Religious news figured prominently in the headlines during 2013. The world was shocked in February 2013, when Benedict became the first pope to resign in almost 600 years. Fast forward nine months: Benedict's successor, the Argentine Pope Francis, was named Time Magazine's "person of the year." Not bad for a fellow who once upon at time worked as a bouncer! Francis, regarded as a man of humility, brought new candor to Catholocism, raising more than a few eyebrows on multiple occasions, such as when he remarked "Who am I to judge" about gays and when he announced the Vatican would conduct a global survey.
Speaking with WAMC in March, Reverend Gary Dailey, director of the Office of Vocations for the Springfield Diocese, seemed to have Francis' number before anyone else. "This Holy Father's going to have certainly a challenge. But I think the Cardinal-electors chose a man first of all, that's humble and holy. And the fact that he chose the name Francis, I think is indicative because Francis (St. Francis of Assisi) was a reformer."
In April, polls and surveys reflected a significant shift in religious identity in many areas across the country, with attendance at religious services lagging. According to one evangelical marketing group, the once faithful are now identified as "post-Christians," and Albany, New York ranked No. 1 on a list of the most post-Christian cities in the United States.
Blake Rider, the rector of Christ Church in Poughkeepsie, said he was "OK with the landscape becoming post-Christian." "I don't believe that Jesus was calling his followers to cooperate quite so much with the cultural and societal and political powers that be. I'm okay with the church standing a little more over and against the powerful and politics and society."
Religious history was made in September in Albany when the city's first "woman priest" was ordained. A former Sister of St. Joseph, Mary Theresa Streck of Albany was ordained a woman priest in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. "We're very much Roman Catholic women. We consider ourselves in good standing with the church. We are reforming the church from within."
Diocese of Albany spokesman Ken Goldfarb said the sacraments Streck celebrates are not considered valid in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. Streck and her group are hopeful that someday that will change.
The impact of Pope Francis' ministry has been dubbed “the Francis effect.” Speaking on Vatican Radio, Monsignor John Kennedy of Ireland says just as Pope Francis “gave us one surprise after another” in 2013, he predicts there will be plenty more surprises in 2014. "I can see more courageous gestures. I can see more of his "free-styling." I mean the word "Francis" means "free man." And he's not going to be constricted in any way by the structures that he has inherited in the Vatican, so I can see him reaching out, doing more things, just being natural, being himself. I mean no one wants him to be anything else but the person that he is."
2013 closes out with another change coming for the Capital Region as Bishop Howard Hubbard prepares for his retirement. The longest-tenured bishop of a single diocese in the nation told WAMC the churchwide sexual abuse crisis took a great deal of his time. "I think it's detracted from the amount of time that I might have spent out at parishes. And if I had it to do over again, or if I didn't have those types of challenges, I would have been more pastorally present to people."
It may be months until the 10th bishop of Albany is named.