Am I the only one who senses the presence of the Holy Spirit in this room? Hopefully this is the beginning of some significant changes to the broken curial system (maybe even a female cardinal at the table in the future!)…
Archive for the The Papal Watcher Category
The Gospel is full of instances when Jesus reiterates that his mission is not one of self-serving promotion, but the conformity to the Will of God. The phrase “the one who sent me” illustrates this well, directing our attention from the person Jesus of Nazareth to the Christ who was sent to the world by our loving, generous, merciful God. As I like to point out, the beginning of John’s Gospel makes this so clear — no one has ever seen God, but the Son has revealed God (John 1:18). If we want to know what God is like, look at the Son: see how he loves, how he heals, how he forgives. This is how God acts.
As Christian women and men, our call is to point to God by our deeds and actions in the same way that the Son has. In looking at our way of being in the world, others should be able to see the love, healing, and mercy of the God who created us. This is how St. Francis of Assisi sought to live, which explains in part why he has been hailed as one of the greatest Christians to have ever lived — he, as best as one can, pointed beyond himself to God and it changed the lives of countless numbers and impacted the church forever.
That impact was felt this past week in Brazil as Pope Francis, whose name is taken after that of the Saint who so closely resembled Christ that his life pointed to God and that, as tradition has it, he received the Stigmata as a visible sign of his participating in the life and passion of Christ with whom he was so intimately conformed.
John Allen, in an article last week, anticipates the pope’s celebration of the Sacrament of Penance with several young people as perhaps the personal highlight and capstone of his visit on the occasion of World Youth Day. Allen writes:
Every pope seems to have a signature spiritual idea. For John Paul II, it was courage: “Be not afraid!” was his catchphrase to invite the church to recapture its missionary swagger after years of introspection and self-doubt. For Benedict XVI, it was “faith and reason,” the idea that religious belief and intellectual reflection need one another to remain healthy.
For Francis, the best early candidate for his signature touch is mercy, expressed in his repeated emphasis on God’s endless capacity to forgive.
Confession, of course, is the church’s premier sacrament of mercy, so Friday, Francis is both substantively and symbolically going to the heart of his own spiritual message.
Citing a study done in Italy that compiled a count of which words appeared most frequently in the public addresses (homilies, Angelus addresses, catechetical teaching, etc.), Allen wrote that “joy” and “mercy” were the two most common.
Pope Francis has offered a model in his short time as Bishop of Rome of what it means to live the Christian life in terms of preaching what the Gospel actually calls us to live and, from what can be seen to date, practicing what one preaches. It is no accident that so many seemed so moved by a man who goes out of his way to be approachable, for the God of Jesus Christ has revealed to humanity that God is more approachable than we could ever imagine! Jesus refused no one!
Allen includes a telling quote by Pope Francis, which highlights precisely this awareness of the God who forgives: “The Lord never gets tired of forgiving, never. We are the ones who get tired of asking him for forgiveness.”
There is just something astounding about this photograph from the Vatican news service. So many young people, so enthusiastic. Before he landed in Brazil, Pope Francis offered a few extemporaneous comments to the press corps on the flight that speak to the heart of World Youth Day and its focus on young people. Additionally, the pope included his desire that focus not shift exclusively to young people — who indeed are often overlooked — but to include the other overlooked and marginalized in society. One example he offered was the elderly. Here is a translation of the comments from National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen:
This first trip is to reach out to young people, not in isolation but rather within the larger fabric of society. When we isolate them, we do them an injustice because young people already belong in several ways … they belong to a family, a country, a culture and a faith. We must not isolate them, and above all, we shouldn’t isolate them within the whole of the society.
It’s true, of course, that youth are the future of a people. They’re the future because they have the strength, as young people, to move forward. But those at the other extremity of life, the elderly, are also the future of a people. A people has a future if it moves forward with both these ends — young people with their strength to go forward and the elderly because they’re the ones who offer us the wisdom of life.
Many times, I think we do an injustice to the elderly by setting them aside, as if they don’t have anything to give us. But they can give us the wisdom of life, the wisdom of the past, the wisdom of our country and our family. We need this. So, I’m going [to Brazil] to meet the youth, yes, but within their social fabric, principally with the elderly.
The global [economic] crisis is taking its toll on young people. I read last week about the percentage of young people who are unemployed. Just think, we’re running the risk of having a whole generation without work. A person draws dignity from work, the ability to earn one’s bread.
Young people at the moment are in crisis. We’ve become a little accustomed to a throw-away culture, and with the elderly and we do it far too much. With all these young people out of work, the throw-away culture is reaching them too. We must get rid of this throw-away mentality. We need a culture of inclusion, of encounter, a culture with the strength to bring everyone along in society. That’s more or less the meaning I want to give to this visit to the young … [to understand] youth within the larger society.
I thank everyone and ask you to help me to work on this trip for the good, for the good of society and young people and the elderly, both together without being forgotten.
Photo: Vatican News
According to a Reuters wire story, Pope Francis announced last week that he has formed a new committee of lay advisors from around the world that will have broad, unprecedented powers at the church’s highest levels. Encouraged to do so by his eight-cardinal advisory committee, this move marks a significant change in the way that the Vatican power structure had been previously organized. The wire story explains: “Made up of seven international lay experts and one cleric, the commission will report directly to the pope and advise him on economic affairs, improving transparency and enforcing accounting principles. Its members will have the right to examine any paper and digital document in the Vatican.”
The particular details of what this committee’s immediate agenda entails remain unclear, but in further counter-intuitive Vatican bureaucratic style, reports suggest that this committee will be convened and meet with the pope as soon as he returns from his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day this week.
The new commission’s lay members are experts in economics, finance, management and law and come from Spain, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Malta and France, the Vatican said in a statement. The cleric will act as the commission’s secretary.
It will draft reforms of the Holy See’s institutions to simplify how they work and improve the way they manage their finances.
They will advise Vatican departments and find ways to “avoid the misuse of economic resources, to improve transparency in the processes of purchasing goods and services”, the statement said.
Francis ordered all Vatican departments to collaborate with the commission and bypass usual rules that oblige officials to respect the secrecy of their office.
In reporting directly to the pope, the commission, which Francis set up with a personal decree known as a “chirografo”, will bypass the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, its chief administrative office which itself has been hit by allegations of scandal and corruption.
The new commission was Francis’ third bold move to reform badly tarnished Vatican institutions.
One month after his election, he set up an advisory board of cardinals from around the world to help him govern the Catholic Church and reform its administration.
Last month, in an attempt to get to grips with an institution that has embarrassed the Catholic Church for decades, he set up a special commission of inquiry to reform the scandal-plagued Vatican bank.
While cynics and cautious commentators will, with good reason, hesitate when commenting on the possible longterm impacts of such actions on the part of Pope Francis, nevertheless I have a feeling that this is a hopeful move in the right direction. For decades women and men of good will have been pushing for more lay and, particularly, female influence in the highest echelons of church authority — here is a practical instance when non-clerics have the potential for incredibly positive influence on decisions regarding finances, law, and other pressing issues of our contemporary age.
I certainly applaud the effort signaled by this new committee and look forward to seeing what practical influence its members might have on church policy, layers of antiquated bureaucracy, and deeply ingrained clericalism. Pope Francis continues to demonstrate an intuitive sense of Gospel living, which — in little and big ways — appears to this son of St. Francis to reflect the pope’s namesake in positive ways… at least for now.
UPDATE: It has come to my attention that few media outlets have covered this story — I cannot understand why. Here are two additional verifying sources from Catholic News Service and Vatican Radio confirming the foundation of this commission with its unique powers.
UPDATE: According to Vatican Radio, here are the names of the commission members:
Dr. Joseph FX Zahra (Malta), President
Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda (Secretary of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs), Secretary
Mr Jean-Baptiste de Franssu (France)
Dr. Enrique Llano (Spain)
Dr. Jochen Messemer (Germany)
Ms. Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui (Italy)
Mr. Jean Videlain-Sevestre (France)
Mr. George Yeo (Singapore)
It may be too early in the relatively new pontificate of Pope Francis to make such strong claims about the potential signs of postcolonial awareness and sensitivity on the part of the current Bishop of Rome. Yet, a consistent thread of continuous admonition and reading of the Gospel through daily homilies and catechesis suggest there might be something to consider about the ostensible shift in the papal worldview. There are the superficial factors that one might rightly take into consideration, although with an effort to avoid overstatement, including the fact that this pope is the first from the Global South, which also makes him the first from a Latin-American nation, which also makes him the first from a nation whose entire history has been marred by European colonialism in a way that no previous pontiff has known. He is the first non-European Bishop of Rome in more than one thousand years.
There is also his vocal expressions of solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten, the immigrant, and the stranger. If the subaltern could speak and, even more impossibly Gayatri Spivak might add, if a pope could speak for the subaltern (which is, understandably, contradictory in so many ways), perhaps Francis would be the one most capable of the task. His words are words of exhortation to heed what liberation theologians like Gutiérrez and Sobrino have said for decades: the church of the poor is the church.
Despite these superficial reasons, or perhaps in addition to them, what has captured my attention in recent days and led me to ask the question that titles this post, is the visit Pope Francis made to the island of Lampedusa last week. In his homily during a mass celebrated there, the pope began with these powerful words:
Immigrants who died at sea, from that boat that, instead of being a way of hope was a way of death. This is the headline in the papers! When, a few weeks ago, I heard the news – which unfortunately has been repeated so many time – the thought always returns as a thorn in the heart that brings suffering. And then I felt that I ought to come here today to pray, to make a gesture of closeness, but also to reawaken our consciences so that what happened would not be repeated. Not repeated, please!
Reflecting on the first reading from the Book of Genesis, Pope Francis asks — as God does in the scripture — “Where are you?” and “Where is your brother?”
These two questions resonate even today, with all their force! So many of us, even including myself, are disoriented, we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live, we don’t care, we don’t protect that which God has created for all, and we are unable to care for one another. And when this disorientation assumes worldwide dimensions, we arrive at tragedies like the one we have seen.
“Where is your brother?” the voice of his blood cries even to me, God says. This is not a question addressed to others: it is a question addressed to me, to you, to each one of us. These our brothers and sisters seek to leave difficult situations in order to find a little serenity and peace, they seek a better place for themselves and for their families – but they found death. How many times to those who seek this not find understanding, do not find welcome, do not find solidarity! And their voices rise up even to God! And once more to you, the residents of Lampedusa, thank you for your solidarity! I recently heard one of these brothers. Before arriving here, he had passed through the hands of traffickers, those who exploit the poverty of others; these people for whom the poverty of others is a source of income. What they have suffered! And some have been unable to arrive!
The situation at Lampedusa is emblematic of the worldwide plight of those who are exploited, abandoned, abused, forgotten, and left for dead. They are the nobodies, the people who cannot speak, the ones who have no resources or recourse. As the pope notes, so many of these immigrants risk everything — their lives and the lives of their loved ones — to seek something slightly better than the squalor and misery the world has forced upon them.
And it is forced upon them. Abject poverty is not part of God’s plan for creation. It is the result of our sin, for what we have done and, perhaps especially, for what we have failed to do.
Here is the most powerful of points in Pope Francis’s homily, which is well-worth quoting at length. It is here that the pontiff, who has been over the course of centuries symbolically representative of the European colonization of the two-thirds world, it is here that the pope makes a historic shift in pontifical outlook:
Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility; we have fallen into the hypocritical attitude of the priest and of the servant of the altar that Jesus speaks about in the parable of the Good Samaritan: We look upon the brother half dead by the roadside, perhaps we think “poor guy,” and we continue on our way, it’s none of our business; and we feel fine with this. We feel at peace with this, we feel fine! The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference. In this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business…
We are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of “suffering with”: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep! In the Gospel we have heard the cry, the plea, the great lament: “Rachel weeping for her children . . . because they are no more.” Herod sowed death in order to defend his own well-being, his own soap bubble. And this continues to repeat itself. Let us ask the Lord to wipe out [whatever attitude] of Herod remains in our hears; let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socio-economic decisions that open the way to tragedies like this. “Who has wept?” Who in today’s world has wept?
The critique of globalization rooted in faith, in scripture, in tradition, is striking. Those who unthinkingly participate in institutions and systems of global commerce — which is all of us in the United States, for example, if only by proxy — are responsible. We are responsible in some part for the plight of others, for the subjugation of the majority of the world, for the blood of our sisters and brothers. But do we even weep? As the pope asks, “who in today’s world has wept?”
Many thanks for your patience during this last week. I was out of town visiting friends and doing some research in a university library’s archives for a current book project over the July 4th holiday break. Now that I’m back, things should return to normal. In the meantime, here are a few links to some of the important news items that have been unfolding over the last few days, each of which have to do with Pope Francis. It’s hard to keep up with the Bishop of Rome these days! More commentary to follow:
- Release of Encyclical Letter Lumen fidei.
- Announcement of Canonization of Pope John XXIII and John Paul II.
- Pope reproaches priests who drive “fancy cars” and calls for more humble transportation.
- Pope celebrates Mass on island of Lampedusa, draws attention to immigration deaths.
Pastors, not bureaucrats nor political climbers.
It was again a welcomed sign that Pope Francis’s view of what it means to be a leader in the church extends beyond his own office as Bishop of Rome when, earlier this week, he addressed the papal nuncios — those archbishops who serve as representatives of the Holy See in a given country and whose task, in part, it is to recommend certain priests to the Vatican for appointments as bishops — and challenged them to shift their way of thinking, shift the culture of hierarchical rank-climbing, and shift their understanding of what categories best define a good candidate for bishop.
The church needs pastors, the pope said, not those who “have the psychology of ‘Princes.’” As Tom Reese, SJ, wrote on the NCR blog the other day: “In an address to papal nuncios, whose job it is to nominate bishops, Pope Francis described the kind of persons he wants them to put forward. He wants pastors who are ‘close to the people, fathers and brothers.’ They should be ‘gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life.’”
Additionally, and most strikingly given the a clear change from the previous prefect of the CDF-turned-pope’s attitude, Reese points out that: “What was missing from Francis’s list of episcopal attributes were loyalty and orthodoxy, the two criteria that dominated the nomination process under Popes John Paul and Benedict.”
Reese offerred some insightful commentary:
The pope places greater stress on prudence for leaders than on holiness or scholarship. “Si sanctus est oret pro nobis, si doctus est doceat nos, si prudens est regat nos - if holy let him pray for us, if learned teach us, if prudent govern us.”
Some would argue that pope’s tend to want bishops who are very much like themselves. John Paul wanted bishops who would be aggressive in taking on cultural values contrary to church teaching, even if that meant getting into the political arena. Benedict looked for bishops who could be teachers of the faith. Francis is looking for bishops who with simplicity and joy can reinvigorate the church with a positive, compassionate message and witness.
In the coming years we will see whether the nuncios find such men for the pope.
To read the full address of Francis to his nuncios, visit the Vatican Radio translation of the comments.
In a recent article by NCR’s John Allen, Jr., titled “Francis at 100 Days: ‘The World’s Parish Priest,’” the veteran Vatican reporter attempts to offer a summary account and initial analysis of the new pope’s first 100 days as Bishop of Rome. He highlights what appears to be the ostensible dissonance between what is (or is not) actually being done and what the perception of the pontiff’s “administration” has been. In other words, there are some who might suggest that not a whole lot is, in effect, changing or has changed because of the relatively few and minor substantive changes that have been inaugurated to date. Put another way, Allen suggests: “The usual models would thus say that so far, Francis has been all sizzle and no steak.”
“Yet,” as Allen notes, “at the grassroots, there’s a palpable sense something seismic is underway.”
This is not to be underestimated. There is a way in which cynics (including me at times…let’s face it, we’re all cynical now and then) follow Allen’s initial observation: on the one hand, some presume nothing new is happening until something dramatic unfolds and, on the other hand, some are simply waiting for “the shoe to drop.”
While it’s by and large true to say that “actions speak louder than words,” perhaps in the case of Pope Francis we might need to simply say that actions speak louder than actions. Or, as Allen puts it, “sometimes style really is substance.” Allen explains:
Perhaps the key to resolving the conflict boils down to this: Francis seems determined to function as a pastor, at least as much as a primate or politician, so the right model may not be the one used to assess chief executives. Rather, it’s how Catholics tend to think about a parish priest. Their basic question usually isn’t what his policy positions are, but whether he inspires.
What is interesting about Pope Francis’s style is that it really does seem to inspire. Whether or not there are empirical correlative effects — such as the alleged rise in confession and mass attendance — there is a near-universal sense of Pope Francis’s sincerity and intention. He points, not to himself — which could sometimes be the effect of the late John Paul II’s charismatic side — but to those for whom a singular voice, let alone a world stage, is unimaginable. Pope Francis’s words and actions point beyond himself to the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten. His words and actions point simultaneously to Christ and the meaning of authentic Christian living.
As I shared yesterday, Thomas Merton draws our attention to the fact that the Bible is about God’s promise to the poor and marginalized, just as liberation theologians have reminded us ever since. Likewise, Pope Francis is reminded the world of exactly the same thing, which is why even business newspapers and magazines are on the defensive in response. Allen highlights this:
As evidence that people are taking notice, the august business journal Forbes felt compelled in a mid-May editorial to admonish the pope. “Profit isn’t what drives poverty,” the editorial asserted; rather, “profit is what overcomes poverty.”
Of course, fervorinos on behalf of the poor have long been a staple of papal rhetoric. What seems to give Francis’ appeals punch is the perception they’re backed up by personal commitment.
In addition to Pope Francis’s simplicity, Allen highlights humility, accessibility, and staying out of politics as key themes of his first 100 days as pope. All together, these elements construct the foundation of the pope as universal pastor. He is for the church the spiritual leader it needs at this time, a person disinterested with the office and trappings, a person who seems to understand that he is first a bishop — a local leader — and not a ecclesiastical monarch, a person whose ability to walk the walk gives force to the talk of the magisterium in an age when all thought the church had lost all moral authority.
Indeed, Pope Francis strikes me as a universal pastor but, really, isn’t that exactly what a pope should be?
It is exciting to see Hans Küng, the great Catholic theologian and well-known papal cynic (for lack of a better description, seem so enthused by the decisions and actions of Pope Francis so far. In a National Catholic Reporter piece, titled “The Paradox of Pope Francis,” which shares a similar thesis to my earlier America essay, “What’s in a Name? The Significance and Challenge of St. Francis for Pope Francis,” Küng offers a personal reflection on how he sees the promise and challenge of the intention Pope Francis has seemingly laid out in his decision to take the name after the famous Saint of Assisi: “It is above all about the three basic concerns of the Franciscan ideal that have to be taken seriously today: It is about poverty, humility and simplicity.” He goes on to suggest why it hasn’t happened before: “This probably explains why no previous pope has dared to take the name of Francis: The expectations seem to be too high.”
Aside from the fact that I have pointed out that the some of the discussions about Francis of Assisi in light of the new Bishop of Rome have, as Küng does and admits to some degree, simplified and idealized the thirteenth-century saint and neglected the deeper and most significant dimensions of his life and legacy, Küng offers a unique contribution to the discussion at hand.
His essay centers on four questions about what lies ahead, structured around the basic premise that the institutional structures of the Roman Curia form an oppositional force to legitimate change and progress in the church’s constant need to return to the fundamentals, or what Küng calls “the early Christian concerns.”
He places Francis in opposition to his contemporary, Pope Innocent III in a way that is not entirely accurate. For example, Innocent III not only was a brilliant canon lawyer (something Küng notes) and theologian, but was an organizational genius. Nevertheless, his vision for the church was one of structure and order according to his time, while Francis, according to Küng, was not at all interested in these things because of his desire simply to attend to his so-called “early Christian concerns.” What is somewhat complicated about this, which gets overlooked, is that Innocent III provided the very condition of the possibility of the Franciscan Movement by granting the oral probation for its licit establishment in 1209 and, perhaps more importantly, Francis of Assisi sought this institutional approval that eventually culminated in the Regula Bullata of 1223.
Nevertheless, as I point out in my America essay, Francis was not a blind follower of Innocent or any other ecclesiastical leader. At various points in his life and ministry, Francis exercised what I anachronistically call “ecclesiastical disobedience” (akin to “civil disobedience”). Francis’s relationship to exercises of ecclesiastical power and structures of power, such as the curial interventions in his evangelical movement, are more complex than a narrative such as the one Küng tells — in genuine good will, I presuppose — can express.
The greatest take away from Küng’s piece is the final sections of the essay in which the German theologian gets to the main point: there will be resistance from those who exercise power to maintain the status quo. How that is overcome remains to be seen. I agree that as the whole church, that is the Body of Christ, we need to reform ourselves and our institutions of power. However, his last paragraph is one that comes across as a bit confrontational in a way that I’m not sure will be helpful. Küng writes:
We should then in no way fall into resignation; instead, faced with a lack of impulse toward reform from the top down, from the hierarchy, we must take the offensive, pushing for reform from the bottom up. If Pope Francis tackles reforms, he will find he has the wide approval of people far beyond the Catholic church. However, if he just lets things continue as they are, without clearing the logjam of reforms as now in the case of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, then the call of “Time for outrage! Indignez-vous!” will ring out more and more in the Catholic church, provoking reforms from the bottom up that will be implemented without the approval of the hierarchy and frequently even in spite of the hierarchy’s attempts at circumvention. In the worst case — as I already wrote before this papal election — the Catholic church will experience a new ice age instead of a spring and run the risk of dwindling into a barely relevant large sect.
Ironically, this confrontational approach “from the bottom up,” at least as Küng seems to present it, actually contradicts his desire to point to Francis of Assisi as a model for reform. Francis did not provoke “reforms from the bottom up that will be implemented without the approval of the hierarchy.” On the contrary, he sought approval from the pope and his curia from the beginning (in fact, his entire lifestyle shift began with the approval of his local bishop, Guido of Assisi around 1206).
I agree that change is needed. Big change! I agree that Francis of Assisi is a powerful model for what that could look like and mean. However, I’m not sure that Küng’s well-meaning proverbial call to arms is the answer. It appears to be just a reiteration of his earlier calls for similar action. I think that a serious look at Francis of Assisi’s negotiation of these relational structures of power between his movement and the church’s leadership, between his desire to follow in the footprints of Christ and his solidarity with the marginalized, between his expressed loyalty to the church and his willingness to act out of conscience — this is more nuanced, subtle, and effective than rallying something of a quasi-democratic grass-roots movement.
Perhaps it is time we all really take Francis of Assisi seriously.
The week after Pope Francis was elected the Bishop of Rome, Sam Sawyer, SJ, one of the co-founders of The Jesuit Post interviewed me about the significance of Pope Francis’s name and his having selected it after the inspiration of St. Francis of Assisi. Here’s how Sam introduces the conversation, with the links to the audio (they also include a link to a “Daily-Show” like extended version of our entire, unedited conversation) Enjoy!
We know that Jesuits can have a reputation for being know-it-alls (there’s an old joke about having three Jesuits having at least four opinions about any question you can ask). But in this case, we decided to ask for some help in understanding what our new pope’s namesake — St. Francis of Assissi — might suggest about his approach to his ministry, to the Church, and to the world.
And who better to ask about St. Francis than a Franciscan? I sat down to talk with Fr. Dan Horan, OFM, the author of the book (and blog) Dating God, which focuses on applying the insights of Franciscan spirituality to contemporary life. Here’s the interview:
And if you just can’t get enough of Franciscan spirituality or geeky religious humor (it’s at the end), here’s our full, nearly 15-minute conversation, in Daily Show throw-it-to-the-web style.