If you want to measure the global acclaim of the current pope, ask 100 random people about the Roman Catholic Church. While you will see a few thumbs up, most will express ambivalence bordering on dislike or distrust. Some will be hostile. Ask them about Pope Francis I, however, and the responses will be overwhelmingly positive. The Jesuit from Buenos Aires pleases many and brings smiles to their faces.

He even made Luca Baratto smile. Baratto, a pastor in the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, heard Pope Francis apologize for the Catholic Church’s complicity in the Italian government’s persecution of Pentecostals and evangelicals during the 1920s and ’30s. Baratto was surprised too: Francis’s apology was unscripted and unannounced beforehand. That is his style, at once unpredictable and committed to breaking down the often-bitter rivalry between evangelicals and Catholics.

The Jesuits carry the reputation of clerical commandos. In the US Army, a Green Beret can’t rise above the rank of colonel. That’s because men trained to freelance as fighters aren’t likely to fit well in the command-and-control system of the Army. The Catholic Church has drawn a similar conclusion about the order that Ignatius of Loyola founded in 1534. What makes for creative and effective witness on the frontiers of Christianity usually isn’t what’s needed for the daily running of the institutional church. Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s 2013 election was unexpected as well. The first pope from the Southern Hemisphere, he is also the first Jesuit pope, even though the Society of Jesus discourages its members from holding high office.

When the cardinals gathered to choose a successor ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.