Pope Francis' first year filled with surprises

In his first year as pontiff, Pope Francis has surprised many by spurning tradition to bring humility and humanity to the papacy

The following is a script from "Francis" which aired on April 13, 2014. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Nicole Young, producer.

You can tell a lot about a man by how he signs his name. Popes have a special way -- the name followed by "P-P," short for papa, and the appropriate Roman numeral. So, imagine the surprise around the Vatican print shop when the new pope started signing things "Francis," just Francis. Humility has made the former Jorge Bergoglio a star far beyond the Catholic Church.

But don't mistake his humility for weakness. "Just plain Francis" is also being signed on orders to transform institutions fossilized by tradition and stained by corruption. For Palm Sunday, we thought you'd like to hear from some of the people who know Francis best. But don't ask them what he's going to do next because, God only knows.

In St. Peter's Square, March 2013, 100,000 faithful waited for a light to split the curtain. They'd adjusted their eyes to what they were accustomed to seeing, regal robes and a gold cross around the neck of a European. Instead they saw an emissary from the New World with a world of new ideas.

Robert Mickens: And he was just dressed so simply. There was no cape. There was no fur. There was no-- and he was just standing there. And in a simple silver cross, evidently the one that he wore when he was in Buenos Aires.

Robert Mickens was among the believers in disbelief. He's an American journalist covering the Vatican.

Robert Mickens: And then he started with by saying....

[Pope Francis: Buona sera.]

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Pope Francis greets the crowd at St Peter's Square on April 13, 2014
Getty Images
Robert Mickens: "Buona sera," "Good evening." Popes don't do that. They'd say, "Laudetur iesus christus," or something like that. But the biggest thing was when he asked the people in the square to pray over him. Everybody keeps saying pray for me but that's not what he said, he said, "Let's pause for your prayer over me-- that's a blessing." And he put his head down. You could have heard a pin drop.

For Francis and the Vatican that was the last quiet moment.

Since then, the halls of St. Peter's have been ringing with commands, insiders out, outsiders in. Priests ordered from their cathedrals and into the streets. For pope number 266 there are a lot of firsts.

Robert Mickens: Nobody's ever taken the name Francis. I mean that's an extremely challenging program just in the name.

Scott Pelley: What did it mean to the Church?

Robert Mickens: He took the name Francis from Francis of Assisi, who is probably the most beloved saint you know among Catholics and especially non-Catholics. And you know had this great love for the poor, God's creation, nature, peace. And what we've seen is that he lives very radically, very simply rather than some monarch prince or king or monarch pope.

"Nobody's ever taken the name Francis. I mean that's an extremely challenging program just in the name."

His most radical decision came on his second day. He toured his 16th century palace, looking like a homebuyer whose realtor just didn't get it. In here, he'd be kept behind a barrier of minders and schedulers. So he chose freedom in a Vatican hotel where he lives and dines with everyone else. His room "201" is a key to the world. This leader of a billion Catholics demands to be in touch.

Elisabetta Pique: I knew that he would phone me. But I didn't expect that he phone me so quick.

He phoned Elisabetta Pique 12 hours after his election. She's an old friend--an Argentinian journalist. And her children were baptized by Bergoglio.

Elisabetta Pique: And two days later was my birthday and he phoned again so-- but in that sense we have here the scandal of normality because he's a normal man.

Scott Pelley: The scandal of normality?

Scandalous, checking out of a hotel, posing for a papal selfie, standing in the rain.

Elisabetta Pique: We see the scandal almost every day. Ten days ago when he went for a retreat, he wanted to go in the bus like the others and he didn't want to go by helicopter or in his own car. This is why people love him, I think.

They loved him in a simple car in July but it was frightening when Brazil's 130 million Catholics seemed to show up all at once. Francis responded by rolling down the window.

Elisabetta Pique: A lot of people was afraid. He asked specially that he didn't want so much security. And he explain it very well. "If I go to visit you to your house, do I go with in a box, glass box? No. If I go to your house to visit you, I want to be with you, near you and I want to touch you." And he said, "I know that someone, there always can be a crazy one that would do something. But I prefer this craziness to have this risk that there would be a barrier between me and the people."

That's physical courage in the tradition of the pope's religious order, the Jesuits, who call themselves soldiers of God. These days, Jesuits are also known for intellectual courage--battling over ideas.

Abraham Skorka: I know him very, very well. That he's a revolutionary. And he's not a person who likes to go in the middle way, no, in the extremes.

To know the leader of the Catholic world it's helpful to talk to a rabbi. Abraham Skorka of Argentina is an old, close friend.

Scott Pelley: You are the pope's rabbi?

Abraham Skorka: Let us say so.

They met debating one of the greatest of all human conflicts -- Argentinian soccer. Skorka's team often chokes in the clutch--so the fans have a nickname.

Abraham Skorka: We receive the name of chickens.

Scott Pelley: The chickens.

Abraham Skorka: The chickens. Why? Not a lion, not a tiger, but a chicken.

Francis is a card-carrying member of a rival team, this is his actual membership card. His holiness couldn't resist temptation though when he said this to Skorka.

Abraham Skorka: "I guess that this year we are going to eat chicken soup." Ohhh, I received that as an aggression, as a real aggression. But, I understood that behind the joke was a message, "Look, we can joke together. We can speak on the same level."

They did speak on the level, in a TV series and a book they wrote together. After all, "pontiff," is Latin for "bridge builder."

Scott Pelley: You learned that there could be conversation, common ground among the faiths?

Abraham Skorka: Yes.

Scott Pelley: But soccer, no?

Abraham Skorka: No. Never!

Jorge Bergoglio took his vows to heaven as Argentina went to hell. In the 1970s, many thousands vanished in the dictatorship's mill of torture and death. Bergoglio helped hide opponents of the government. Still, Rabbi Skorka told us that Francis is troubled, like many in his generation, over whether he could have done more.

Scott Pelley: The pope keeps telling everyone who will listen that he is a sinner. Chief among sinners. Why does he say that?

Abraham Skorka: Because he's showing a way. One of the great sins of the leaders throughout the world is that they used to appear before their people as perfect persons and perfect leaders. He's teaching what a real leader must be.

We saw that lesson when the pope met an Argentinian adversary, President Cristina Kirchner once called him "medieval" for opposing her plan for gay adoption and same-sex marriage. Watch what happens. She'll touch him and recoil, thinking it's not allowed. See how he reacts. It seems Francis has kissed the past goodbye.

Scott Pelley: To my eye, when you see photographs of Bergoglio as archbishop in Buenos Aires, he looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He looks like a man who is tired. And now you see pictures of him as pope, when he does have the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he is smiling and light. Help me understand that.

"One of the great sins of the leaders throughout the world is that they used to appear before their people as perfect persons and perfect leaders. He's teaching what a real leader must be."

Abraham Skorka: He understood very, very well that his image must be an image of hope.

Scott Pelley: He understood how important it was that a tired old man didn't shuffle out onto that balcony?

Abraham Skorka: Yes. That's true. He changed.

He's changing many things including the ancient ritual of washing feet on Holy Thursday as Jesus did with his disciples. With popes they're almost always the feet of priests. But Francis cleansed and kissed teenagers in a criminal detention center. Two were women -- unheard of -- and two in the group were Muslim. When traditions like that wash away so easily, people begin to talk and there are some incredible Francis stories.

There's the one about the pope sneaking out of the Vatican at night behind the wheel of a beat up old car to minister to the poor in Rome. And one of him driving the same car to the airport to pick up an old friend. The trouble is those stories and all of their variations not true. The people who work closely with the pope tell us that what he does do is pick up the phone and call a lot of people.

It's a desk phone not a cell phone. His emails and tweets, we're told, are sent by the staff.

Scott Pelley: Did he want to be pope in your estimation?

Elisabetta Pique: Well he himself-- when he met one day people from Jesuit school and there was a little girl that ask him "Did you want to be a pope?" And he said, "You have to be crazy to want to be a pope."

It is all consuming. At 77 he rises to every public audience: the blind, the deaf, the poor, the sick, the dying. Crazy or maybe just an old Jesuit soldier embracing his final orders.

When we come back, we'll talk to President Obama about his conversation with the pope in Rome. And, hear what Francis did that no pope has ever done before.

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President Barack Obama and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican
Gabriel Bouys, AP
Last Friday, Pope Francis was reading a prepared script about children and families, when he stopped and did something that no pope has ever done. Off the cuff, he took personal responsibility for the rape and abuse of children by priests. He said, quote "I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil...to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage done..." It was another advance from a pope of "firsts". First from the Americas, first Jesuit. Before Francis was elected many expected the cardinals to select a younger man for the job because the sins of the Church were so great. But after a year, it appears the 77-year-old Francis may be equal to the task.

Scott Pelley: What did he inherit in the Vatican?

Robert Mickens: Oh, he inherited a mess.

Robert Mickens is an American journalist who has been covering the Vatican for more than 25 years.

Robert Mickens: He came in at a time when there was a great scandal. There were documents being leaked in the press about financial corruption, cronyism. There were even some sexual misconduct that was in these documents that were leaked. He had a very clear mandate from the cardinals that elected him. "Clean up the house."

He's cleaning with committees of cardinals and lay people, investigating sex abuse, the Vatican bank and reform of the ancient bureaucracy of the Church itself--starting with the executive offices at headquarters known as the Roman Curia--Latin for court.

Robert Mickens: He set up a council, a privy council of eight cardinals from around the world to advise him on reforming the Curia and governing the universal church. Really? Governing the universal church? Most people overlooked that they thought he was going to come in an clean up the Vatican and reform the Roman Curia instead what Francis has embarked upon is a reform of the governing structure of the Church.

Scott Pelley: And the Church that he dreams of looks like what?

Robert Mickens: A missionary church, a missionary church that shows the mercy of God, a church that's not wagging its finger at people, not scolding people, but is inviting people, walking with people, befriending people, he uses the word synodal, synod, synod means walking with not just for the Church but it's for all humanity. He's called the Church a field hospital after a battle.

The battlefield wounded that Francis speaks of are Catholics harmed by the Church and the wider world of the dispossessed. He said this about the media and public attention.

"This is what gets through today. If investments in the banks and elsewhere drop a little, 'Oh, tragedy!' 'What can we do?' But if people die of hunger...if they're sick, no! [none of that] gets through."

Gerald Lacroix: We're a sleeping giant, we are, the Church is a sleeping giant.

To understand Francis we went to one of the people he handpicked. The career of Gerald Lacroix of Quebec City is similar to the pope's, leading through the slums of Latin America. The pope has faith in Lacroix and so made him one of his first, new cardinals--although Francis didn't mention that to Lacroix before the announcement.

Gerald Lacroix: Most of the time, I guess, from what I've heard, one or two or three days ahead of time they get a heads up. You know, get ready, the pope will announce such and such a day. But this time, Francis decided to do things differently.

Scott Pelley: He seems to decide to do a lot of things differently.

Gerald Lacroix: Yeah, yeah, it's challenging but it's wonderful, it keeps us on our toes.

Lacroix found out about his elevation in a divine message written on a tablet -- his iPad woke him, dinging with notes of congratulations. Later, he got a letter from the pope.

Gerald Lacroix: The letter said this, "Now you being named a cardinal Gerald is not a promotion, it's not an honor and it's not a decoration, it is a call to widen your spirit and a call to serve."

Scott Pelley: The pope has graced the covers of many magazines. There's even a magazine dedicated just to him now, but he has described all of this attention as quote "offensive." Why do you think so?

Gerald Lacroix: I think maybe it's in a way, a way to tell us, "It's not about me." Of course, he's very popular. He's very attractive. He's such a joyful man. That, in itself, makes him a star. But what he's telling us down deep is, "It's not about me. Turn to the Lord."

And turn to the people. One of the first things Francis asked Lacroix to do was administer a questionnaire to the parishes. The pope wanted to know what people thought about same sex marriage, contraception and divorce.

Gerald Lacroix: We need to look at reality. We need to look where people are at. And we need to look at the Gospel and the teaching of our Church and see how we can help people from where they're at, to grow.

Scott Pelley: You are abundantly aware of the urgent concerns that many Catholics have about the sex abuse scandals, about financial scandals at the Vatican. About the role of women in the church. What are we going to see in your estimation from this pope on those very important matters?

Gerald Lacroix: Just mentioning the sex scandal excuse me, always touches me because of lack of coherence and because of sin, so many people have been hurt in the United States, in Canada, in many other parts of the world. And that is absolutely scandalous, inacceptable. You talked about difficulties in economics, in the way we handle money, properties, he was, right from day one, very, very involved in making sure that those things change.

The pope surprised people in a news conference when he said, "If someone is gay and searching for the Lord and has goodwill, then who am I to judge him?" The pope has written, that then Church has a false sense of security with - quote -- "rules that make us harsh judges." He asked whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?

Robert Mickens: This upsets a lot of very conservative Catholics because he's the one supposed to judge, you know? What he has done is he's opened up discussion in the Church. There had been no discussion on issues like birth control, about premarital sex, about divorced and remarried Catholics. None whatsoever. There's been no discussion for the last probably 35 years on that. He's getting them to speak about it over the next two years. The pope says, "If there's opposition if there, people disagree, that's not a problem. We want discussion." That's something very, very new.

But on a couple of old controversies, Francis has closed discussion. Opposition to abortion will remain firm. He says the right to life is linked to every other human right. And the priesthood will remain male.

Scott Pelley: What are Francis' limitations?

Robert Mickens: He's gotta do some more with women. Because they are more than half the Church. And they are the ones that are effectively keeping the Church, you know, up and running. But they are not at the heart of decision-making.

Francis' roadmap for the Church is in the first thing he wrote as pope called "Joy of the Gospel," emphasis on "joy." He writes "an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral."

Scott Pelley: Does he get a perverse pleasure out of tweaking all the protocols of the Vatican and breaking all the rules?

"[Pope Francis has] gotta do some more with women. Because they are more than half the Church. And they are the ones that are effectively keeping the Church, you know, up and running. But they are not at the heart of decision-making."

Robert Mickens: I wonder, I mean, I do. I think a lot of us do. He's just being himself. I remember about a month into the pontificate a priest friend of his from Buenos Aires gave an interview and said, "'You know I talked to him on the phone and I said to him Jorge, this is not a problem that you're not living in the palace and not wearing the red shoes?' And he said to me, he said, 'Pepe if I did that I would look ridiculous, that's not me.'"

Truth is, the pope loves a joke. And his holiness has a devilish wit. You can see it in the eyes after the "gotcha" punch line. And the mightier the audience the sweeter the punch. Two weeks ago, after meeting the pope for the first time, President Obama spoke with us at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Rome. He told us that Francis joked that for two men of great power it was really young people who ordered them around.

Scott Pelley: Can you give me a sense of what it's like to be in the presence of Pope Francis?

President Obama: He is a wonderful man. He projects the kind of humility and kindness that is consistent with my understanding at least of Jesus' teachings. His simplicity and his belief in the power of the spiritual over the material reflects itself in everything that he says and does. And I suspect my sense is that he's a little bit uncomfortable with all the trappings of being pope.

Scott Pelley: Embarrassed by them?

President Obama: Well, he-- you know, that's not his style. And that is part of why I think he has been so embraced around the world. Because people get a sense that first and foremost he sees himself as a priest and as a disciple of Christ and as somebody who is concerned with, you know, the least of these.

Scott Pelley: What did the pope say to you in that meeting that inspired you?

President Obama: Well we spent a bulk of our conversation around issues of poverty and inequality, themes that he has been talking about quite a bit. And obviously issues that I care about deeply. The very poor finding fewer and fewer ladders to get into the middle class. Youth unemployment high. You know, these are chronic problems. And, you know, what the pope's able to do in a way that no politician can do is to shake people's conscience and to shine a light on the problem. It's our job to come up with policies to do something. What the pope can do is to help mobilize public opinion.

Scott Pelley: But how practical is that? Stalin once said of the power of the papacy, "How many divisions does the pope have?"

President Obama: I'm a big believer in the power of conscience, the power of faith, the power of a message of hope. I think over time that's what moves history. Tanks and divisions and dollars and cents, you know, all those things obviously make a difference. But ideas are the most powerful thing on Earth.

The power of the papacy comes laden with eight official titles. They start with the grand "bishop of Rome," "vicar of Christ," etc., etc., but the last title is the most modest, "servant of the servants of God." Maybe in titles, Francis looks to the book of Matthew, "let the last, be the first."

Robert Mickens: One man in one little tiny place in the center of the city of Rome can't do everything. And no one should expect him to. But he is there as an icon, as the captain of the ship, in a sense. And now it's-- you know, it's up to the rest of the Church to get with this very challenging program. And any Christian that's not challenged, whatever you are, right, left, center, conservative, progressive, if you're not challenged by Pope Francis, as one of my colleagues recently said, you're not listening.

  • Scott Pelley

    Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News;" Correspondent, "60 Minutes"

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