Pope Francis marked his fifth anniversary as pope Tuesday by receiving votes of confidence from his predecessor and from the current Vatican No. 2—as well as faithful around the globe—seeking to rebut criticism about his reform-minded papacy and encouraging him to push the envelope even further, per the AP. First up was Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose historic resignation paved the way for Francis' election on March 13, 2013. In a letter released on the eve of Francis' fifth anniversary as pope, Benedict publicly dismissed as "foolish prejudice" those who say Francis has no theological heft and represents a rupture from Benedict's own papacy. Francis has come under the most criticism for his handling of clerical sex abuse cases, and he also frequently downplays the work of theologians.
Many critics have pointed to his cautious opening to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion as a sign dogma under Francis is adrift. Francis' supporters insist he's in complete harmony with church teaching and continuity with Benedict's doctrinaire papacy, noting Francis is merely emphasizing "discernment" to navigate complex pastoral situations. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, acknowledged Francis has his critics, saying it was only natural a papacy that has prized opening up the church to all will face pushback. Meanwhile, in the streets, Francis remains beloved. "I think he's an extraordinary person," says a 46-year-old geographer in Sao Paulo. Unlike many church leaders who "think it's the Middle Ages," Francis wants to move the church forward, she notes. "You have to evolve."