Philadelphia’s archbishop made his remarks in Rio, during an interview with NCR’s John Allen.
What do you pick up back home about the new pope?
My sense is that practicing Catholics love him and have a deep respect for him, but they’re not actually the ones who really talk to me about the new pope. The ones who do are nonpracticing Catholics or people who aren’t Catholic or not even Christian. They go out of their way to tell me how impressed they are and what a wonderful change he’s brought into the church. It’s interesting to see that it’s the alienated Catholic and the non-Catholic and the non-Christians who have expressed their enthusiasm more than Catholics have. It’s not that Catholics aren’t impressed, too, but they’re ordinarily impressed with the pope.
How do you explain the enthusiasm beyond the usual suspects?
I don’t know how to interpret it, quite honestly. I think part of it is genuine appreciation for the pope’s extraordinary friendliness and transparency. But also, I think they would prefer a church that wouldn’t have strict norms and ideas about the moral life and about doctrine, and they somehow interpret the pope’s openness and friendliness as being less concerned about those things. I certainly don’t think that’s true. I think he’s a truly Catholic man in every sense of the word, but I think people are hoping that he’ll be less concerned about the issues that separate us today.
Do you think there will be a moment of reckoning when the honeymoon wears off?
We’ll see what happens. The pope may have a way of managing all of that will be extraordinary, I don’t know. I would think that by virtue of his office, he’ll be required to make decisions that won’t be pleasing to everybody.
This is already true of the right wing of the church. They generally have not been really happy about his election, from what I’ve been able to read and to understand. He’ll have to care for them, too, so it will be interesting to see how all this works out in the long run.
Commentators have pointed out that during his first 120 days, Francis hasn’t used the words “abortion,” “gay marriage” and “euthanasia.” Is that troubling to you?
I don’t know how anybody can make judgments so quickly about a pontificate on any of those things. I think the pope has spoken very clearly about the value of human life. He hasn’t expressed those things in a combative way, and perhaps that’s what some are concerned about, but I can’t imagine that he won’t be as pro-life and pro-traditional marriage as any of the other popes have been in the past.