Pope Francis, a New Messenger for the Catholic Church

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The official papal car is now a used Ford Focus. Sticker price: $16,000. He owns a second car too, a 1984 Renault given to him by an Italian parish priest who dropped it off at the Vatican last summer. Appropriately the Renault is papal white.

A POINTED MESSAGE

He has captured the imaginations of believers and non-believers alike, giving the Church’s message of social justice far greater resonance.

Pope Francis has taken public views on income equality and “the idolatry of money” that could win votes at an Occupy Wall Street rally. He is easily the world’s foremost champion of the poor.

Last month he attacked trickle-down economics and “the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs.” Conservative commentators in the U.S. greeted that message with a sharp intake of breath. Sarah Palin said he sounded “kind of liberal” and Rush Limbaugh called him a pure Marxist, insisting Francis is “dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.”

Without addressing those critics by name, Francis responded he’s no Marxist. He defended his criticism of trickle-down economics is perfectly valid: ”There was the promise that once the glass had become full it would overflow and the poor would benefit. But what happens is that when it's full to the brim, the glass magically grows, and thus nothing ever comes out for the poor.”

That economic message is in keeping with the doctrines of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But the messenger is decidedly different.

Recent polls suggest the world is listening. A recent ABC News/Washington Post survey found more than 90% of Catholics approve of his performance. So do 69% of Americans, regardless of faith.

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