Wednesday, 25 September 2013
Some Thoughts on Pope Francis
I have been holding off on writing this short article which I have been planning on doing for a while now, but I believe that it would be appropriate to contribute something of my own to the debate about His Holiness Pope Francis, his vision for the Church and his manner of approaching the key issues of our age. I am not going to grade the Vicar of Christ on his performance but I do wish to state my unease, discomfort and nervousness every time he attempts to detail with loaded issues.
The first statement that I believe we must recognise is that Jorge Mario Bergoglio does not understand what it means to be pope, to be the Successor to Saint Peter in the See of Rome. We live in a world where our politicians, celebrities and of course, religious leaders are covered 24/7. The first two can benefit from such extensive coverage to promote their agendas and to advertise their products. Yet it is a different matter for the pope. It can be a wonderful opportunity for the faithful to observe the Holy Father and listen to his teaching and counsel, and this is provided for by wide coverage of his every move. However this presents a unique danger to the pope who is not prudent enough to consider that those who report on him are generally hostile to the Faith. He must be aware how his words will be twisted or utilised to meet a certain agenda. He must tailor his words so that no doubt may remain as to his intention. Should he speak as much as he does or would like to? My answer is probably not. At least in the manner that he has been engaging in. Pope Francis, I am sure, has a number of personal attributes that we could all benefit from, but it is obvious that clarity is not one of them. Perhaps he should have stuck at the 'decadent Thomist manuals' that he recently decried.
On this blog I may stumble out some garbled teaching or offer an opinion that is too harsh or too lenient, but I have no authority whatsoever. Few will ever come across my words, fewer still will bother to read and consider them. My thoughts are derived from my own reading, conversations and interpretations about the Church and the world.
Pope Francis on the other hand, does not possess such a luxury. I may state an opinion or belief that is fantastical or downright wrong but the newspapers will not publish my thoughts with bold headlines stating, 'Charles Milligan decrees XYZ'. The pope as the Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church must recognise his public role and the necessity of presenting clear doctrine for the sanctification of the people entrusted to his care in these times. He is no longer simply Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Of course he can not do away with his personality and natural attributes, we should never demand that he do so, but he must have a new vision and realisation about his task.
So much about the papacy is its public face. How it presents itself to the world. It is rather obvious that Pope Francis is struggling to come to terms with that. Within hours of his election, the newspapers and the blogsphere were alight with claims that he would completely disregard tradition (and therefore likely to alter Church doctrine) simply as he refused to wear the mozetta upon appearing on the loggia. How dull of understanding are they! Yet I say he should be conscious of their likely reactions to his actions. The papacy is not about the personality of a Bergoglio, a Ratzinger or a Wotyla. It surpasses all possible names and personality types. The Faith will endure many years after he has died. I understand that ceremony and formality may be foreign to Bergoglio, but as Pope Francis he must make them his own for the sake of the Church. Pope Saint Pius X certainly was humble and poor in his origins, but you will not find a man who has ever assumed such an aristocratic poise or formality for the sake of the Church than he. He must present an image of the Church that is strong and faithful to its constitution, the proclamation of our redemption in Jesus Christ. He has to be stubborn for the sake of the truth.
In the modern world there is far too much consideration for the forging of a personal legacy. The press demands that the man who assumes the papacy that he must make it his own. He must distinguish himself from the public face of the papacy and from his predecessors. But I state, I am sure to the horror of the ''neo-Catholic'', maybe Pope Francis will have no legacy whatsoever. This may seem impious to them but I ask them how many popes do they really know about in the twenty centuries of the Church? The post-Vatican II bishops of Rome? Before that? Maybe Leo XIII because of Rerum Novarum? Perhaps Saint Gregory the Great? There so called piety is misplaced.
Quickly I wish to trace some key lines of how Pope Francis the man wishes to approach the world. I would have a different approach, probably threatening excommunications and suspensions and alienating potential collaborators. Rightly or wrongly, Pope Francis is attempting to show the human face of Christ to a world that is lost and confused. He believes that his simplicity and his off-the-cuff manner will prove attractive to men of good will. He probably sees the Church as suffering from a public image crisis. Certainly the fame of the Catholic Church has been besmirched by the ineptitude and downright evilness of some of her pastors and Pope Francis believes this is the right way to present an alternate face of the Church. But I warn that he must not fall into the trap of the liberal elite. They have a particular vision of the Church which reduces the Bride of Christ into a mere humanitarian organisation. To his credit the Holy Father spoke out about that very quickly after his election. His approach seems entirely natural to him and he is very different from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. That is not to say that Benedict lacks humility, which is patently absurd to those who have watched him closely. Papa Bergoglio is no intellectual which suits the modern world as it does not make them uncomfortable and his lack of clarity is ripe for twisting.
Much more can be written about His Holiness and perhaps he will surprise us. Occasionally the bluntness of his words condemning certain aberrations are refreshing as he does not employ the nuances of his predecessor. Let us continue to pray for him so that he learn to assume the papacy with a strong sense of duty the Faith handed onto the saints once for all. May the Lord grant him prudence in his words and actions.