Less than a year into his papacy, Pope Francis has charmed millions with his humility, his emphasis on caring for the poor, and his stance that the church must not obsess over divisive social issues. In the U.S. alone, 92 percent of Catholics have a favorable impression of him, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll.
The goodwill comes despite any breakthrough to date on some of the biggest issues facing the church: the clergy sex abuse scandal, allegations of money laundering at the Vatican bank or corruption inside the curia. For now, the best guide to the direction Pope Francis hopes to take the church — as well as his worldview in general — may come from his early statements as pontiff. Here is a brief sampling:
Francis on being elected pope
Before I accepted I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square. My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go way and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the “Habemus Papam.” — Interview with La Repubblica, October 2013.
His vision for reform
I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds … And you have to start from the ground up. — Interview with America, September 2013.
How to broaden the message of the church
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time … We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. — Interview with America, September 2013.
His message for victims of clergy sex abuse
In a very special way, I wish to express my compassion and to give the assurance of my prayer to each person who has been a victim of sexual abuse, and to their families; I ask you to continue to support them along the painful path of healing which they have undertaken with courage. — Address to bishops of the episcopal conference of the Netherlands, December 2013.
Pope Francis on his stance towards homosexuality
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” We must always consider the person … In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. — Interview with America, September 2013.
If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … “No one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society.” The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another. — Papal press conference, July 2013.
The economics of social inequality
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us. — Pope Francis writing in The Joy of the Gospel, November 2013.
The “economy of exclusion”
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? — Pope Francis writing in The Joy of the Gospel, November 2013.
The role of women in the church
As far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Church has spoken and said: “No.” John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That door is closed, but on this issue I want to tell you something. I have said it, but I repeat it. Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the Apostles, than bishops and deacons and priests. Women, in the Church, are more important than bishops and priests; how, this is something we have to try to explain better, because I believe that we lack a theological explanation of this. — Papal press conference, July 2013.
Reforming the Curia
Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy … There are sometimes courtiers in the curia, but the curia as a whole is another thing. It is what in an army is called the quartermaster’s office, it manages the services that serve the Holy See. But it has one defect: it is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I’ll do everything I can to change it. The Church is or should go back to being a community of God’s people, and priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God. — Interview with La Repubblica, October 2013.
Cleaning up the Vatican bank — the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR)
Some say perhaps it would be better as a bank, others say it should be an aid fund, others say it should be shut down. Well! That’s what people are saying. I don’t know … We must find the best solution, no doubt about that. But the hallmarks of the IOR — whether it be a bank, an aid fund, or whatever else — have to be transparency and honesty, they have to be.” — Papal press conference, July 2013.
Pope Francis delivers his blessing at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)