Time has named Pope Francis its person of the year, and I have to say that I’m down with that; the only other person I would slot in the position would be Edward Snowden, and Pope Francis is at least the more optimistic choice between the two (and also admittedly the safer choice, in terms of who still reads Time on a regular basis).
I’ve noted before that as an outsider to the Catholic Church, I admire the fact that Francis is making a point to say that the Church needs to be in the world and serving the poor, and that its priorities recently have drifted too far from that core mission. Critics have noted that Francis represents a change in tone more than substance so far, which I think is a reasonable if incomplete observation. But I also think that one has to start somewhere, and where Francis has started from is important. Tone in this case does actually matter.
The Catholic Church and I will never agree on many fundamental things; that’s the deal when one is an agnostic who doesn’t believe in the existence of a god, or as a necessary corollary, that Jesus was the Christ. But to the extent that I understand the message of Jesus, and to the extent that the Church sees its mission as serving Christ’s message, I see Francis turning the focus of the Church toward that message. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that.
For those who grumble that Snowden got robbed — a fair assessment, even if I’m perfectly happy with Time’s final choice — the New Yorker explains why, in the opinion of writer John Cassidy, it’s not even close that Snowden had had the most impact on the world’s news in the last year.
I think that’s correct, and I think that Cassidy’s note that the full page NYT ad that several tech companies placed the other day, calling on the US government to better protect the privacy of everyone’s data, would probably not have happened unless Snowden disclosed all that the he knew, possibly because the bland, not-obviously-sinister technocratic surveillance regime that’s developed since 9/11 doesn’t feel like oppression or an invasion of rights in the same way that someone stomping down your door does, and anyway it didn’t impede that the technology companies needed to do for their own purposes.
In any case, on a personal note, I certainly feel sorrier for Snowden than Pope Francis. Francis, no matter what, still gets to be Pope, which is a nice gig. Last I heard of Snowden, he’s living in a country not his own, eking by doing tech support, and if he ever tries to leave Russia he’s got a perfectly reasonable fear of being snatched up and then living the rest of his life in a SuperMaxx cube. For those of us old enough to have been slathered by USSR propaganda, there’s some irony for you.