Friday, July 12, 2013

The Pope In White Who Governs Like A "Black Pope"

Trouble with being a head of a nation state is it's not all kissing babies. Sometimes it's kicking butts.

Sandro Magister has a very astute assessment of Pope Francis on his blog Chiesa EspressoI've excerpted two sections from this longer article because I think they say quite a bit of truth about Pope Francis and verified in one case something I thought I just missed.  I didn't remember that Pope Francis had ever said a word about abortion, euthanasia, or gay marriage, and I read his homilies and talks pretty regularly.  Turns out he hasn't, even during the French anti gay marriage protests which got pretty heated.  Magister confirms my thought and gives a very plausible reason for something which can't be an over-site.  The excerpt contains the first two of his five sections and part of a third which makes a really crucial point about how Pope Francis has thus far operated....


One key element of Francis's popularity is his personal credibility. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he lived in a modest two-room apartment. He cooked for himself. He got around by bus and metro. He fled from worldly engagements as from the plague. He never wanted to make a career for himself, but on the contrary patiently stepped aside when his own Society of Jesus, of which he had been provincial superior in Argentina for several years, brusquely deposed and isolated him.

For this reason as well, every time he invokes poverty for the Church and rails against the ambitions of power and greed for wealth present in the ecclesiastical camp, no voice is raised to criticize him. Who could ever justify the oppression of the destitute, and come to the defense of unmerited careers? Who could ever charge Francis with failing to practice what he preaches? On the lips of the current pope, the paradigm of a poor Church is an infallible one. It garners a practically universal consensus, both among the friends and among the most ardent enemies of the Church, those who would like to see it so impoverished as to disappear altogether.

But then there is another key factor of Francis's popularity. His invectives, for example, against the “invisible tyranny” of the international financial centers does not strike a specific and recognizable objective. And therefore none of the true or presumed “strong powers” feel effectively touched and provoked to react. (I agree with Sandro Magister, leaving these statements on a generalized level makes them interesting but pretty much meaningless.)

Even when his reprimands take aim at misdeeds within the Church, these almost always stick to generalities. Once when pope Bergoglio, in one of his conversational morning homilies, raised an explicit doubt over the future of the IOR, the Institute for Works of Religion, the controversial Vatican “bank,” the spokesmen bent over backward to defuse the situation. And when he denounced the fact that a “gay lobby” at the Vatican “is there, it's true,” the damage control emerged all down the line. Even secular public opinion, more lavish today than ever in hurling accusations of homophobia, forgave him for this statement, with an indulgence that certainly would not have been granted to his predecessor. (I think this is true, but part of that truth is his predecessor came across as a self hating hypocrite.  Pope Francis does not have that aura.)

Benedict XVI, in effect, was different. In spite of his meek appearance, he was often very explicit and direct in expressing his judgments and in getting his listeners on the ropes. The earthquake unleashed by his lecture in Regensburg remains the most spectacular effect of this. But there was another important discourse of his that illustrates the case even better. (Or one could say the Regensburg address came before EPBenedict truly understood the world paid more attention to the words of a pope than the obscure and highly targeted letters of the head of the CDF.)


Pope Francis's way of speaking is certainly one of his most original traits. It is simple, understandable, communicative. It has the appearance of improvisation, but in reality is carefully studied, as much in the invention of formulas - the "soap bubble" that he used in Lampedusa to represent the egoism of the modern Herods - as in the fundamentals of the Christian faith that he loves most to repeat and are crystallized in a consoling “all is grace,” the grace of God who incessantly forgives although all continue to be sinners.

But in addition to the things that he says are those about which he is deliberately silent. It cannot be an accident that after 120 days of pontificate Pope Francis has not yet spoken the words abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage.

Pope Bergoglio succeeded in dodging them even on the day that he dedicated to “Evangelium Vitae," the tremendous encyclical published by John Paul II in 1995 at the culmination of his epic battle in defense of life “from conception to natural death.”

Karol Wojtyla and Benedict XVI after him exerted themselves incessantly and in person to combat the epochal challenge represented by the modern ideology of birth and death, as also by the dissolution of the creatural duality between male and female. Not Bergoglio. It seems well-established by now that he has decided to remain silent on these issues that touch upon the political sphere of the entire West, including Latin America, convinced that such statements are not the responsibility of the pope but of the bishops of each nation. He told the Italians in unmistakable words: “The dialogue with political institutions is your affair.” (It could also be that Pope Francis is astute enough to know that the clock is not going to reverse on these cultural issues and that fighting them is pointless.)

The risk of this division of labor is high for Francis himself, given the hardly flattering judgment that he has repeatedly demonstrated he has on the average quality of the bishops of the world. But it is a risk that he wants to take. This silence of his is another of the factors that explain the benevolence of secular public opinion in his regard. (I don't see it as much of a risk because no matter how incompetent or competent the global bishops might be, these culture war issues are already lost in the first and second worlds, and the bishops have already lost way too much moral credibility to be meaningful. They are talking to themselves and less than 15% of any given Catholic population.)


Also in his favor is the visible intention of reforming the Roman curia, and in particular of acting upon that festering boil which is the IOR. (That's a great description.)

He has entrusted the study of a reform of the curia to an international council of cardinals, all of them appointed by him. Who in turn have called upon trusted experts to advise them. Some have seen this as a first step towards a democratization of the Church, with the passage from a monocratic to an oligarchic authority. But as a perfect Jesuit, Bergoglio wants instead to apply to his exercise of the papacy the model proper to the Society of Jesus, in which the decisions are not made collegially, but only by the superior general, in absolute autonomy, after having listened separately to his assistants and to anyone else he may wish. (This does seem to be how Pope Francis is operating, and sometimes he is not getting enough information, which is going to be a problem going forward.)


This is pretty accurate assessment of Pope Francis to this point.  One of his decisions with regards to the IOR has already proven to be problematic precisely because he didn't have enough information. This was his appointment of Msgr Battista Ricca as a sort of personal overseer of the IOR. Ricca managed the Vatican properties Pope Francis is currently residing in, and one he used as a Cardinal.  They became friends.  Turns out Msgr Ricca was surreptitiously removed from an appointment at the Nunciature in Uruguay in 2000 after just over a year because of scandalous personal behavior of the sexual variety.  It was then that Pope Francis appointed his five person commission, and he may have made some mistakes here as well.  That remains to be seen. 

I wrote before that I was excited about Pope Francis' words concerning synodality and collegiality, but I didn't lose sight of the fact he was a Jesuit and that the Black Pope does not necessarily practice real collegiality.  No matter how much information Pope Francis seeks for a given situation, he is not going to put it to a vote.  There is not going to be a board of directors. There will be commissions and kitchen cabinets that advise, but no vote will be taken to determine policy.  At least so far.  It may be that this is the form that  Pope Francis will retain for the governance of the Church, that is the management of the Holy See and the curia.  It could also be he has something else in mind for the teaching authority in which real collegiality and synodality will operate and there will be votes taken like there was at Vatican II.  Pope Francis does hold two hats.  One as a monarchical ruler of a nation state and one as the first bishop amongst bishops.  I take hope in that he calls himself the Bishop of Rome in his pastoral duties and won't be upset if he becomes the Holy Terror in his governing duties.

One other week end treat readers might like is this report from the recently concluded Sacra Liturgia Conference in Rome.  This conference for TLM lovers was arranged long before Papa Francesco was on the scene, but that particular change was noted by the attendees.  This report was written Australian David Timbs and is worth reading. Timbs is a regular contributor to Here's a teaser:

"During June 25-28, an international conference was held in Rome. Its dedicated theme was the Sacred Liturgy but it was not just an ordinary gathering to discuss Catholic Liturgy in general. In reality, it was all about the present status and possible future of the Latin Mass of the Roman Rite. The conference took on the appearance of a social construct featuring a hybrid of sombre wake and a symposium of denial, all dressed up in the ornate drapery of self-absorbed clericalism and ecclesiastical archaism."

1 comment:

  1. Unless Francis turns the corner into a more representative form of governance, both as monarch of the Vatican but especially in proclamation of belief, he will be way too little, and too late. Yes, his style is likable and had it occurred after Pope Paul, it would have been useful but after the years of appointments of autocratic Bishops who feel above investigation of themselves and above all reasonable ethical standards, the RCC continues to implode as a viable institution. People will not and can not believe in its leadership.