Monday, 23 December 2013
A Problem for Pope Francis –In His Own Words
When Pope Francis was elected and appeared on the balcony without the papal regalia, a number of people had an uncomfortable feeling that he was more conscious of himself than the office to which he had been elected, and that he was making a negative comment on the humility of his predecessors. I admit that I could not see what TV reporters claimed to see: that the new Pope was “radiating the humility of his name-sake, St Francis”, I couldn’t see it because St. Francis never abandoned his religious dress, the thing for which the new Pope was being praised. Sadly, taking a photographer into the pope-mobile has not helped Francis demolish the impression that he is over-conscious of himself. Rather, it has affirmed it for many.
I have no doubt that Francis is far more humble and holy than I am; and without doubt he is a man who genuinely cares for those who suffer poverty or illness. But he is giving signals to both sides of the ecclesiological divide which may widen the divisions in the Church rather than heal them. If there was a way of Francis ensuring healing it was to answer questions on morality by quoting the Catechism given us by John-Paul II, and affirming that the Traditional Mass is a right for all priests of the Latin Rite as declared by Benedict XVI; Francis would thus have shown there is a universal doctrine to hold, and prevented flag waving by those who accept only one Form of the Mass. My own hope when he was elected was that, with John-Paul having given us a sure norm of doctrinal teaching (the Catechism) and Benedict having re-set the liturgy in continuity with our past, Francis would show us how to deepen the spiritual life by drawing upon the works of St Ignatius. Sadly, remarks such as “who am I to judge?” on homosexuality and “we are speaking too much about abortion” have galvanised those who seek doctrinal change; while by affirming the “no” to women priests and speaking about the devil he has assuaged Traditionalists. Yet it is impossible to walk in both camps, and if the situation with the Franciscans of the Immaculate is any indication, it will be on the liberal side of the fence that Francis will most likely come down in the end, since he has said of himself, “I have never been a right-winger” and admitted to having an “authoritarian” manner:
“My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.” [emphasis added] cf. http://www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview
An interested party might therefore ask, “Can Francis overcome these traits easily?” If the answer is ‘no’, the follow-up question is, “Then how safe is the Church in his hands?” Taking Francis at his own word, it is important that he not only overcomes his quick-fire and authoritarianism manner -his quote indicates he believes he is- but also that he is seen to be overcoming them, since a “quick manner of making decisions” indicates an impulsiveness which can mitigate against wise action, while authoritarian attitudes do not sit well with humility or compassion but can, taken with an “I am right” attitude, be tyrannical in expression. Note that I am not saying Francis is proud and tyrannical, but these are dangers to which those who are quick-fire and authoritarian in their decision-making can fall prey. How Francis allows the situation with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate to be handled -and it is a handling which so far appears to be one of partisanship and oppression- may end up being the measure of this papacy in history. It may also be detrimental to souls scandalised by what they see, and unhelpful to the unity of the Church.