5 ways Pope Francis has forged his own path

When Pope Francis said gays should not be judged, his remarks were considered to be some of the most conciliatory ever made on the subject by a leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and were another example of Francis forging his own path in the job he assumed in March.

Pontiff has taken actions that distinguish him from his predecessor

Pope Francis talks with journalists as he flies back to Rome following his visit to Brazil on July 29, 2013. (Luca Zennaro/Reuters)

When Pope Francis said gays should not be judged, his remarks were considered to be some of the most conciliatory ever made on the subject by a leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

While he did reaffirm church teachings that homosexual acts are a sin, his comments, made while returning to Rome from his week-long visit to Brazil, were another example of Francis forging his own path in the job he assumed in March.

Pope Francis talks with migrants at Lampedusa Island, in southern Italy, on July 8, 2013, during a visit that was considered highly symbolic for a pontiff who has placed the poor at the centre of his papacy. (Alessandra Tarantino/Reuters)

Some observers have suggested that Francis's first weeks in office hardly made institutional waves in a church organization steeped in its own history and consumed, at times, in controversy.

But in ways — some subtle, some more obvious — Francis has been making his mark as a pontiff who wants to do things his own way.

He has, media reports suggest, set a new tone with his humility and emphasis on the poor.

"It's very positive. There's a change of air, a sense of energy," a Vatican official, speaking with traditional anonymity, told the New York Times. "Some people would use the term honeymoon, but there's no indication that it will let up."

During his recent trip to Brazil it was also noted that he barely mentioned the term abortion.

While Francis does not veer from the Church's position on abortion — he is a strong believer that life begins at the moment of conception — close observers have noted that he has gone out of his way to frame the issue more as an ethical one than religious doctrine, and does use the terms "abortion" and "the unborn" in his homilies in the same way that his predecessors did.

Here's a look at some of the ways Francis has been making his mark.

Living a simpler life

The head of the Roman Catholic church could live in opulence inside the papal apartments. And certainly Francis's predecessors made those lavish and spacious quarters their home within the historic Vatican walls.

The apartments' size apparently amazed Francis. After seeing them for the first time, he said "You could fit 300 people in here," the Daily Telegraph reported earlier this year.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis chose not to live in a lavish official residence and has so far chosen to live a simpler life in the Vatican City guesthouse that he used while he and other cardinals met for the conclave that ultimately elected him.

As Pope, however, he has taken a modest upgrade. He moved out of the room he stayed in before his election and settled in a guesthouse suite that is a bit bigger. According to the Telegraph, it has a study and a larger living room where he can receive guests.

Investigating the Vatican Bank

In late June, Francis took steps that might lead to reform at the scandal-plagued Vatican Bank, an institution that has often been shrouded in mystery.

His decision to name a commission of inquiry to examine the bank's activities came as Italian prosecutors were in the midst of a money-laundering probe within the highly secretive institution.

According to the legal document that created the commission, it aims "to allow for a better harmonization with the universal mission of the Apostolic See."

Staying in the city for the summer

Vacations are hardly unusual, and certainly popes in the past have enjoyed time away from Rome, which can turn quite uncomfortable and steamy in the summer months.

The papacy also comes with a prime place for summer relaxation: Castel Gandolfo, on a hilltop south of Rome.

But while Francis had a short stay at Castel Gandolfo recently, he said he won't be taking a summer holiday, something Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said is also an echo of his preferences from his previous Argentine post, the Guardian newspaper reported.

Getting around in a Ford Focus

Pope Francis arrives at Castel Gandolfo in a Ford Focus on July 14, 2013. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

Francis is nothing if not consistent in his efforts to project the image of a more modest papacy, with the austerity message extending at times to his mode of transport.

While his predecessor, Pope Benedict, a German, could be seen travelling in a Mercedes or BMW, Francis was driven to Castel Gandolfo in a Ford Focus.

Reuters reported earlier this month that Francis has said it pained him to see priests getting around in flashy cars, and urged them to choose more modest vehicles.

"A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world," Reuters reported he said.

Turning to the people

One of Francis's most distinctive hallmarks is his openness and approach to people from all stations of life.

While Pope Benedict may have seemed a bit more distant and scholarly, Francis has adopted a humble tone and has blessed, among many others, Harley Davidson bikers (although as the BBC pointed out, he didn't refer to the bikers directly).

CNN even went so far as to wonder, in its Belief Blog, "Is Pope Francis the Catholic Princess Diana?," evoking an image of the woman former British prime minister Tony Blair called "the People’s Princess" at the time of her death in 1997.

"Just as Diana ventured far from Buckingham Palace to wrap her arms around landmine victims in Africa and elsewhere, Pope Francis has taken the papacy out of the the Sistine Chapel and into the streets," wrote CNN Belief Blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi.

"Through acts such as embracing a child with cerebral palsy, washing the feet of juvenile delinquents and celebrating mass on a migrant island, Francis is using the power of his celebrity to bring media attention to dark forgotten corners of the world."

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press