Friday, September 20, 2013

Pope Francis Interview - First Impressions

I've read the Pope Francis interview in America magazine. I cannot offer a scholarly or intellectual commentary on Francis' take on the Catholic Church in 2013, but I will say, "Wow!"

Francis is not Benedict, and while he gives Benedict some credit for stepping aside, he also is quite critical of the direction and emphasis the Church has demonstrated under John Paul 2 and Benedict 16. Francis is a teacher and a priest of the type I admired and remember while I grew up and throughout my education in Catholic institutions from grade school through graduate school.

Francis is reminding us, first of all of the gospel of unconditional love, of inclusiveness, of embracing all people regardless of whether or not their hands are washed, of works of mercy, of service to the poor, and, at the risk of reading into it too much, of the primacy of conscience.

Francis speaks highly of the mystics, especially fellow Jesuits, for whom he seems to have special affection. In my limited understanding, the mystics were contemplatives and teachers who had a reverence for the mysteries of the universe and of life and interpreted these mysteries in light of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Their emphasis on mystery resulted in their profound humility and an openness to what is called the Holy Spirit.

Francis, in praising the mystics, seems closer to espousing a "creation-centered spirituality" than he is to any moralistic theology. What a refreshing change. Dare I say prophetic?

Use your own vocabulary here, all major religious groups and philosophies and even atheists, have a vocabulary to describe the experience of transcending the quotidian. In other words, or to over simplify, the mystics took the stance that we ultimately have no real power; that authoritarian control is not real control, that the creative mystery is beyond our control; that we are, in fact, a part of that mystery, that we stand in awe before that mystery. This is my reading of the Francis interview.

Francis talks about discernment and making mistakes, and being a sinner, and learning and evolving. These are dynamic concepts, processes, not the principles of JP2 and B16 which by comparison were static and set-in-stone and black/white.

Francis embraces history and this place and time in history; and that our world is constantly changing and the Church must listen and as a result, change too.

He is saying, finally, that there are present realities, real people, real lives, real suffering, here today that the Church cannot ignore. He mentions gays, divorced and remarried Catholics, women using contraception or who have had an abortion - to say that they each have, live, a unique set of circumstances, unique lives and journeys, and that those lives and journeys deserve our respect. That God can be found in each and every person. What a concept. Haven't we heard this somewhere before?

What I consider one of Francis' most profound statements is this: (Emphasis mine)

"We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow. I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.” 

Francis, as well as saying that pastors should be among and in touch with their flock, seems to be wrist-slapping here and I'm sure some will see it as a slap in the face. The many cardinals and bishops and priests who have towed the line under John Paul and Benedict, especially those who were elevated to cardinal or bishop by them have just had the rug pulled out from under them.

And that is what worries me the most. There are very powerful conservative Fascist forces within the Church, Opus Dei and Legionnaires of Christ among them, that I would bet are planning a strategy at this moment to derail Francis. Assassination in this climate is, deplorably, an all too real possibility.

I can see the seeds of a novel, which I would write if I had the talent and the background knowledge:

Two factions of the Catholic church, those loyal to the sitting Pope Francis and those loyal to the Pope Emeritus, Benedict vie for power. Benedict's supporters maintain that he is the true pope and that Francis was elected fraudulently. Benedict loyalists have unlimited money and influence and wage a very effective campaign to oust Francis. Benedict is very ill and is merely a puppet of the heretic church that wants to complete the overthrow of Vatican II reforms and make the church into a purist, politically powerful organization. The church of the people, led by Francis does not have money or power. They are no match for the heretics. World events play into the story to make it relevant to the rest of the world and people around the globe have an interest in the outcome....

I hope my novel never becomes reality. I wish Francis good health and safety and a long and effective time in office. Francis eschews optimism while favoring hope. While I am not quite optimistic, I do hope.

I was not impressed with his discourse on the role of women in the Church - his language seemed much too paternalistic and sexist - he still seems to have a we/them vocabulary, "we" meaning we male clerics and "them" meaning those (macho) nuns and perhaps some lay women as well. I thought his comments were rather condescending, especially the reference to female machismo "because a woman has a different make-up than a man" which subtly implies an inferior status.

NOTE: There was an omission/mistranslation in Francis' comments about women see NCR -What the Pope really said.

I am impressed that he spoke about the things he enjoys - listening to music and reading and watching movies and that he appreciates great art - and that he is quite adept at discussing the arts. This part of the interview was refreshing.

As an aside, Cardinal Dolan on NBC's Today show this morning was laughable. Talk about a politician. Talk about someone who hasn't the integrity to think for himself but checks to see which way the wind is blowing before opining. His boisterous and overplayed cheerfulness is so phony and so obviously practiced. It is a shield he's constructed to protect him and to deflect any attempt to discern what he is really thinking, or if he thinks at all.


  1. I have a feeling the wind will be going out of Dolan's sails before too long, and those of many another Pharisee like him.

    But to add another twist to your novel idea - this Pope has also come out against the Mafia:

    John XXIII said he wanted to open a window - I think Francis has just opened a door, even if only a crack so far. The Church and the world need a man like this. Please God keep him safe, and may angels watch over him.

  2. Yes and remember it is the Pope's privilege to select the bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals. So Francis may leave a solid mark on the church for time to come.

    But if I were him I'd watch my back too.

    But you're right, the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI were all about walking back the reforms of Vatican II which was put forth by Pope John XXIII.

  3. Yes and remember it is the Pope's privilege to select the bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals. So Francis may leave a solid mark on the church for time to come.

    But if I were him I'd watch my back too.

    But you're right, the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI were all about walking back the reforms of Vatican II which was put forth by Pope John XXIII.



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