Catholicism has long been fond of lists and calibration: the 10 commandments, the seven deadly sins, the four sins crying out to heaven for vengeance, the three persons in one God. And so, as Pope Francis nears the first anniversary of his election as the leader of this global church of 1.2 billion souls, it feels natural enough to attempt to quantify what he has achieved so far, and what he has only promised.
The instinct to make such a measurement is all the stronger because of the almost hysterical hymn of praise with which the secular world has lauded the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio since he surprisingly emerged on 13 March, 2013 as the church's first Latin American pope, and the first Jesuit to sit on Saint Peter's throne.
Presidents and prime ministers have flocked to meet the new superstar incumbent in the Vatican. His every pronouncement is greeted with uncritical applause. People love him. The "Francis effect" has pushed up sales of papal souvenirs by a reported 200 per cent. Liberal commenters outdo each other to garland him with hallelujahs – Jonathan Freedland labelling him "the obvious new hero of the left" and suggesting his benign face will soon be decorating student bedsits. Rolling Stone magazine has featured "Papa Francesco" on its cover, Esquire has (bizarrely, since he only has one outfit) made him its best-dressed figure of the year, and, symbolic of the current climate, Time named him its person of the year, saying he "is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century".
But is he, really? Or is this wishful thinking, or worse, ignorance?
Pope Francis - the first year: From white smoke to selfies, a look back at 12 months in pictures
Pope Francis - the first year: From white smoke to selfies, a look back at 12 months in pictures
1/40 3 March 2014
Pope Francis leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican
2/40 9 March 2013
Days before becoming Pope. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio arrives for a pre-conclave meeting on March 9, 2013 at the Vatican. The conclave of 115 'cardinal electors' began a few days after this picture was taken, on March 12, gathering to choose the 266th pope
3/40 13 March 2013
The sign that the decision has been made. White smoke is seen from the roof of the Sistine Chapel indicating that the College of Cardinals have elected a new Pope
4/40 13 March 2013
Facing the crowds for the first time. All eyes are on the newly elected Pope Francis I as he looks out at the thousands of people in St. Peter's Square
5/40 14 March 2013
Pope Francis leading Mass at the Sistine Chapel, a day after his election
6/40 17 March 2013
One young pilgrim with a picture of Pope Francis
7/40 19 March 2013
Pope Francis walks to the altar during his inauguration mass at St Peter's square
8/40 19 March 2013
In the Popemobile on St Peter's square. The Pope arrives for his grandiose inauguration mass on March 19, 2013
9/40 19 March 2013
The much loved smile. Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the papamobile during his inauguration mass at St Peter's square on March 19, 2013 at the Vatican
10/40 March 2013
Pope Francis washes the feet of a prisoner at the Casal Del Marmo Youth Detention Centre
Getty Images/2013 L'Osservatore Romano
11/40 18 April 2013
Miguel Delgado Galindo presents a jersey of Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi to Pope Francis, at the Vatican
12/40 22 May 2013
Pope Francis in St Peter's Square
13/40 June 2013
Pope Francis at the Vatican in June 2013
14/40 14 June 2013
Pope Francis welcomes the Archbishop of Canterbury
15/40 8 July 2013
The first time they let him out of Rome. Pope Francis waves excitedly to the crowds in Lampedusa during his first official trip out of Rome.
16/40 26 July 2013
Another trip in the Popemobile. Pope Francis travels in style on his way to Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations on July 26, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
17/40 26 July 2013
Pope Francis delivers a speech to Catholic faithful at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro
18/40 13 August 2013
Pleased with his gift. A private audience with the Italy and Argentina Football Teams at The Vatican on August 13, 2013
19/40 21 August 2013
Pope Francis with his predecessor Pope Emeritus
20/40 29 August 2013
The selfie Pope Francis had taken inside St. Peter's Basilica with youths from the Italian Diocese of Piacenza and Bobbio who came to Rome for a pilgrimage, at the Vatican
21/40 7 September 2013
Pope Francis said he asked the priest for "mercy"
22/40 7 November 2013
Pope Francis caresses a sick person in Saint Peter's Square
23/40 20 November 2013
Blessing a disfigured man in St. Peter's Square
24/40 December 2013
Pope Francis has been named Time magazine's Person of the Year
25/40 8 December 2013
In silent prayer. Pope Francis prays in front of the statue of the Immaculate Conception at Spanish Steps December 8, 2013 in Rome, Italy. The statue was consecrated in 1857, several years after the church adopted the dogma which states that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Following tradition, Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception by venerating the statue
26/40 14 December 2013
What an interesting skull cap you have there.. A child inspects Pope Francis' attire during an audience with beneficiaries and volunteers of the Santa Marta pediatric dispensary in Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican on December 14, 2013
27/40 December 2013
Pope Francis holds a scarf of Argentine football team San Lorenzo of which he is a fan, during his visit to the Sao Jeromino Emiliani church at the Varginha favela in Rio de Janeiro
28/40 December 2013
Pope Francis wears his papal vestment during his inauguration mass at St Peter's square as Latin America's first pontiff
29/40 December 2013
Pope Francis wears a Fisherman's Ring, made of gold-plated silver, symbolising the Holy Father's role as a 'fishers of men'
30/40 January 2014
"The Times They Are A-Changing" indeed: Pope Francis waves on his Rolling Stone cover shoot
31/40 5 January 2014
A seagull flies past pope Francis as he arrives for the Angelus noon prayer he celebrates from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Sunday 5 January
32/40 6 January 2014
The lamb of God. The pope has a lamb put around his neck by a woman dressed as a character from the nativity scene at Church of St Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in the outskirts of Rome
33/40 13 January 2014
Pope Francis baptises one of 32 babies during a mass in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican
34/40 14 January 2014
Pope Francis being presented with a Harley Davidson Dyna Super Glide motorcycle in Vatican
35/40 22 January 2014
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his general audience at St Peter's square on January 22, 2014 at the Vatican
36/40 January 2014
Pope Francis at the weekly papal audience in Rome, January 2014
37/40 February 2014
A close-up of Pope Francis' passport
38/40 19 February 2014
Facing some challenges. A gust of wind blows Pope Francis' mantle as he reads his speech during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square
39/40 26 February 2014
Pope Francis kissing a child dressed as Pope as he arrives in Saint Peter's Square to lead his Wednesday's General Audience, in Vatican City
40/40 5 March 2014
At work, in concentration. Pope Francis blesses the altar in the Santa Sabina church in Rome on March 5, 2014, as he celebrates the mass for Ash Wednesday, opening Lent
Those who know the workings of the Catholic Church fear the latter. Luke Coppen, the long-serving editor of The Catholic Herald, recently wrote of the creation of a "fantasy Francis – the figure conjured up by liberal imagination". He cites the example of the Vatican official spokesman having to issue a statement to deny a much-quoted report in La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper, by a respected columnist, that Francis was about to abolish sin altogether. And no, it wasn't an April Fool.
And within the ranks of British Catholicism, Francis has, undeniably, been both a breath of fresh air and a blessed relief. Until his arrival, many of us had grown used to a pretty hostile reaction when we revealed our faith allegiance. This was due to a toxic cocktail made up of the unfolding scandal of sex abuse by clerics, the keynote Catholic teachings on matters such as the role of women, homosexuality, and divorce that make us sound like heartless dinosaurs, and the incontrovertible evidence of corruption and cronyism inside the Vatican itself.
Many had despaired of change ever coming. You have to go back to the 1960s and the Second Vatican Council for the last time Catholicism attempted reform, what it then called "aggiornamento", bringing things up to date.
Arguably, it has spent the next half century trying to reverse what some senior clerics clearly regarded as a moment of madness. But now, with Francis, hope is reborn.
Remarkably, he has generated this new attitude – within and outside the church – mainly by sheer force of personality. There's that smile that tells you, immediately, that here is a good and humble man. Then he preaches "a poor church, for the poor" – and who can disagree that is what the gospels intended – and, better still, Francis lives out his own words. So, he has eschewed the fancy papal apartment in favour of a pilgrim's hostel, he has left the papal limos in the garage and told his bishops to do likewise, and he has sold off the expensive gifts he was given by admirers and has spent the money on the alleviation of poverty.
His words, too, have been as manna from Heaven. When challenged over the role of gay Catholics, he replied with a question: "If a person is gay and seeks God, who am I to judge him?" He might have added: "as has every one of my predecessors for centuries". There have also been his remarks on the role of women. Pope John Paul II, in 1994, decreed that women's ordination would not only never happen, but that Catholics shouldn't even speak about it. "The challenge today," Pope Francis said last September, in an interview with Italian Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, "is to think about the specific place of women in those places where the authority of the church is exercised".
Such remarks will, as he intends, begin to soften and reform attitudes but, in more straightforward practical terms, what tangible change has been achieved, beyond words, in this first year?
Well, in the plus column, Francis has established a commission of eight cardinals, drawn from around the globe, and all but one of them with no connection to the discredited Vatican Curia (papal court), to effect a root-and-branch reform of a clerical bureaucracy that is the biggest obstacle to reform in the church. And it has already taken drastic action to overhaul the scandal-ridden Vatican Bank, jettisoning from its governing board a whole host of high-ranking favourites of the previous pope.
Francis has also taken the extraordinary – for Catholicism – step of sending out a questionnaire (or "Lineamenta") to bishops around the world to find out what the laity feels, in preparation for a synod on the family in October.
We're just not used to being asked, but this document touches, albeit indirectly, on some of the most controversial Catholic doctrines around sexuality, contraception, gender and abortion.
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have lamentably decided not to publish the results, but their German and Swiss counterparts have been more open – and what they have reported should make plain to even the most fervent Francis groupie the sheer scale of the task facing their man if he is to translate words, goodwill and gestures into something more meaningful that can heal the hitherto unspoken schism between pews and pulpit in the church.
The Swiss bishops, in their preamble, highlighted the "alarming alienation" that the survey trumpets between official church teaching and the way devout, mass-going Catholics live their lives.
Six out of 10 Swiss Catholics, for example, approved of the church blessing same-sex partnerships. Pope Benedict had previously labelled civil partnerships "the legitimisation of evil". In Germany, nine out of 10 Catholics getting married in church, their responses show, have lived together first. And just 3 per cent of German Catholics who filled in the questionnaire agreed with church teaching, which bans condoms, coils and pills. They found it "incomprehensible".
None of this will come as a surprise to either lay Catholics, or to our bishops. But the tacit agreement to sweep such matters under the carpet has now been broken by Pope Francis. He cannot simply ignore the findings unless he wants to lose all credibility. How quickly those approval ratings will fall if he starts reasserting traditional teaching and traditional deafness within the Vatican.
And yet those who have known him for longest, warn that he is, at heart, a conservative. His instinct, they say, is to tackle the human misery caused to those who fall foul of the church's ideals, rather than rewrite the rules.
It may just come down to another of those time-honoured Catholic formulations: "hate the sin and love the sinner". The flaw in all of this, though, is that it relies on those who are divorced and remarried, or gay, to accept that their lives are sinful. And, even as they go along to mass every Sunday, most simply don't.
Peter Stanford is a former editor of 'The Catholic Herald'
Keeping faith: On the fringe
Keeping faith: On the fringe
Mark Dowd, writer and broadcaster, is chair of the pastoral council of LGBT Catholics, Westminster
"Reactions among gay Catholics to Pope Francis have been mixed. Some say that, while it is good that he has said nice things about us, such as his 'who am I to judge?' remark, nothing has changed in the teaching, and so we remain outsiders in Catholicism, not accepted as equals because of our sexual orientation.
"That cynical attitude is, perhaps, more prevalent among an older generation, who have lived for decades in a church that uses the language of 'disorder' to describe them. Understandably they remain angry and hurt at the suffering such treatment has caused. But among younger gay Catholics, in their forties and below, Francis is a cause of optimism.
"It's the simple things. He's used the word 'gay' four or five times, the same word we use about ourselves, and that shows that, potentially, he looks at the world the same way that we look at it.
"There is, undoubtedly, a realisation about how change comes in Catholicism. So, if Francis is changing what you might call the mood music, then he is creating a more relaxed atmosphere where gay Catholics might risk becoming openly part of a parish community. That is what has happened with our group since, together, we started participating in Sunday evening Mass twice a month at Farm Street Church in central London. Other parishioners experience us as people, not as those LGBT Catholics 'out there'."
Myra Poole is a Notre Dame de Namur nun, a retired headteacher, and a member of the central co-ordinating group at Catholic Women's Ordination (CWO) which campaigns for female priests
"We want to work with Pope Francis. We regard Pope Francis as good news for the Catholic Church, but we are very aware that there is a long way to go as far as the place of women in the church is concerned. The most positive thing he has said about women, so far, is the need to develop a more positive theology on women. We, in CWO, know that the inherited negative theology on women is the big faultline that runs right through the teaching and language of our church.
"On the negative side, Francis has also said that on the question of women's ordination 'the door is closed'. Still, we're determined to be positive. Even if a door is closed, it has hinges, knockers and above all a keyhole to unlock it. There have been positive signs. In this country, for the first time, CWO is soon going to be allowed to hold one of its meetings in a Catholic church. Small steps, we know, but things are moving."
Mike Fryer is a spokesperson for the Association of Separated and Divorced Catholics
"This past year has shown the world that Pope Francis is an exceptional man. Among separated and divorced Catholics there is a strong sense that, because he has got such an instinctive feeling for the realities of the lives of ordinary people, he will be a pope who finally understands the pain we have been through when our marriages end.
"The Catholic Church hasn't always been that welcoming to us. There was a time when we were seen as pariahs and our organisation would put up notices about our meetings in church porches only to see them taken down. But attitudes have been slowly changing for a number of years. There are still, though, many Catholics unable to go to the sacraments because they have divorced and remarried without waiting for an annulment of their first marriage from the church. That was once my situation, though finally my annulment did come through.
"Will Pope Francis change the Church's rules about remarriage? There has been a lot of debate about the need for reform in the past year, especially among German bishops, but I don't expect any great pronouncements about church teaching on marriage and divorce from Francis. He's not a revolutionary. He is warm, though, and we separated and divorced Catholics respond well to that warmth. It will be, I think, a question of him taking a softer line, with more sympathy for the situation in which many Catholics find themselves. And that's important because I can remember the pain of not being able to go to Holy Communion because I'd remarried."Reuse content