1Pope Francis (Photo by BostonCatholic/Flickr)

“Fourth – and regrettably – Catholics on both ends of the spectrum are encouraging the media to think of Pope Francis as a revolutionary. One group, still longing for radical changes in doctrine, encourages speculation that the pope will grant their wishes. Another group, frightened of the changes that might be in store, seizes every opportunity to complain that the Holy Father is abandoning time-honored traditions.

“Extremists on both sides, for their own separate reasons, portray the pope as a radical. Their hyperbolic statements – gleeful on one hand, morose on the other – provide secular reporters with the juicy quotations they need for stories depicting Pope Francis as a radical.

“Folks, we all need to calm down. Take a few deep breaths. If you read the pope’s actual statements, if you watch his behavior, you realize that although he has a striking and often provocative personal style, he is no revolutionary.”

“Since he took charge last year,” writes Coppen, “Francis has been made into a superstar of the liberal left. His humble background (he is a former bouncer), his dislike for the trappings of office (he cooks his own spaghetti) and his emphasis on the church’s concern for the poor has made liberals, even atheists like Scalfari, suppose that he is as hostile to church dogma as they are.”

time-pope-francisOn the cover of Time magazine

“They assume, in other words, that the pope isn’t Catholic. Last year, few left-leaning commentators could resist falling for the foot-washing

Jesuit from Buenos Aires. In column after column they projected their deepest hopes on to Francis – he is, they think, the man who will finally bring enlightened liberal values to the Catholic church.

“In November, Guardian writer Jonathan Freedland argued that Francis was ‘the obvious new hero of the left’ and that portraits of the Supreme Pontiff should replace fading Obama posters on ‘the walls of the world’s student bedrooms.’”

“There’s no doubt that Francis has breathed fresh life into Catholicism. In particular, his interest in limiting the power of the bulky Vatican bureaucracy, cutting back on church expenditure and encouraging compassion and practical aid for the vulnerable has met with widespread approval from a global media that, let’s face it, leans left. He had them at ‘Who am I to judge?’

“To be fair to Francis’s predecessors, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI also spoke about the need for the wealthy to care for the poor. But to the tradition-bound Vatican, there was something comforting, rather than challenging, when an ermine-clad Benedict spoke about charitable giving with an air of noblesse oblige. It gave the impression that assisting the poor needn’t come at the expense of personal creature comforts. Not so Francis: He has shunned the trappings of his office, using a minibus instead of a limousine after his election and forgoing the luxurious papal apartments accorded to him in favor of more humble digs.”

“But the buzz that has greeted Pope Francis’s advocacy for the poor against the powerful exaggerates its novelty. And it’s certainly not a rejection of church doctrine: It goes back to Jesus and has been a dominant feature of Catholic social teaching since the very beginning. Francis may be the most photographed priest to adhere to his vows of poverty, but he’s far from the first.”

“ Whenever he proves himself loyal to Catholic teaching – denouncing abortion, for instance, or saying that same-sex marriage is an ‘anthropological regression’ – his liberal fan base turns a deaf ear,” notes Coppen.

“Last month America’s oldest gay magazine, the Advocate, hailed Francis as its person of the year because of the compassion he had expressed towards homosexuals. It was hardly a revolution: Article 2358 of the Catholic church’s catechism calls for gay people to be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’

“In simply restating Catholic teaching, however, Francis was hailed as a hero. When a Maltese bishop said the pope had told him he was ‘shocked’ by the idea of gay adoption, that barely made a splash. Time magazine, too, made Francis person of the year, hailing him for his ‘rejection of Church dogma.’ But for cockeyed lionisation of Francis it would be hard to beat the editors of Esquire, who somehow managed to convince themselves that a figure who wears the same outfit every day was the best dressed man of 2013.”5Francis I with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (Photo: Mexican government)