One year after his election, Pope Francis has brought air of change

CHICAGO - Thursday marks the anniversary of the Vatican conclave that gave the world perhaps the most unexpected pope in generations. Pope Francis has turned out to be full of surprises.

Last year at this time, Victoria Fleming was hoping a new pope would offer a new direction for the church she loves. A year later, she is a big fan of Francis.

"He makes me feel great! He makes me want to bring friends to church," she said.

A new poll of American Catholics out this month found that half of them now think priests will eventually be allowed to marry. A total of 42 percent envision the ordination of women and more than a third believe same-sex marriages will be recognized by the church by the middle of this century.

All of which concerns conservative Catholics.

Pope Francis' friendly, unpretentious ways have earned him great popularity, but some conservative American Catholics are conerned that he may be trying to change the church's direction. CBS News
Mary Anne Hackett says she thinks the church was headed in the right direction under Pope Benedict. Now, she said, "they have changed directions."

As president of the Catholic Citizens of Illinois, she sees confusion in her church now.

"Conservatives are distressed because they think -- not that he's changing the doctrines, he can't. --but because he's giving the impression that he's changing them by his words," Hackett said.

"It is playing with fire."

When the Vatican asked American bishops to survey U.S. Catholics on family issues last fall, they got varied opinions and some tough responses.

One said church teaching were heavy on the negative and "thou shalt not." Another likened the church to a dictator demanding that the faithful pray, pay and obey.

Fleming believes Francis has ignited a dialogue about that and more.

"I think change has to begin in very small doses," she said. "It's starting with a whisper instead of with a pounding fist. And I think that's absolutely consistent with what Jesus would have wanted."

It's an old debate for a new day in the Catholic Church.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.