OPE FRANCIS, WITHOUT ANY DOUBT, intends to lead the Church in a way that we have not been used to. He certainly created a stir with his recent interview with Father Antonio Spadaro, S. J. Pope Francis will quite likely continue to shake things up as he did from the moment he was elected. Get used to it. This pope is not afraid to talk and to express himself outside the bounds of formal and expected venues. That he is a Jesuit in part shapes his style. Undoubtedly, he has a lot of personality! But he is serious, highly intelligent, and cultured. He is careful and thoughtful in his words to the point of backtracking for further clarification.
In a few short months Pope Francis has taken many of us well outside of our comfort zone. Get used to it. Embrace it. Do not fear it! That this pope challenges us may be a great gift to us all. This challenge will lead to growth spiritually as individuals and as a Church.
After finally having time to read and digest the entire interview, I was struck by how much I simply enjoyed it, not simply out of likeminded agreement, but because of his openness and thoughtfulness. Likewise, I was struck (but not surprised) by how the mainstream media has completely overblown many of his remarks. That Pope Francis is going to change doctrine or Church teaching in the same way that a new administration in government will change policy is not only naive but misses his point entirely.
For example, Pope Francis described an important concept, to “think with the church.” He clarified his remark very carefully with the following:
“No; it is the experience of ‘holy mother the hierarchical church,’ as St. Ignatius called it, the church as the people of God, pastors and people together. The church is the totality of God’s people.”
This does not exclude the hierarchy or exclude the people, but incorporates the Church in its totality. This is really no different than any previous understanding of the Church. This is in fact an ancient concept, and St. Ignatius writes of this in his Spiritual Exercises. However, how will Pope Francis put this into practice?
A TEST THAT WILL HELP PROVIDE AN ANSWER comes next week. On October 1-3, the “Gang of Eight” Cardinals from around the world will meet to discuss reform of the Curia. Seven of the eight Cardinals are from outside of Rome, including Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley.
Pope Francis in part created a stir with his remarks about leadership style. Some of this was overblown, because he was speaking of his experience forty years ago as a young man of 36. He is now 76. Yet, it signals a different way of thinking. Because of his experiences forty years ago, he is now clear that he values concrete consultation that is well beyond symbolic:
“The consistories [of cardinals], the synods [of bishops] are, for example, important places to make real and active this consultation. We must, however, give them a less rigid form. I do not want token consultations, but real consultations. The consultation group of eight cardinals, this ‘outsider’ advisory group, is not only my decision, but it is the result of the will of the cardinals, as it was expressed in the general congregations before the conclave. And I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation.”
The Cardinals also will have a learning curve. They too will be out of their comfort zone if they are not entirely used to a style of leadership that will demand real ideas and real results. I believe some of them will be well up to the task, but that remains to be seen.
INALLY, THIS PAPACY POINTS TO A CHANGE in leadership style, emphasis, and tone. For, now, he values a healing and welcoming Church. How is this not absolutely wonderful? As a result, Pope Francis is enjoying a honeymoon phase with the media for now. The Church could use some good PR for once — not that that I believe this is Pope Francis’ aim, but that it is a byproduct of his priorities and emphasis.
While no one should expect Pope Francis to deviate from Church teaching, he is not afraid to open dialogue about difficult subjects. That alone marks enormous change. Perhaps, this kind of dialogue makes some of us uncomfortable. But discomfort can lead to growth.
Perhaps challenging to many of us are these words from Pope Francis:
“We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.”
Our pastor of the Universal Church is calling us to accompany each other with mercy. Is this uncomfortable? How will we respond?