(Weekly Column)

As a columnist I hate when my predictions turn out to be wrong. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. For instance, I couldn’t be happipope-franciser that my dire prognostication about Pope Francis appears to be unfounded. Here is what I said about the newly installed Pontiff in a March 14 column titled, “New Pope Offers Little Hope to Vatican Critics:”

“Like clockwork, the old men in the pretty building selected a conservative clone, Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who despises homosexuals, looks down upon women, and shows no inclination to change outdated and oppressive rules that attract pedophiles to serve the church.”

Last week, Pope Francis shocked the world when he proclaimed in an interview, “I have never been a right winger” and chastised the extremists within his church for their obsession with divisive social issues, which have narrowed the church’s appeal. The Pontiff went further explaining:

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

If this weren’t enough, the Pope followed up on a controversial comment he made about homosexuality during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. When asked about the topic he replied, “Who am I to judge.” Last week, he expounded:

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

These surprising comments made the robust and lucrative Catholic judging industry apoplectic. In an op-ed for CNN titled, “Spin Doctors In Orbit Over Pope,” the Catholic League’s bulldog, Bill Donahue, whined, “Look for the authoritarian left to lecture the rest of us about fidelity to their interpretation of what the pope believes.”

Of course, everyone who is tuned in understands that the Pope was pointing directly at irascible scolds like Donahue who personify everything wrong with the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope essentially said, “Give it a rest already, your finger pointing and preachy tone is a turn off and strangling the church’s future.”

Although I’m not a Roman Catholic, it is time for me to go to confession and acknowledge that my fears may have been misplaced about Pope Francis. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m beginning to like the man. He is a breath of fresh air, following the foul stench of his putrid predecessor, Benedict XVI, a pompous pontiff who came across as rigid as a totem pole, and as intolerant as Rev. Pat Robertson. Benedict was the worst Pope of my lifetime, and epitomized everything that bedeviled the crumbling reputation of this institution.

Of course, I was initially skeptical when Pope Francis began what appeared to be a charm offensive. I saw him kissing the sick and washing the feet of the poor and chalked it up to a cynical public relations gimmick. It seemed like Pontiff theatre, designed to serve as a smokescreen for his archconservative policies.

Although, even during the foot washing, there were signs that he would not be a “yes man” for cranky traditionalists. When fundamentalist Catholics were outraged that Pope Francis washed the feet of women, which they believed was a rite reserved only for men, he told them to take a hike.

My skepticism became grudging admiration when the “Christ-like” behavior continued over an extended period of time. As columnist Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times:

“I’m hardly the first to flag this pope’s apparent humility or the fact that it extends beyond his preference for simple dress over regal costumes, for a Ford Focus over a papal chariot, for modest quarters over a monarch’s suite.”

We finally have a Pope who says that love matters more than lashing out at people. Unfortunately, we have some who don’t seem to grasp that tone actually matters – and in many ways is more substantive — than crusty old teachings that few will read. The bottom line is that the treatment of LGBT people will improve because of this Pope’s pronouncements.

From all appearances, Francis is “The Good Pope” who is working to erase memories of Benedict’s vindictive Vatican. While I still have my differences with Rome, the Pontiff seems to be a genuinely decent guy who is working to make the world a better place. I am choosing to judge him on the totality of his character – the same way he is imploring people to judge me as a gay man.