Time's 'Person of the Year' has moved fast to rebrand Catholicism

The World
Pope Francis after his selection in March.

Jorge Bergoglio has been Pope Francis since March. And Wednesday, Time Magazine decided he would be its "Person of the Year" — beating out Edward Snowden, Ted Cruz and Bashar al-Assad, among other possibilities.

"Personally, I think it's a great choice," says Tom Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, and himself a Jesuit priest. 

"In a sense, what he's done is he's rebranded Catholicism. I think Harvard Business School will be looking at this for years to come. He has changed people's attitudes to the Catholic Church," Reese says. "He's presented the gospel message in a much more positive way. He's emphasized the love, the compassion of Jesus Christ. And he's called on the Church to be a reconciler, a community builder, rather than something that's divisive.

"It's like suddenly your mother is no longer nagging you, but giving you a hug." This is a really substantial change, says Reese.

"He's modelling what it is to be a good bishop, a good priest, a good Catholic. To be loving and compassionate."

Not everyone is happy, though. Some conservative Catholics are concerned he's ignoring them, in an effort to bring back those who have strayed from the flock.

"There's always naysayers," says Reese. "But if you look at the public opinion polls, we've never seen higher rates of positive attitudes toward the Pope. It's off the charts. Only four percent of Catholics have a negative view of this Pope. Politicians in Washington would kill for these kinds of numbers.

"It's only the very small, negative, conservative elite — you know, the talk show-type folks — that are upset, because he's no longer making the Catholic church, you know, the Republican Party at prayer," he adds.

But he admits ultra-liberal Catholics are also unhappy with the Pope. He says they want even faster change. "They want women's ordination now. They want change in the teaching on birth control now. They're unhappy, but they're a lot happier with this Pope than previous ones."

On one of the biggest issues facing the church — decades of child abuse by priests — Reese says Francis is trying to get out in front, with a message telling victims "how sad, how sorry the Catholic Church is for what happened to them."

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