(ANSA) - Rome, December 11 - Pope Francis has been named Time magazine's Person of the Year for his humble-looking but forceful moves to re-energize the Catholic Church, reform its management, widen its appeal, focus on social rather than doctrinal issues and renew a drive against clerical sex abuse.
"He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing," Time said on its cover, dubbing Francis "the people's pope".
"The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century".
Time said in a long feature that: "In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church - the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world - above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI". Elected in March after Benedict's shock resignation, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires has been widely hailed as ushering in a new era of Vatican reform while winning countless fans with his humility and man-of-the-people touch.
Francis has already become a "superstar", Time said.
"What makes this Pope so important," it said, "is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all".
Stressing his different background from his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Time said that while they were both professors of theology, Francis "is a former janitor, nightclub bouncer, chemical technician and literature teacher.
"Behind his self-effacing facade, he is a very canny operator. "He makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office," Time said.
Listing signature moments of his young papacy that have marked breaks with the past, Time said: "He is photographed washing the feet of female convicts, posing for selfies with young visitors to the Vatican, embracing a man with a deformed face. "He is quoted saying of women who consider abortion because of poverty or rape, "Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?" Of gay people: "If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. "To divorced and remarried Catholics who are, by rule, forbidden from taking Communion, he says that this crucial rite "is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak".
Time reckoned that "this new Pope may have found a way out of the 20th century culture wars, which have left the church moribund in much of Western Europe and on the defensive from Dublin to Los Angeles".
Among his reform measures, the US magazine noted that "Francis moved early to tame the mess that is the Vatican Bank, an institution even U.S. Treasury officials privately say is corrupted. "Soon after he was elected, he named a special commission to investigate the bank, which in turn handed the matter off to an independent firm for an audit. Francis also issued initiatives to counter money laundering and increase the monitoring of the Vatican's finances. In October, the bank disclosed an annual report for the first time in its 125-year history".
Time also said Francis had taken on the Curia, or executive body of the Church, which the Vatileaks scandal helped reveal as prone to dysfunction and cronyism.
"Francis has been particularly busy," Time said, "shaking up the Curia with his preference for new faces over old ones. "In a move that signifies he means business, he tossed Benedict's Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone," and named the young (in Vatican terms, 58) ambassador to Venezuela Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Time observed.
It also highlighted Francis's creation of a panel of eight "like-minded bishops" from around the world to meet with him several times a year "to comb through difficult problems, a move that diffused some of the traditional power of the Synod of Bishops". "I don't want token consultations," he explained in an interview, "but real consultations," Time recalled. In a "long overdue" move, Time said, the group of eight on December 5 named a new commission on sex abuse.
"It is the church's darkest existential problem in an era of existential problems; the commission aims to study better ways to protect children, screen programs that involve children and suggest new ways to create safe environments and choose the priests to lead them. At worst, the Cardinals are laying out a new set of best practices for far-flung dioceses to follow. At best, they are admitting that the Vatican had focused too much attention on the legal challenges of the sex-abuse crisis rather than on the behavioral problems at its core," Time said.
It stressed that "Francis has backed up his deeds with homilies and his first apostolic exhortation. "He can barely contain his outrage when he writes, "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" "Elsewhere in his exhortation, he goes directly after capitalism and globalization: "Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion...has never been confirmed by the facts." "He says the church must work "to eliminate the structural causes of poverty" and adds that while "the Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike...he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor".
Francis beat nine others who made Time's shortlist for topping the 2013 news agenda, for better or worse: Barack Obama, who won last year, NSA leaker Edward Snowden, Syria President Bashar Assad, Iran President Hassan Rouhani, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, gay rights activist Edith Windsor and Miley Cyrus, the pop singer who made "twerking", a lascivious, grinding dance move, a household word.