The one-word interpretive key to Francis’ news conference and arguably to his entire papacy to date: “mercy.”
As I’ve written before, each recent pope has had a catchphrase that represents his core emphasis. For John Paul II, it was “Be not afraid!”, a call to revive the church’s missionary swagger after a period of introspection and self-doubt. For Benedict, it was “reason and faith,” the argument that religion shorn of self-critical reflection becomes extremism while human reason without the orientation of ultimate truths becomes skepticism and nihilism.
For Francis, his signature idea is mercy. Over and over again, he emphasizes God’s endless capacity to forgive, insisting what the world needs to hear from the church above all today is a message of compassion.
I think that’s why he’s so popular and so hated. Forget the pelvic issues. Mercy is the most scandalous teaching in the Church’s entire corpus of moral doctrine. It is always seen by rigorists and ideologues as weakness. Like the Cross was.