Francis Marks 1 Year of Change ... Just Not Profound
Critics weigh in on pope's first year at the Vatican
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2014 7:00 AM CDT
In this March 28, 2013 file photo, Pope Francis kisses the foot of an inmate at the juvenile detention center of Casal del Marmo, Rome.   (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)
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(Newser) – It's been a year since the Catholic Church chose Jorge Bergoglio as its new pope, and while Pope Francis marks the anniversary with a low-key, week-long spiritual retreat with cardinals and bishops—he characteristically traveled there by bus—here's a look at how he's been doing over the last 12 months:

  • People love Francis: The first non-European pope in 1,000 years hasn't had trouble fitting in. Italian opinion polls give him the highest popularity of any recent pope, while the US approval rate sits at 55%, even as the UN has ripped the Vatican a new one, the Wall Street Journal and the BBC note. That's not to mention his 11 million followers across his various Twitter accounts, the huge crowds, and pilgrims flocking to Rome in record numbers.

  • Compassion: His high standing could have a lot to do with the compassion he's shown divorcees, those who've abandoned Mass, gay people, and Jews and Muslims, even though his views don't always get a lot of support from traditionalist cardinals.
  • No deep change: But has anything really changed? A BBC correspondent notes Francis has given us that perception—whereas predecessor Pope Benedict called homosexuality "intrinsically evil," Francis has said he's not one to judge—but it has been "a change of style rather than of substance." As for the Catholic Church's stance on birth control or the celibacy rule for priests, there doesn't seem to be any budging.
  • Still, E.J. Dionne notes in the Washington Post that Francis' first year has been "an anti-imperial papacy" from the start. "He has not altered church doctrine, but his shift in emphasis has been breathtaking," and his ability to move beyond gay marriage, birth control, and abortion, shows his stance is "primarily with and for the neediest."
  • His overhaul of the Congregation for Bishops and appointment of "outsider" cardinals to advise him on church reform stands out, too, and shows a move toward a horizontal church, inspired by Jesuits. "Liberals who would like to see significant doctrinal shifts from Francis should alter their expectations," write Lizzy Davies and Sam Jones for the Guardian. "But that doesn't mean there will be no change at all."
  • Next up: The Vatican Bank will be at the heart of Pope Francis' reforms and he hasn't ruled out closing it for good. Meanwhile, all eyes will be on how he responds to sex abuse allegations within the church—his emerging blind spot, the Guardian notes.