By John L. Allen Jr.
Associate editor December 26, 2015
ROME — Pope Francis is the dictionary definition of an activist pontiff, constantly saying and doing things that stir hearts, raise eyebrows, and generally capture public interest.
He’s so dynamic, in fact, that often there’s no time to absorb one bombshell before another goes off. Here’s a rundown of the 10 biggest papal headlines of 2015, all of which seemed hard to top at the time, and all of which now risk being overwhelmed by whatever happens in 2016.
10. Latin America
A July 5-13 outing to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay amounted to a triumphant homecoming for history’s first Latin American pope. One high point came with a fiery July 10 speech to popular movements in Bolivia, in which Francis denounced a “new colonialism” and called for the poor to have the “sacred rights” of labor, housing, and land.
Although Francis wasn’t on hand for the May 23 beatification of El Salvador’s slain Archbishop Oscar Romero, it wouldn’t have happened without him. It not only marked a sort of reconciliation with liberation theology, but also gave contemporary Christian martyrs a new patron.
8. Vatileaks 2.0
In November, two books on Vatican financial scandals appeared based on leaked documents from a papal commission. The Vatican indicted three former insiders for those leaks, as well as the two journalists who published the books, under its criminal law. With no end in sight, the Vatileaks trial has raised questions about freedom of expression, the future of confidentiality in the Vatican, and the direction of the pope’s financial reform.
7. Mixed verdict on sex abuse
Francis appeared to take an important step toward accountability in April when he accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the lone American prelate convicted of failure to report. Yet he also appointed a bishop in Chile seen as having protected that country’s most notorious abuser priest, and later lashed out at critics of the choice as “leftists” propagating “foolishness.” To date, most reformers give the pontiff a mixed verdict.
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