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Pope Francis.
Pope Francis.
Image: Alessandra Tarantino/AP/Press Association Images

How would you rate Pope Francis' first year in office?

The pontiff took up the role on this date last year.
Mar 13th 2014, 6:15 AM 9,363 134

POPE FRANCIS TODAY celebrates one year in office, and have so far been swaddled in a blanket of approval world leaders would die for, and one that most of his predecessors could only dream of.

But he also knows that there is more to being pontiff than good PR, although after 12 months the @Pontifex brand is still thriving.

Bigger challenges lie ahead as Francis seeks to engineer a renaissance of his Church after years of scandals caused by paedophile priests and corruption and intrigue within the Vatican bureaucracy.

Spreading the word of God via Twitter, posing for selfies, paying his own hotel bills and washing the feet of young offenders – all have proved to be inspired moves for the erstwhile Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

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Of course Pope Francis had to end up in a selfie at some stage. (Image Credit: Fabio M. Ragona via Twitter)

The 77-year-old is not only lovable, he’s also become accepted as an icon – his first year has been marked by appearances on the covers of an unlikely trio of US magazines.

He was Time’s person of the year for 2013. Esquire declared him their best-dressed man and Rolling Stone just decided: “He rocks.”

Church attendances are said to be rising across the world and pilgrims are flocking to Rome in unprecedented numbers.

Child-abuse

Even a UN report accusing the Catholic Church of having covered up for tens of thousands of child-abusing priests failed to dent the impression that Francis is serious about reshaping the Church in his own open and forgiving image.

Questions raised at the time of his appointment over whether he might have done more to oppose the 1970s military junta in his native Argentina also seem to have melted away.

However, while things appear to be rosey, they could be a little bit more so.

Within the walls of Vatican City, Francis’s popularity is not universally acclaimed as a positive sign amongst traditionalists suspicious of the new pope’s desire to reach out to believers who have abandoned regular interaction with the Church.

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He confronted a giant chocolate statue of himself last month. (Image Credit: AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

That has involved striking a more compassionate, understanding tone on the vexed issues of the Church’s attitudes to homosexuality and its treatment of divorced people.

Francis made waves early in his papacy by telling journalists:

“If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”

More than any other, that remark helped secure the Time man of the year accolade, but Vatican insiders insist it would be wrong to infer from it that Francis is bent on breaking with established doctrine on this or any other issue.

Instead, his approach consists of finding practical ways to enable the Church to overcome the many chasms that have opened up between what it officially teaches, on an issue such as contraception for example, and what, in practice, most of its followers believe.

That will be the focus for a major synod on the family which Francis has called for later this year and which some observers have billed as potentially defining his papacy.

imageSo far, he has always found the time to connect closely with his flock. (Image Credit: AP Photo/Osservatore Romano)

The synod has been preceded by an unprecedented process of consultation of ordinary Catholics around the world.

Traditionalists have seen this as potentially opening the door to an “a la carte” version of Catholicism in which the faithful are allowed to buy into or opt out of parts of official doctrine, as long as they keep turning up for mass.

One of the pope’s closest counsellors, the German Cardinal Walter Kasper, has dismissed this as untrue.

One year in, it is evolution not revolution that is on the menu in Rome.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Jorge Bergoglio’s first words as Pope Francis >

Pope Francis: We don’t need to talk about abortion, gay marriage and contraception ‘all the time’ >

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