Pope Francis has been making waves even after his first few months as leader of the Catholic Church — as much for what he is saying as what he is doing; while some critics point out that there’s nothing “technically” revolutionary about his statements, the cardinal rule of rhetoric has never applied with more force: It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Indeed, a large percentage of the reaction to Francis has had to do with the nonverbal aspects of his rhetoric.
Item 2: The popemobile. First he rode the bus to work. Then got rid of the bulletproof glass on the Benz. Then he started driving a Ford Focus. Deciding even that was too snazzy, he recently accepted (as a gift) a 1984 Renault with 186,000 miles on it.
Item 3: The chair. Compare Benedict’s throne to Francis’s seat of choice.
To be sure, it’s also about what he’s said, including his first appearance before the faithful, where he pretty much said “Hi folks, here I am!” And then all of the comments about how the Church needs to stop “obsessing” over homosexuality, abortion, and birth control. He even seemed to say that he’s OK with atheists. His wide-ranging interview with the Jesuit magazine America triggered raised eyebrows as well. (Needless to say, this caught Bill Maher’s attention…)
Some observers have suggested that Francis’s words (and actions) could even have implications for American politics — threatening to peel off typically conservative Catholics from the rest of the (increasingly extreme) religious right.