It seems that everyone agrees Pope Francis should be Time’s ‘Person of the Year 2013’. Better him than Miley Cyrus, at any rate, or Bashar al-Assad, and Francis deserves it, too. This year he has — forgive the media-speak — changed the narrative about Christianity in the liberal world. He’s spreading the Good News, not just reacting to the bad.
But Catholics have mixed feelings about all this acclaim for their new Pope. Peggy Noonan put her finger on the key point in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, when she suggested that Time would choose Francis because he is different ‘in ways Time’s editors and reporters find congenial’.
It was telling that, in their blurb about the nominees, Time announced that ‘the first Jesuit Pontiff won hearts and minds with his common touch and rejection of church dogma’. Of course Pope Francis has not rejected Church dogma at all. Time were quick to correct themselves, yet their mistake revealed again the liberal bias against Catholicism: Catholics are only praised if they are seen to rebel against their Church. This attitude makes Catholics distinctly uneasy. It can only be a matter of time before the journalists who now laud Francis turn on him. They will say he has disappointed them when he does not embrace all gay rights, condoms, and women popes.
Which is why my person of the year, for what it’s worth, is not Pope Francis, but Pope Benedict XVI. Because he had the humility to realise he could no longer carry on leading the Church. Because he had the guts to resign, against all modern precedent, and make way for a more dynamic successor.
Because Pope Francis is in fact enjoying many of the fruits of his predecessor’s work. Benedict was not some right-wing pitbull: just like Francis, he continually stressed the importance of divine love, as well as the dangers of global capitalism, and he did not obsess over sexual matters. Benedict also did an enormous amount to bring about Christian unity by reaching out to the Orthodox, disgruntled traditionalists and Anglicans, and other denominations.
Because the secular media could never understand him.
But most had all because Benedict has had the astonishing grace to stay silent as the media falls in love with Pope Francis. He has not reacted — in public anyway — as the world decided that Francis’s humility and warmth was a sharp contrast to him and everybody insinuated that, unlike the adorable Francis, Benedict was some sort of reactionary ego-maniac, when in fact he is the opposite.
So — Pope Benedict, man of the year 2013, for removing himself from the public eye and for keeping his mouth shut.