The papacy’s incongruent wealth, complacency on abuse cases, and policies on homosexuality remains; Cardinal Law still lives out his cushy retirement; the AIDS battle awaits a helpful, clearer declaration on condoms; and Pope Francis seems oddly enthusiastic about the canonizations of two predecessors with less than pristine records. And as many other people have already pointed out, he is probably being praised out of proportion to his actual reforms.
Yet my studiously maintained suspicion has been under constant assault since his election. It was bad enough when the first photos in March showed him rejecting that ridiculous footstool and making a statement by standing on the same level as the cardinals. Then came pope-on-a-bus and what, in my losing battle to maintain disapproval, I now refer to as Marriottgate. I can’t read the news these days without running into some charming quote, some optimistically open pronouncement — though rarely as liberal or as new as the papers make it sound — hinting at his sense of consistency and conscience and self-awareness. He’s eighty-sixed the shoes. He’s avoiding the opulent papal apartments for “psychiatric reasons.” He is telling young people to cast off “the economic and social structures that enslave us.” (Someone search that white cape just to make sure we’re not dealing with a 133-year-old Trotsky in a Mission Impossible mask.) He’s just issued an unusual personal message for Eid el-Fitr. Back on Maundy Thursday, he included Muslim women in the ritual foot-washing.