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Pope Francis among other disruptive leaders

  • 15 September 2016
  Evaluations of Pope Francis usually contrast him with his predecessors. When engaging in politics, however, he faces the same challenge as they did.

He must first strengthen the Catholic Church in its faith, and so influence national and international relationships by persuasion and diplomacy. His distinctive contribution will come through the way he embodies and commends his personal faith.

Pope John Paul II did this through strong personal leadership in which he was the authoritative face of a Catholic Church united and disciplined in faith. From that basis he could go among national leaders as an equal and commend humane values and resolutions to conflict.

Pope Benedict XVI was personally more reticent, but was also the authoritative face of the doctrinal and cultural tradition of the Catholic Church. He engaged politically as an ethical guide and teacher in a conflicted society.

In comparison with his predecessors Pope Francis' personal engagement both in the Catholic Church and in the political world has been through reversal and disruption.

He presents himself less as the authoritative leader of the church and of its tradition, than as an ordinary Catholic and human being among others. Remember the shock when after his election he insisted on paying his own hotel bill and on moving from the papal palace into the guest house.

This behaviour is rooted in his conviction that he is a sinner to whom God has shown great compassion and has called to follow Jesus. The joy of meeting a compassionate God in Jesus Christ is for him the heart of the Christian Gospel and tradition. The Gospel is commended when Christians go out humbly to others and show Christ's accepting and compassionate face.

That conviction shapes the way in which the Pope acts and speaks both in the church and more broadly. Many of his homilies are off the cuff and idiomatic in their language. His visits abroad often conclude with uncontrolled press conferences in the plane back home. He is happy to hear opposed views and to live with misunderstandings of his own.


"Trump and Duterte offer themselves as strong leaders who alone can disrupt established patterns of governance and so heal society. Francis divests himself of the trappings of strength and goes about as an undefended human being."


His ritual celebrations, too, often take him outside churches to join people in need. His striking Holy Thursday visit to a youth detention centre where he washed the feet, among others,