NEW YORK — Time magazine selected Pope Francis as its Person of the Year on Wednesday, saying the Catholic Church’s new leader has changed the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution in an extraordinary way in a short time.
The pope beat out NSA leaker Edward Snowden for the distinction, which the newsmagazine has been giving each year since 1927.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected in March as the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit. Since taking over at the Vatican, he has urged the Catholic Church not to be obsessed with ‘‘small-minded rules’’ and to emphasize compassion over condemnation in dealing with touchy topics such as abortion, gays, and contraception.
He has denounced what he calls the world’s ‘‘idolatry of money’’ and the ‘‘global scandal’’ that nearly 1 billion people today go hungry, and has charmed the masses with his simple style and wry sense of humor. His appearances draw tens of thousands of people and his @Pontifex Twitter account has some 10 million followers.
‘‘He really stood out to us as someone who has changed the tone and the perception and the focus of one of the world’s largest institutions in an extraordinary way,’’ said Nancy Gibbs, Time’s managing editor.
In Argentina on Wednesday, Padre Toto, one of the many ‘‘slum priests’’ the pope supported for years as archbishop of Buenos Aires, praised Time magazine’s selection.
‘‘Pope Francis embodies one of the values of a church that’s more missionary, closer to the people, more austere, more in keeping with the gospel,’’ Toto said.