Molly Worthen

Molly Worthen is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina and author of Apostles of Reason.

Recent Articles

Francis and His Predecessors

Why the new pope’s tenure may be less liberal but more countercultural than it seems.  

On April 27, Pope Francis will canonize two of his predecessors, elevating them to the ranks of the saints in heaven who may intercede for sinners here on Earth. He has praised John XXIII as a “country priest” with a heart for the faithful and John Paul II as “the great missionary of the church.” But saints are human, and both popes have mixed legacies. John XXIII, father of the Second Vatican Council, initiated reforms that angered conservatives, while their limits left progressive Catholics frustrated. If Cold War historians have cast John Paul II as democracy’s hero, spokesman for Christians silenced by the communist regimes of Eastern Europe, in other ways he stood firm against the tide of 20th-century liberalism. He condemned contraception and homosexual acts as grave sins and censured theologians who called for the church to stand up to Latin American dictators (often Rome’s allies against communism).