I like the new Pope. I like that on Holy Thursday, he wiped the feet of a young, incarcerated Muslim woman. I like that he is doing his best to avoid the trappings, but embrace the mission, of his new positions as both Pope and Bishop of Rome.
Pew data on Catholics:
Over the past century, the number of Catholics around the globe has more than tripled, from an estimated 291 million in 1910 to nearly 1.1 billion as of 2010, according to a comprehensive demographic study by the Pew Research Center.
But over the same period, the world’s overall population also has risen rapidly. As a result, Catholics have made up a remarkably stable share of all people on Earth. In 1910, Catholics comprised about half (48%) of all Christians and 17% of the world’s total population, according to historical estimates from the World Christian Database. A century later, the Pew Research study found, Catholics still comprise about half (50%) of Christians worldwide and 16% of the total global population.
What has changed substantially over the past century is the geographic distribution of the world’s Catholics. In 1910, Europe was home to about two-thirds of all Catholics, and nearly nine-in-ten lived either in Europe (65%) or Latin America (24%). By 2010, by contrast, only about a quarter of all Catholics (24%) were in Europe. The largest share (39%) were in Latin America and the Caribbean. Source and more data here.
Catholics are one of the groups that "shows" demographically when we speak about American politics, and the Pope is their leader. What he decides affects the faithful, and in the long run, politics. Sometimes, as in the case of birth control for personal use, American Catholics disagree with the Pope and the Rome minions, and that, too, affects political races.
I contend that of the head of all the religious groups in the world, the Pope is the most talked about. Perhaps it's because Vatican City is its own country.
So I look at this new Pope, with his commitment to the poor, and to the acceptance of other religions (two of his initial calls went to the Chief Rabbi of Rome and the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, asking them to attend his installation as Pope) and I wonder if he won't be the person who will bring shame on those American Evangelicals who claim to be Christian, but discard all the teachings related to the poor, the unwashed, the downtrodden. Perhaps Bergoglio will be the religious man who affects American politics in a positive manner.
Cardinal Dolan, of NY, was on a Sunday show, and said the Church loves gay, but reiterated his opposition to gay marriage. New Yorkers overwhelmingly support gay marriage, and this includes a lot of NY Catholics: perhaps it will lead to people taking what they agree with from Bergoglio, and being sane about the rest of it.
Since I'm talking about Popes...my favourite anecdote relates to Pope John Paul the Second. Certainly you remember Ben Bradlee, Editor in Chief of the Washington Post during the time of Watergate, and boss to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Bradlee had a longstanding romance with Sally Quinn, a columnist for the Post. In fact, they lived together. She wanted to get married, he didn't want to get married for the third time. He told her that he'd marry her when the Pope was Polish. They've been married over 30 years now. Talk about direct papal influence.
Anyway, I'm hopeful about what changes Bergoglio could affect politically in America.