Describing him as both a “Teddy Roosevelt” and a “rock star,” Time has chosen Pope Francis as its Person of the Year. The Pope, now in his ninth month of papacy, has made waves for everything from his attitude toward enforcing Catholic social mores to his comments on capitalism.
Writing for Time, Nancy Gibbs gives Pope Francis more symbolic credit than anything else for attempting to change the “temperament” of the church. She notes that detractors see little change in the way the church functions–that his public statements may not “accomplish much of anything beyond making casual believers feel better about the softer tones coming out of Rome while feeling free to ignore the harder substance.” That tone has significant impact, however, especially from a Pope open to using social media and “giddily” engaging the press.
Pope Francis’ ascent to the papacy, Time notes, gave him a unique start. Pope Benedict XVI announced he would step down, a first in the Catholic tradition. In doing so, Benedict XVI became Pope Emeritus–a newly invented title–and gave way to the reign of Pope Francis, an Argentine Cardinal named Jorge Maria Bergoglio who had been on the papal shortlist in 2005 as well. Pope Francis became the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from Latin America, and the first to succeed a living Pope.
His emphasis on humility and helping the poor has led to some controversy, however, in his short tenure. His first headline-making statements demonstrated compassion for those who wish to abort children after a rape and LGBT people. His teachings that capitalism can be a form of “tyranny” have stoked the ire of Rush Limbaugh while prompting the left to claim he has engaged in a political “war” with conservatives and that he may be one of them. He has told “ideological Christians” to open their minds, and actively engaged in political situations like the civil war in Syria.
In short, Francis has not shied away from the controversy that active participation in the political spotlight brings. He has, however, ultimately continued to follow the conservative teachings of the Church and denied any changes will come on matters such as the gender of priests or the sin of abortion.
Pope Francis succeeds President Obama as 2013’s Person of the Year. Among the runners-up are NSA leaker Edward Snowden, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Miley Cyrus.