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Like the younger Ford, Francis stepped into leadership at a time when the reputation of his organization was tied to repeated scandals and failures. And literally from the moment Francis was named as pope, he’s generated a series of unscripted examples of living out particular traditional Catholic values:
From the selection of his papal name to the rejection of some pomp and ceremony to visibly and literally embracing the poor and outcasts to that remarkable, spontaneous give-and-take with reporters on the plane ride back from Brazil.
Not to mention, Golan notes, this papacy’s active online outreach.
Benedict XVI was the first pope on Twitter. But @pontifex under Francis has been a more regular source of tweets.
And, in 2013, Francis has the Internet benefit of having any good moment instantly broadcast to the world. Even a small moment, like his helicopter farewell to Brazil, where he made the sign of the cross, followed by tracing out a heart through the window. And tens of thousands of YouTube watchers took a break from cute cat videos to say "Awwww…"
A successful leader prioritizes his message, Golan said. Nobody can talk to everyone at the same time. Francis has clearly decided to talk to the broadest audience rather than focus on the church faithful, he said, and his actions have been consistent with that decision.
Not to say that Francis doesn’t have his critics. But thus far, they’re shooting from the margins: Advocates for particular causes — women’s ordination, the plight of those sexually abused by priests — who view the world through their particular lenses; traditionalist Catholics whose beliefs mandate respect for the pope, even as they try to figure out how to disagree; deep insiders who complain he’s not done enough to clean up the political machinations of the Curia.
And he may make the sort of human mistake that pulls down a pop icon. His rapid rise creates the risk of an even steeper fall.
"The media business likes to blow up balloons," Golan said, "and then pop them."
But as long as a public figure’s behavior stays consistent with those organizational values, he or she is likely to survive the hard patches, he said.
"The higher level of authenticity, the higher level of credibility."
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