Further thoughts on Pope Francis

Things are beginning to sink in all round. Pope Francis is a man who defies a neat single labelling.

Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony

So far in a quick web survey there emerges that in Buenos Aires he took a strong moral line on such matters as same-sex ‘marriage’, to the manifest annoyance of the Presidentrix of Argentina. He is theologically “conservative” but strong on “social justice” (and as Dr Shaw rightly asks, why the “but”?!). He scaled down the episcopal style of life in Buenos Aires, living in a small flat, taking public transport to work and often cooking for himself. He is said to have refused several offers of curial posts, avoiding coming to Rome unless he had to.

Jesuits are notoriously un-liturgical. Many are suggesting that either he will place a low priority on liturgical matters, leaving things be, or he will positively dismantle the restoration of tradition.On traditionalist blogs some are going hyper about Cardinal Bergogolio’s alleged non-implementation of Summorum Pontificum and his hostility to tradition, yet it seems he allowed the old rite Institute of the Good Shepherd to open a house in his diocese. IN Argentina he had oversight for eastern rite Catholics, which suggest that he is familiar with the eastern liturgies.

I suspect his Jesuit simplicity will indeed see him adopt a simpler papal style, and that he will be vigorous in stamping his authority on the Curia. But for all the mainstream media’s wishcraft that he will simplify the Church by reducing its pomp and grandeur (this on the BBC) and opt for the poor and marginalized, this may be true to a degree, but they may find that he administers a dose of noble Roman simplicity that is far too strong for liberals and progressives. Simplicity for him may well mean, “Do as you’re told and don’t argue”, “Do it my way or no way”, “You are either for me or against me”, “It’s either yes or no, not maybe”. Simplicity can be very direct indeed.

Francis – is it Assisi or Xavier? Maybe it is both – Assisi appeals to all Italians, and certainly chimes with his hitherto simplicity of life; Xavier is a nod to his Jesuit order and to the role of evangelization in the Church.

Rocco Palmo provides a good ad hoc translation of Pope Francis’ first address and it has some interesting moments. Some snippets:

And before anything else, I’d like for us to pray for our bishop-emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady keep him in her care….

Note his graciousness to Benedict, and his use of Bishop Emeritus, not Pope Emeritus. Very promising – Pope Emeritus jars immensely!

And now, together, let us start this road: bishop and people. This [new] path of the church of Rome, which “presides in charity” [over] all the churches. A path of brotherhood, of love, of trust between us. Let us pray always for ourselves: one for the other. Let us pray for all the world, that we all might know a great fraternity. I wish you that this journey as Church, that we begin today and on which my Cardinal-Vicar [of Rome] will help me, might be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city!

Fascinating – he confirms that Rome “‘presides in charity’ [over] all the churches”. What might this mean for his approach to ecumenism? Charity suggests that he will approach the other churches with humility and peace; presiding suggests that he will not shrink from the Petrine primacy one iota. And he plans to bear fruit in evangelizing the city of Rome! Evangelization, very Pope Benedict, very missionary, very St Francis Xavier.

And now I’ll give you my blessing… but first – first, I ask you this favor: before the bishop blesses his people, I ask that you pray to the Lord that he might bless me: the prayer of the people, seeking God’s blessing for their bishop. In silence, let’s please make a prayer for me….

Some are saying that he asked the people to bless him, and horrified they were too! But it seems that Pope Francis asked the people to pray for him that he might be blessed, which is another thing entirely. A bishop asking for prayers sounds mighty healthy to me. And so what if a pope bows to his people: it adds a little more substance to the last of the papal titles, Servant of the Servants of God. Recently I have been asserting that the media presentation of the Vatican Council, and the Council’s reception in some parts of the Church, was marked by a hermeneutic of power, especially with regard to lay activity in the Church, as was evidenced in the reaction to the Bishop of Portsmouth’s restructuring plans. Its antitdote is the hermeneutic of serviceand it seems that Pope Francis will be happy to adopt that hermeneutic himself.


13 thoughts on “Further thoughts on Pope Francis

  1. Some of the commentators at rorate have indeed gone beserk. Antipope?! Seriously!?! I cannot tell you how offensive I found some of the comments.

    The Pope appears to be a humble man who is trying to do the will of God. Theologically, his links with communion and liberation is welcome – in particular his presentation of Fr Guissani’s book “The Attraction of Jesus Christ” was very Ratzingerian (always a good thing!).


    Liturgically, he is unlikely to be like Benedict XVI, but of course the genius of Papa Ratzinger was that the liturgical reform movement that he encouraged was not something “top down” but definitely a grassroots, bottom up movement. This bodes well for the new liturgical movement’s continued maintenance and growth, particularly among people my age who strongly identify as part of the Benedictine generation. In any case, while the post-concilliar liturgy has reached its definitive interpretation in Benedict’s pontificate, this movement started flourishing under John Paul’s reign – and he was no Benedict liturgically either!

    I confess Bergoglio was not my first pick. My great love for Benedict (and I find it hard to avoid referring to him as the Holy Father!) wanted a close collaborator of his such as Ouellet, or Scola to be elected to continue his legacy. But then I am not the Holy Spirt, I did not take part in the general congregations, and Papa Ratzinger would be the first to say that Church is not “his” legacy – but the living body of the Risen Christ.

    At this moment, I am just grateful and happy that God has given us a Pastor. I know this choice was inspired because who else but God would have the sense of humor that would enable all of the Catholic world to be Franciscans (as followers of Pope Francis) on a day that a Jesuit is elected to the Papacy! Certainly the forces of evil do not smile in simple pleasures like that.


    1. Hi!

      You make an excellent point about the liturgical reform, that it is a grassroots phenomenon and should be strong enough to exist with less nurturing than Benedict XVI gave it. It seems to have sunk roots to deep to be uprooted now. Pope Francis (how weird it seems to say) may not turn out to be as indifferent as many suspect. He is certainly intelligent enough to know that young people want meat now, not milk.

      The mischief-making has begun already in the media, so we must keep the new Holy Father in our prayers. And the old one too!

      Pax semper.


  2. I know nothing about this man and so will refrain from all hasty, uninformed reaction. According to his Wikipedia article, Pope Francis apparently specified that his choice of name was inspired by Francis of Assisi. No doubt we’ll get more confirmation of that (if true!) over the coming days. It is clear that liturgy and protocol will not be high priorities for him, as is evidenced by his appearance on the balcony wearing just his papal cassock. But as long as he doesn’t take to appearing in jeans and a T-shirt, I think we’ll just have to get used to the change of style.
    As an aside, some in 2005 suggested that Benedict XVI’s choice of name was inspired mainly by the papal reformer Benedict XV rather than the great monastic saint. A lot can be read into a name, some of which often turns out to be quite foreign to its bearer’s intentions.


    1. Wow – does Wikipedia have privileged access to the new Pope? That would put the cat among the proverbials. I guess we will have to wait to heat from his own lips.

      On the radio driving back just bow I heard on the news that some Anglican bishop in Argentina (he must feel lonely) said that Pope Francis had been critical of the Ordinariate. Whether it be true or not I have no idea, and if so, I have no idea if it will prove relevant or not. If the Anglican bishops did say what he is reported to have said, and he accurately reflects Pope Francis’ opinion back then, then we definitely know that this Anglican bishop is indiscreet to the point of shame. Must be the loneliness…



      1. Who knows who writes these Wikipedia articles…
        Granted, I doubt Pope Francis had time to write it himself last night!
        I’m sure his papal office will give him a different take on certain issues about which he has already spoken. Hopefully the Ordinariate has nothing to fear.


  3. When I heard him say “‘presides in charity’ [over] all the churches”, my mind immediately went to Ignatius of Antioch:

    To the Church which resides in the place of the region of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love.
    – Letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans


  4. Salve Pater,

    Well, we have a Pope !

    Not quite what I was expecting , if only on the grounds of his age. (He is 76; in 2005, Benedict XVI was, I think, 77 or 78). Clearly, the cardinal electors did not want a youngish man of 65 or 66, which knocked out a few obvious names. The curialists, nervous of reform, certainly did not want Cardinal Scola, but in choosing Cardinal Bergoglio, who is more or less without curial experience, they may have sown the wind. I don’t doubt that a whirlwind is possible.

    I doubt they will let Pope Francis live in a small apartment, or travel round Rome by bus (which I used to do, as a young man) !

    The Vatican officials have not gone away, and I suspect the new Pope will be stage managed in one area or another, but I `if I were in their shoes, I would be careful. This (very affable) man will be unpredictable.

    I, too, noticed that when the Pope spoke of the former pope, Benedict XVI, he referred to “nostro evicscovo emerito”. So, I’ll go with what what the Pope says, Fr. Lombardi’s opinion not notwithstanding ! I was listening to the television broadcast from Rome, and the Pope didn’t ask the crowd to bless him : he asked them to pray for him that God might bless him. (I can’t rememember his exact words, but I was listening carefully). I’ve never seen a pope in modern times, not even Benedict XVI,
    reduce a huge crowd to complete silence by calling for them to pray, but he did. Cries of “Franicisco, Francisco” are all very welll, but this was not a football match !

    It remains to be seen whether the Pope will make endless foreign travel an integral part of his pontificate. If he does, he will age quickly, I’m afraid. These foreign trips are exhausting and take their toll. I suppose it depends on how he sees his priorities, but it seems he will want to be a very visible figure to the people.

    Thanks to Father for the very nice picture of former pope Benedict. He is looking well and relaxed. Well, he has, understandably, laid down this burden. God help the man who has taken it up.

    As to Pope Francis I, will the lion become a dove, or the dove become a lion, or might we expect a tertium quid ? Who knows ?

    God bless our Pope.

    Pax et bonum.



    1. Well, Petrus, it was indeed a surprise. Not just the man, as you say, but his age. Maybe it is a question of the desire for a short papacy. Or maybe they recognise a man of sound faith and independent resolution who can get his way when it counts. As I hinted elsewhere, as a Jesuit he will share that Order’s skill in navigating skilfully through the murky curial waters. The Salesian dominance may now be at an end. Maybe there will be a Jesuit Secretary of State! But I am still coping with the concept of a Jesuit pope…

      He may not be a traveller. He may rather invite people to come visit him. We’ll just have to wait and see.

      As you say, no inner city flat for him. However, nothing would prevent him having a simpler room or two made up in the Apostolic Palace. He is stuck with house (O felix culpa!) but he can still do the rooms up as he wants.

      First he will need to find his feet. Let us pray for that.

      Pax semper!


  5. Hello

    Not being a catholic, why the surprise that the new man is a Jesuit?
    He was my choice, for his simple life and for his moderate catholicism.
    I shall pray for him too, since who on earth would want to be in his shoes.
    Best wishes


    1. Hi Jacqueline!

      The surprise is because there has never been a Jesuit pope, and there is a certain folklore that the first Jesuit pope will be the last pope ever: the end of the world is nigh! Moreover, in recent decades the Jesuits have often been at odds with papal policy and directives. One blogger, called the Curt Jester, even quipped that with a Jesuit pope at least there would be one Jesuit faithful to the papacy.

      So the surprise is not necessarily to do with Pope Francis personally, but the fact that this papacy marks a very historic first in more ways than one.



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