francis says all people should be at the table so that we can find a way forward together.

John Carr, Director, Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Georgetown University

  • He made his priorities clear when he chose the name Francis.
  • Joy of the Gospel and the Mercy of God are Francis’ big themes
  • Looks at the world and the economy from the bottom up. And he looks at the Church from the outside in.
  • Two models: reserve and protect vs. engage and persuade. Francis is looking for converts not heretics (using Mark Shields’ formulation) and wants to engage and persuade.
  • He challenges all of us to think and act anew

Jessica Martinez, Research Associate, Pew Research Center

  • 95% of Catholics who attend mass weekly (at least) are happy with Francis.
  • There is increased excitement and devotion among those who attend mass regularly.

Rev. Tom Reese, author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Senior analyst, National Catholic Reporter

  • Pope Francis has rebranded the Catholic Church
  • There is a change in style and priority
  • Style matters. It is critical and essential. It is a Church of symbol. Through his symbolic actions he is preaching the gospel, he is showing the Church’s priorities.
  • He is modeling what it means to be a good bishop, priest, Christian.
  • It’s only the conservative commentariat, a small elite, that is critical of the pope, not conservative Catholics in the pews.

Kim Daniels, former spokesperson for the President the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Senior Advisor, Catholic Voices

  • Francis is neither liberal nor conservative—he’s Catholic.
  • Francis makes it clear that protecting life and social justice are part of a shared commitment to the common good
  • The Catholic faith is relational
  • Francis sees the renewal and strengthening of the family as critical to countering the throwaway culture. This is a big focus, as seen in the Synod, upcoming trip to Philadelphia
  • Francis is calling us to reach out to those in need, especially the poor.