A year ago, Pope Francis' photo adorned the covers of Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, TIME magazine and The Advocate. The latter two named the pope their person of the year. Francis' personal humility and simplicity, his common-sense rhetoric seasoned with homespun charm had captured the imagination of Catholics, non-Catholics and even nonbelievers. Acutely aware of the power of simple language and of images, Francis set about molding a pontificate for the age of Facebook and Twitter. Though he has little computer knowledge himself, Francis harnessed these tools for a new kind of evangelization.
Many among our readers, editors, staff and contributors embraced the message he advocated. They heralded not just a change in tone and style, but a change in substance and direction. Just as many among us, however, were not convinced. The refrain was, "Yes, but what has he done? To what real change can we point?" And so NCR resisted naming Francis our person of the year for 2013.
A year later, the resistance is weakening. We can name many points of disagreement with Francis: He is consistently tone-deaf in the way he speaks about women. We do not believe he clearly understands the powerful contribution women are already making to church life, and we believe he is mistaken not to appoint more women to leadership positions in church administration. His remarks to the November symposium at the Vatican, "An International Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman," suggest he and the church hierarchy need an updated theology and science on human sexuality. Despite these objections, we also find a growing list of accomplishments.