Irish Catholics and the ‘Francis effect’

What do Mass-goers in Ireland think of Pope Francis, the man who has won over so many both inside and outside the church?


Within eight months of his election, on March 13th last year, Time magazine declared Pope Francis its person of the year. An American gay magazine, Advocate, also made him its person of the year, last February he became the first pope to feature on the cover of Rolling Stone, and last March Fortune magazine named him the world’s greatest leader.
What is it about Francis that has won over the great majority in his Catholic Church but also so many in the generally uninterested secular world?
Repeatedly his unique charm is summed up in words such as “humble”, “compassionate”, “humourous”, “sincere”. Those qualities were apparent in St Peter’s Square that damp evening of March 13th. Wearing a simple white cassock he introduced himself with a casual “buona sera”, to the great amusement of the Roman crowd.
His first audience, on March 16th, was with the world’s media. Casual, at ease, witty, he went off script frequently. It was a template for what was to come.
“How I would love a church that is poor and for the poor,” was one such unscripted aside. In another he explained how he chose the name Francis.
“I thought of St Francis of Assisi . . . Francis was a man of peace, a man of poverty, a man who loved and protected creation.” Today is the feast of St Francis of Assisi.
So how do ordinary Irish Catholics feel about “the pope who would be poor”?

‘He’s given us hope’
Teresa Prendergast

60s, Enfield, Co Meath
“He’s wonderful. He’s given us hope. I’d love the laity to have more say in the church. I’m not a women’s libber, but, because in my parish the women do a lot of work, I’d just like them to have a bit more of a say. Some of them would make very good priests. I have great hope. I think this new man Eamon Martin [the Catholic Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh] is wonderful, this new man in the North. He’s a joy and he likes a bit of music. He’s a normal person.”

‘Pope Francis is too much like a celebrity’
Sandra Mahon

50s, Castledermot, Co Kildare
“I would hope Pope Francis would bring more people into the church. I hope he reaches out to the young people, because they’re lost at the moment. He needs to welcome everybody into the church. What sins they’ve committed, that’s not important. They need to be welcomed.
“But we can’t just accept people without expecting them to make a change to their lives. Our Lord forgave the lady at the well her sins, but he did say to her, ‘Go, sin no more.’ So, yes, definitely, welcome everybody, but keep the rules in place. I’d prefer Pope Benedict’s style, and I loved Pope John Paul. For me Pope Francis is too much like a celebrity. I think he needs to have a little bit more decorum. He probably is too relaxed in style. He’s too . . . free.”

‘He desperately wants change. Yet so many do not’
Kathleen McDonnell

50s, Cross, Co Clare
“His attire, his choice of seat, his washing of the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday, his whole willingness to be more open to reality makes it seem like he wants to let the Spirit move more freely. He seems more grounded and appears to be someone who wants to reach out.
Having read his Joy of the Gospel, from a woman’s point of view, he expressed the pressures on women in the church. He said ordination was a closed door, but he didn’t say he was against the ordination of women. His openness to divorced Catholics gives me great hope. He seems to be a man who desperately wants change. Yet I fear so many do not want change and will do everything they can to avoid change.”

‘As a woman I am not very heartened by his comments’
Soline Humbert

50s, Blackrock, Co Dublin
“Francis is a quite a free man in many ways, the freedom you see in Jesus. The freedom of the Spirit. I see him as a radical, not a liberal, not a conservative. As a woman, with the sense of calling to the priesthood and of the place of women in the church I am not very heartened by his comments. He is quite passionate about poverty, the poor, ecology, rightly so, and about cleaning out and reforming the curia. I don’t get the sense he realises the suffering of and discrimination against so many women. I regret this from somebody I have a lot of time for. St Francis of Assisi was changed by his friendship with St Claire. It was a true partnership of equals. Where Pope Francis is concerned Claire has not appeared yet.

‘The most charismatic Christian leader of my lifetime’
Des Gilroy

70s, Howth, Co Dublin
“He is the most charismatic Christian leader of my lifetime, in many ways a John the Baptist-like figure who took on the scribes and the Pharisees and rocked the boat. His description of the church as a field hospital is dead on. There’s a lot of wounded out here – and many of them because of the church.
“My hope is that we will have a different church, not an institution whose maintenance and protection has become its mission. It’s not reasonable to exclude women from the priesthood on the grounds that Jesus called no women to be apostles. New entrants to the priesthood should be allowed marry: it would help make them better pastors.”

‘He’s prepared to listen to the debate’
Diarmuid Fitzgerald

50s, Roscrea, Co Tipperary
“I think he’s given a great degree of hope to Catholics. They see a very human person and they see a very honest person. They see a man that’s not afraid to embrace the dialogue around potential change. Whatever answers the church comes up with eventually, he’s prepared to listen to the debate and he’s prepared to engage in the debate.
I think the church needs to be clear in its thinking around the family. I’d be traditional and conservative in that regards. The church represents my general thinking. I’m happy as long as they’re prepared to have dialogue. I’d love to see a greater role for women.”

‘Down the line, priests should be allowed marry’
Derek Burke

30s, Dunboyne, Co Meath
“I think he’s great. I think he’s reaching out to the younger people. I think he’s doing a lot for the poor. I’d like him to make the church more appealing to younger people. I’m not sure if young people notice that he is more relaxed, as such. I don’t think gay people, for instance, should be judged. I think they should be welcomed into the church. Women are priests in other religions. With very few men in the priesthood I think women should be brought in and, down the line, priests should be allowed marry.”

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