john paul ii

Image via RNS/Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

These new cardinals include prelates from 11 dioceses and six countries that have never before had a cardinal, and from places far outside the traditional European orbit of ecclesiastical influence: Albania, for example, plus the Central African Republic, Lesotho, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.

But the real surprise in these picks, as in past appointments, is that they came as a complete surprise to many of the new cardinals themselves, and to the pope’s closest collaborators.

St. John Paul II. Public domain image

A series of letters sent from St. John Paul II to a Polish-American academic shed new light on the pair’s close relationship and intimate discussions. Details of the correspondence between the former pope and Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish-born philosopher, were published by the BBC on Feb. 15. The duo’s friendship has been well documented, although newly released letters held at the Polish National Library show the closeness of their relationship.

Photo by Catholic Church (England and Wales)

The inauguration of Pope Francis. Photo by Catholic Church (England and Wales)

For the first time in a while, I'm feeling optimistic about the direction of the Catholic church's hierarchy in general and about the office of the papacy in particular. Many authors have written about the plethora of ways in which Pope Francis is hitting the "restart" button for a church so devastated by sexual and financial corruption.

Forgotten, however, is the fact that Pope Benedict XVI had to resign for this breath of fresh air to occur. The pope emeritus deserves recognition for his courageous and humble decision and action. Paradoxically, the conservative pope's nontraditional decision to resign has paved the way for the current pope to begin to mend the broken church structures that have allowed corruption to continue unchecked.

Cardinals enter “Pro Eligendo Pontifice” Mass, St. Peter’s Basilica, March 12, 2013, at Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Could a woman vote for the next pope?

Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants to see greater roles for women in the Catholic Church, and some argue that he could take a giant step in that direction by appointing women to the College of Cardinals – the select and (so far) all-male club of “Princes of the Church” that casts secret ballots in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Whether it’s even possible is a matter of debate. But that hasn’t stopped the feverish speculation, which was sparked last month by an article in a Spanish newspaper in which Juan Arias, a former priest who writes from Brazil, wrote that the idea “is not a joke. It’s something that Pope Francis has thought about before: naming a woman cardinal.”

Pope Francis waving. RNS art by Barbara Weeks, Chicago, Ill. (Watercolor)

Pope Francis’ comments last week on everything from gays to abortion (less talk, more mercy), the hierarchy (be pastors, not bureaucrats), and religious faith (doubt is part of belief) continue to reverberate through the church and the media.

Here are five broader insights that this wide-ranging interview revealed about Francis — and why they will be keys to reading his pontificate, and perhaps the future of Catholicism.

Rose Marie Berger 05-11-2013

To have the "poor one" at the center of the Catholic faith is right and just.

Rose Marie Berger 05-12-2010
On the papal plane, Shepherd One, en route to Portugal to visit the Shrine of Our
Cesar Baldelomar 09-29-2009
As a struggling Catholic, the uproar and division caused by conservative U.S.

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