UK

Pope Francis' First Year Has Been One Big PR Hit, And These Pictures Prove It

13/03/2014 10:57 GMT | Updated 13/03/2014 10:59 GMT

The Catholic Church, it is fair to say, had not had a run of decent PR.

Major news stories of the 21st century centred not on the church's charitable endeavours or its compassion, but on disturbing tales of child sex abuse by priests worldwide, on the slavery of women in the Magdalene laundries, of entrenched homophobia, and the controversial resignation of the first Pope in 600 years.

But the Vatican has had a makeover in the last 12 months, and the face is Pope Francis.

It has been a year of change for the Holy See, dubbed 'the Francis effect'. Sweeping Franciscan reforms have penetrated even the most cynical atheist's impressions of the Holy Father.

With a reputation for dedicating his time as a Cardinal in Argentina to the poor, sick and vulnerable, upon his election Francis shunned the ornate apostolic palace, preferring to live, clean and cook his own food in the humbler Casa Santa Marta.

Some of the first images of the new Pope released to the world was him washing the feet of Italian prisoners, including a young Muslim girl.

His tender his embrace of Vinicio Riva, disfigured by a mass of tumours across his face, made front page headlines, the first time in many decades that compassion, not controversy has been the motivator for any secular newspaper to splash on the Catholic Church.

And, though it was certainly no more than a gesture, Francis astounded the world with his comments to reporters on the way back from his first visit to Brazil. "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?" he said.

Though some had expressed a disappointment that we did not see the first black Pope appointed after the resignation of Pope Benedict, Francis has shunned yet more new cardinals from some of the most traditional Catholic countries, in favour of widening the church's reach by new cardinals in India, Honduras and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Those he had appointed, including Westminster's Cardinal Vincent Nichols, are moderates and pastors, rather than theologians who focus on scripture rather than service.

The PR Pope has had his critics, some have written about how questions remain about his his role as head of the Jesuit order in the 1970s during the rule of Argentina's military junta. His comments on the Falklands weren't popular in the UK, either

And crucially, Francis has been criticised for having done little to energise investigations into the Church's worst sex scandals, though he has announced a new commission to examine ways of better protecting children. But concrete change, not another commission, is what's needed, say critics like victims' advocate Tom Doyle in the National Catholic Reporter, who called the new Pope a "disappointment".

So what are the top PR props to the Pope?