Style and substance: measuring the Francis Effect

As Pope Francis gets ready to create new cardinals—and not long after that, mark his first year anniversary as pope—Huffington Post looks at some of the changes underway in the Church:

Perhaps the pope’s most significant decision to date was his choice of 19 Catholic leaders slated to become the newest class of cardinals. Nine out of the 16 new cardinals who are eligible to vote for the next pope are from the global south and Asia — including some of the poorest countries in the world such as Haiti and Burkina Faso — and five are from Latin America.

By shifting power away from Italy and Europe, the pope is developing a hierarchy that more accurately represents the realities of the worldwide Catholic Church.

As part of that global effort, Francis has also made key changes across Europe and the U.S. In Germany, he moved swiftly to remove Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, dubbed “Bishop Bling,” after it was revealed that he spent $42.7 million on a new residence and renovations. And in what was seen in the United States as a sign of Francis’ desire for a more welcoming church, the pope replaced the American arch-conservative Cardinal Raymond L. Burke from the powerful Congregation of Bishops, which oversees bishop selection around the world, with the more moderate Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

In a similar gesture, during two huge Catholic Feast of the Holy Family celebrations at the end of 2013 in Spain — one in Madrid with Cardinal Rouco Varela, and another in Barcelona with Cardinal Lluís M. Sistach — Francis sent his representative to only the Barcelona celebration. Spaniards saw this as a sign that Francis was distancing himself from the ultra-conservative Varela, who is retiring soon as the head of the Spanish Catholic Church. His replacement is anticipated to be a major test of whether the Spanish church will see real change under the pope.

In the United Kingdom, Francis appointed Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster to the Congregation for Bishops, demonstrating his much talked about preference for Catholic leaders who are pastors, rather than princes or bureaucrats. Nichols is renowned for his reputation as a caring pastor and is one of the few Europeans who will be elevated to cardinal next month.

The pope’s statements on equality for gay people have even factored into the political rhetoric in the U.S., where Catholic lawmakers who voted in favor of a same-sex marriage bill in Illinois quoted his powerful phrase, “Who am I to judge?” U.S. President Barack Obama also quoted Francis in a policy speech in December about income inequality and poverty. Likewise, centrist and left-of-center politicians in Italy seeking immigration reform have referenced the pope’s strong statements about caring for immigrants in their speeches.

Yet for Catholics in other areas of the world, in communities that are restricted by social isolation, oppressive laws or the rise of radical Islam, Francis has not yet left a mark.

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