Belfast Telegraph

The Pope's a Catholic but he's no person of the year

By Alf McCreary

Is the Pope a Catholic?' is one of the smart questions people ask when they are making a statement of the obvious. However, this question comes sharply into focus with the news that Pope Francis has been named by Time Magazine as The Person of the Year.

This is indeed an honour , and in this case it is not entirely undeserved.

But it is interesting to note the criteria on which this award has been based.

Catherine Mayer, the editor-at- large with Time Magazine, says that it is "not about how good or bad someone has been, but how much of a difference they have made".

Time's managing editor Nancy Gibbs says: "Pope Francis has pulled the papacy out of the palace and into the streets.

"Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly, young and old, faithful and cynical."

Does this mean that the award is actually given for showmanship and for good public relations?

Secondly, how much of a difference has Pope Francis really made?

Without doubt he is a showman in the nicest possible way.

He certainly has made headlines by championing a humble lifestyle, by his concern for the poor, the underprivileged, the gay community, the disabled and the marginalised, and for many other individuals and groups.

In that sense, he is similar to Pope John Paul II who was a showman supreme, and also a man of intellect as well as action in which he showed much courage in campaigning against materialism, totalitarianism and the other great challenges in his lifetime.

However, it took many people, including me, some time to realise that beneath Pope John Paul's extrovert exterior, there was a deeply conservative Roman Catholic. His Papacy did little for women in the church, for liberals like Hans Kung, for gay people, and for people who dared to take a different line from that of the Vatican.

He also did little to tackle the worldwide scandal of clerical sexual child abuse.

His general policy was continued by Pope Benedict, who is a gentle scholar not suited to the fierce limelight that surrounds every Pope.

In fact his decision to take early retirement was an indication that the demands were too much for him, though in resigning he raised serious questions about how far age should play a part in determining who should be given this unique role.

By comparison, Pope Francis has been like a breath of fresh air in the nine months since he took office, and he has charmed many people, including important sections of the media.

However, I am surprised that Francis has received such a high profile mainly for saying and doing things which should be part of the daily role of every Pope – showing kindness and concern for the less well-off and holding out the hand of friendship to all.

The question remains: "Has Pope Francis really made a difference?"

Despite his words, I think at heart that he remains a traditional Catholic, and that so far he has not had a chance to make a real practical difference.

I have no doubt that he will do what he can, and I genuinely wish him well.

Remember, however, that the reforms which Pope John XXIII so bravely initiated have hardly survived the heavy hand of the Vatican.

So is the Pope really a Catholic? Of course he is, as well as the 2013 Person of the Year.

He has made a good start, but we are nearly into 2014 already. Despite his age, Pope Francis must keep on keeping on.

Church boost

Week to savour for top Catholic clerics

There was good news too this week for Cardinal Sean Brady and Bishop Noel Treanor, following positive assessments for Armagh, and Down and Connor, in eight island-wide reviews of child protection measures in the Church.

And Bishop Treanor also made good news this week by opening the St Malachy's Diocesan Youth Centre in the presence of a cross-community audience.

This year also marks the 90th anniversary of the Apostolic Work organisation which is particularly strong in Down and Connor.

Death of Nelson Mandela

Sorrow of de Klerk was moving

Earlier this week I wondered how the television networks could sustain the coverage of Nelson Mandela, prior to his funeral tomorrow.

There was " filling in" but I was moved by the scenes of the ex-President lying-in-state, with sorrow on the faces of his friends and ex-political opponents, including FW de Klerk who is rarely given enough praise for what he did to help dismantle apartheid.

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