01/04/2014 09:16 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Pope Francis vs. Pope Benedict's First One Hundred Speeches: A Data Analysis


Pope Benedict's unexpected resignation was one of the biggest religion stories of 2013, but the surprises didn't end there for the Catholic Church. Pope Francis' short papacy has already captured the world's attention in the span of less than a year, as the humble pontiff's direct statements and pastoral manner shifted the tone of the Church in an unprecedented way.

Though Pope Francis and the Pope Emeritus occupied the same office, they brought different strengths to the seat of power, and their unique approaches become clear when comparing their first one hundred speeches as Pope to each other.

Data journalist Chris Walker conducted a word frequency analysis on the first hundred speeches of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict to get a visual representation of their priorities.

pope francis pope benedict

Walker analyzed word frequencies in Pope Francis' first 104 speeches from March 2013 to November 2013, and in Pope Benedict's first 102 speeches between April 2005 and November 2005, only using official speeches with English translations.

Larger words denote higher frequencies of use, and Walker removed the top five words used by both popes in order to better discern differences between the remaining words. Those five words were "God, Jesus, Lord, Christ, and Church."

Though both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict used many of the same common words in their speeches, their differences become much more apparent when examining the words that each Pope emphasized. Words appearing in the word cloud below were used at least 50% more often when compared to the other Pope.


Walker told The Huffington Post, "I wanted to see how Francis' anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist worldview took shape in his first hundred speeches as pope."

His website says:

Francis clearly emphasized poverty and poor far more. Interestingly, he also invoked the words cross, courage, and flesh far more than his predecessor did. This suggests he referred in his speeches far more often to the example and sacrifice of Jesus. Importantly, Francis also emphasized women much more than Benedict XVI.

Benedict XVI’s language showed emphasis on more terms relevant to the Catholic Church as an institution: apostolic, apostles, priests, ecclesial, diocese, parish, etc. He also used more words indicating the formal address of a diplomat; the words cordial and cordially stick out, as well as collaboration and country.

All this suggests that from the start of his papacy, Francis has focused on speaking directly to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. He does not emphasize the importance of the Church as an institution. With simple language, he emphasizes the need for Catholics to follow the example of Jesus, to serve people who have been marginalized by the world, and especially the many poor who he sees as excluded from the global economy.

Indeed, one of the pope's first quotes upon his election was "Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor." Formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he took the name of St. Francis of Assisi, who is a symbol of peace, austerity, and poverty.



Popes Benedict and Francis