Here are a few final thoughts I have on why nobody wants to go to Church anymore and what the Church and leaders must do to reverse the decline and maybe even reclaim some of the 35 million Americans who have departed.
As this guy continues to go off script and shoot from the hip, he might be giving nightmares to his advisors and the core Vatican hierarchy, but he's touching a whole segment of the population that other pontiffs have been unable to reach.
If Francis can deal with the fact that his followers are not sheep but humans able to think for themselves, those with no hereditary hotline to heaven can learn from his humility. None of us has all the answers.
Will the new pope not only challenge the social status quo but also, like John Paul II, the world order as well? Here are three areas where the new pope could seriously rock the boat, based on some of his utterances so far.
Today Pope Francis is visiting Assisi to celebrate the Feast Day of that saint whose name he assumed upon his papal election. His one-day visit will be a busy one, including speeches at charitable organizations such as the Serafico Institute and Caritas, a meeting at the archbishop's residence, and a veneration at the tomb of Saint Francis.
Why might Hispanics and Latinos be Republicans? They are from heavily Catholic countries. Pro-life, anti-gay, anti-contraception, family values Catholics. Enter Pope Francis, the Spanish-speaking Argentinian.
Dispensing with the need for a miracle that could be attributed to Blessed John XXIII's intercession, Pope Francis has approved him for canonization as a saint. Francis demonstrates by this decision his exceptional admiration for the pope who called the Second Vatican Council.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, has been a ray of sunshine since his elevation in March. His charm, humility and generosity, and his respect even for gays and atheists, have made him far more appealing than the authoritarian medievalist he replaced.
While Ted Cruz pauses long enough to catch his breath, take our Week to Week news quiz and see if you know what's been going on.
Vatican doctrine still holds that same-sex and marriage and love are sinful. The pontiff has yet to fling "open the door" (to employ the terminology Ratzinger et al used) to the discussion of Women's Ordination.
I think it's fair to say that today's off-script remarks in Cagliari, Sardinia, represents one of the most "Franciscan" actions of his pontificate so far.
Until the man we know as Pope Francis came more prominently into view, the West could have been characterized (unfairly, it turns out) as hobbled by a taste for certainty, an unduly literal apprehension of the expressions of faith, and a profoundly proscriptive moralism.
Pope Francis continues to radically refocus the Catholic Church and, even as a non-Catholic, I am beginning to view him as a personal pastor.
In saying "I have never been a right-winger" in the same interview in which he's criticizing the church for being too "obsessed" with gay marriage and abortion, Francis is hitting at those Catholic leaders who use gay rights and abortion to wield political power, putting them on notice.
I've been wandering from Afghanistan to Mali, trying to visit as many living and dead Sufi masters -- and shrines -- as I possibly can. But perhaps no place excited me more than the splendid shrine of John the Baptist in the Umayyad Mosque of Syria.
Our most recent trip to Italy included a stop in Rome where we had a day planned to take in the Eternal City's most treasured sites. And we spent way too much time distracted by the somewhat odd souvenir tributes to the new Pope.