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Pope Francis is garnering early accolades for his perceived humility, which, oddly, reminds me of President Jimmy Carter.

Pope Francis’s humble heart, observers say, was quickly demonstrated by his decision to eschew a limousine for a shuttle bus ride with the cardinals, his choice to carry his own luggage, and the fact he settled his own lodging bill. All this, people believe, is evidence of Pope Francis’s authenticity, his man-of-the-people persona.

When Jimmy Carter ran for President in 1976 he was frequently photographed carrying his own suit bag. After the election, he continued this practice, suspended the traditional playing of “Hail to the Chief,” and conducted fireside chats dressed in cardigan sweaters. He also greatly reduced the perks of the White House staff and sold two presidential yachts. All this was to counter the so-called “Imperial Presidency” of both Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

What’s more than interesting about this story is that it wasn’t long before President Carter stopped carrying his bags and discarded the cardigans. And “Hail to the Chief” made a comeback too, in part because Carter’s decision to stop the Marine Band from playing the song caused a public outcry, and in part because Carter needed it. As his presidency progressed from one crisis to the next—Iran Hostages, Afghanistan, Inflation—“Malaise”—Panama Canal—the Carter Administration was increasingly considered a failure, or at best embarrassingly inept. What to do? Ditch the humility symbols and get back to pomp and ceremony in an effort to restore an aura of power and effectiveness.

Some papacy observers within and without the Catholic Church hope Pope Francis’s early actions on “small matters” signal a change of philosophy and perhaps approach to management that will hold church bureaucrats accountable and refocus the mission of the church on the needs of the poor, the marginalized, and the lost. So the Pope-of-hope is under heavy expectation and scrutiny right out of the gate.

Though I am not Catholic I wish Pope Francis I well because he is in a position that could do a world of good for many needy people. He’s in a position that could move the church toward compassion, accountability, and justice in the priest sex scandals. He could rework the Vatican’s financial fiascos toward some transparency and accountability. He is in a position of leadership.

If the Pope’s actions on these “small matters” are indeed evidence of a humble heart, as opposed to Mr. Carter’s imagery, than there’s genuine hope the Pope’s eventual actions on “large matters” will point in the right, and righteous, direction.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2013

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