1st Reactions to Pope Francis

Mostly Positive Amid Some Criticism

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Media reaction to the election and inauguration of Pope Francis has generally been very positive.

Many have hailed him as a pope of firsts: the first non-European for over a thousand years, the first from the New World, the first Jesuit, the first to choose the name of Francis, and the first whose inauguration was attended by the Patriarch of Constantinople since the schism of 1054.

Some criticism emerged over whether he had done enough to defend priests when the military regime was in power in Argentina.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, veteran reporter and an editor of the Wall Street Journal, looked at this in an article dated March 17. The Argentine government’s “pit bulls” began a campaign to smear the new Pontiff’s character, she charged.

Intellectually honest observers, she commented, have a different view, including Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980. Esquivel defended Archbishop Bergoglio against any charge of complicity with the military dictatorship.

Another theme of debate is over what the new Pope’s simplicity and desire for a Church to help the poor might entail. We have a leader “with mud on his boots,” wrote the Australian newspaper’s Foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, in a March 16 article.

It will be fascinating, he said, to see how Pope Francis develops his social teaching, an opinion no doubt shared by many.

The Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg warned against viewing Pope Francis through the lenses of secular political categories, in an article published March 14, by the National Review Online.

Secretive and centralized

Not all reactions were positive. The Church is “hierarchical, rigid, top-down, secretive, centralized and authoritarian,” intoned columnist Margaret Wente in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper, in an article dated March 14.

“Few events could be less relevant to modern life than the election of a new pontiff,” she said. Clearly not an opinion shared by the vast majority of the media and the world’s population.

A number of commentaries revealed an inability to understand the Catholic Church and how it is not just another type of business or political organization. “The process took no account of democracy, accountability or transparency — the lifeblood of enlightened politics in 2013,” said Barbara Yaffe, writing on March 14 for Canada’s Vancouver Sun, in reference to the papal conclave.

A March 14 editorial in the Chicago Tribune put its finger right on the spot in relation to this sort of attitude. For many Catholics in the United States, it commented, they view the Church through their own limited perspective, seeing their church, “in terms of themselves, their issues and their opinions.”

Pope Francis, the editorial continued, was elected as Pope “for reasons that reach far beyond his vast and philosophically cleaved flock: traditionalists and modernists, free-thinkers and doctrinaire purists, all-in loyalists and ‘cafeteria Catholics’ who select which teachings they believe and which rules they follow.”

This limited perspective was amply demonstrated in a piece written by Sister Joan Chittister for the National Catholic Reporter on March 14.

She is weary of waiting for change in the Church, she wrote. “People are weary of hearing more about the laws of the church than the love of Jesus.”


It seems incredible that someone who has followed events in the Church in recent years could make such an affirmation.

In spite of the dire predictions about a conservative hardliner with the election of Benedict XVI, we had a Pope whose first encyclical was about love — exactly what Sr. Chittister proclaims is needed. Then there was an encyclical about hope and a third one on matters of the social teaching of the Church.

She continued, people “get tired watching of (sic) Anglican converts and their children take their place at the altar.” How is it that efforts to reconcile divisions among Christians suddenly become reprehensible?

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) service also had a puzzling article published March 18, titled “What’s the Next Step for Pope Francis?”

The piece centered on what it might mean for the new Pope to “take the poor seriously as Bishop of Rome.”

It gave credit to Pope Francis, saying that “he has his theology right.”

“He’s not the CEO of a multinational with braches (sic) around the world. He’s the pastor of a particular community – Rome – that bears an added responsibility: presiding in charity with the bishops of the Church over all the Churches.”

Just a few lines below, however, it states that the Pope should, “Operate out of an office like any other CEO and make the Borgia apartments into offices.”


Apart from this contradiction between praise for not being a CEO and then a request that he be a CEO, the article affirms that for the last 500 years the popes have lived in the Borgia apartments and that you cannot be poor if you live in such a place.

This reference puzzled me and on seeking expert advice from an art historian and veteran Vatican guide, I found out that in 1506 Pope Julius II, the successor of Pope Alexander Borgia VI, moved out of these apartments in a gesture to distance himself from the dubious reputation of his predecessor.

Subsequently, Leo X and Clement VII lived in the Borgia apartments, but Paul III lived at Castel Sant’Angelo and his successors built the Apostolic palace, which is the one where the popes now live, except from the period from 1605 to 1870, when they resided in the Quirinal palace on the other side of the city, which is today the residence of the Italian president.

No doubt in coming days the commentaries and prognostications about the new papacy will continue. It seems we are indeed living in interesting times.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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