Pope Francis begins year 10 as 'a bit of a Californian.' That means lots of love -- and hate

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

LOS ANGELES — Sitting in her family home in East Los Angeles, Rosa Manriquez kept her eyes on the TV screen as a flood of white smoke came pouring out of the roof of the Sistine Chapel 6,300 miles away — a century-old signal that the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church had chosen a new leader.

Manriquez, now 70, is the mother of two lesbian daughters who supports female ordination to the priesthood. On that day, 10 years ago, she waited impatiently to see who would emerge from behind the red curtain on a Vatican balcony as the head of the church she both loved and struggled against.

"So I see this man come out, and I think, 'There's something different about this guy,'" she said. "And then I was like, 'He's Latino! Oh my God!'"

A decade later, Manriquez says she does not agree with everything Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires now known as Pope Francis, has said and done. But like many Californians, she has come to respect and even love him.

"I'm not declaring him a saint; I'm not into titles," she said. "But I think this is the first pope since John XXIII who, rather than saying, 'Your holiness,' I would say, 'My brother.'"

After Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February 2013, Paul Baumann, former editor of Commonweal Magazine, wrote that he hoped the next pontiff would be "a bit of a Californian" — sun-nier, more optimistic and more willing to engage with the modern world than his recent predecessors. It was a statement that turned out to be prophetic.


In many ways, Pope Francis is a buzzy pontiff in the California style. And being a California anything means getting lots of love — and lots of derision and disdain.

He has clashed with the state's most powerful Catholic leaders — including José Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles, the largest Catholic diocese in America, and Salvatore Cordileone, archbishop of San Francisco — on the issue of denying communion to political leaders who support abortion rights.

But he is also the first pope to hail from Latin America, a point of pride and connection for many Catholics in a state that is roughly 40% Latino, and he has consistently refused to remain stuck in the hierarchical, traditionalist thinking that has characterized the church's bureaucracy at the Vatican.

He has prioritized the environment and the poor, struck a more welcoming tone with LGBTQ Catholics, and appointed more women to leadership roles in the Vatican than any pope before him — demonstrating a commitment to values many Californians share. It's a stance that has gained him enmity.


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