One of my go-to guys for commentary on things Vatican is now Andrea Gagliarducci at his weekly Monday Vatican post.
This week Andrea tackles the questions (my wording): What on earth is Pope Francis up to and why?
Let’s see some of his piece. You will have to read the whole thing there. Here are samples with my oft-imitated treatment of emphases and comments:
Pope Francis: Will It Really Be a Revolution?
The week that begins today and ends with the creation of 20 new cardinals may represent the turning point of Pope Francis’ pontificate. [HERE] The choices of the new cardinals not only show Pope Francis’ sensitivity toward the world’s peripheries and a certain pastoral approach, they also indicate a change concerning the pivotal issues at stake in this papacy. This change cannot be underestimated.
Before the arrival of Pope Francis, the main themes of discussion in the Church have had solid theological roots. But even the question concerning the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, as well as for homosexual couples – both of which were the object of a heated debate at the last Synod of Bishops – are in the end based on theological foundations, and deal with the application of doctrine. Moreover, even the criticisms aimed at the pope’s plan for curial reform – the other issue at currently at stake in this pontificate – are founded on theological and juridical grounds.
Nevertheless, Pope Francis demonstrates that he is moving on completely different grounds. It is not by chance that one of his favourite quotes about ecumenism is taken from the conversation between Bl. Paul VI and the Patriarch of Costantinople, Athenagoras: “If we were to close ourselves off in a room together and leave the theologians outside, we would accomplish ecumenism in one hour.” In similar fashion, leaving theological discussions aside, Pope Francis wants to propose a model of a Church that evangelizes through attraction, and not because of the strength of its concepts. [At first glance, this seems like madness. On the other hand, consider that, under the onslaught of the dictatorship of relativism and the destruction of education resulting in the loss of reasoning skills along with wide-spread ignorance, people can’t or don’t accept reasoned arguments anymore. Gorgias has won. We have to hold up shiny objects in front of people’s eyes, and rattle them as a bunch of keys before a fussing baby. Is that too harsh? I have to exaggerate to get my point across. So, Francis might be on to something.]
Pope Francis’ choices in two consistories mirror this intention. Beyond choosing a few candidates with strong institutional ties, Pope Francis has selected as cardinals mainly bishops whose primary interest is not found in some or other theological position, but in pastoral practice. Pope Francis’ Church bypasses theological discussion and aims at going straight to the heart of the people. [I think that that distinction of “theological” versus “pastoral” is flawed, but…. In any event, this is why our sacred liturgical worship of God is pivotal in any effort we undertake in evangelization or new evangelization.]
All of these new cardinals will bring their peculiar perspectives to the consistory the Pope has convened to discuss reform of the Roman Curia. The reform seems to be stuck. The first comprehensive draft was highly criticized by Vatican dicasteries, and there is a real risk that the structure will remain as it is for the moment, in expectation of a definitive change that will not take place before the end of this year – as Pope Francis has admitted. Nevertheless, another option that one insider designates “St. Peter’s option” may be explored.
[NB] It can be explained this way. During the construction of the current Basilica of St. Peter in the 16th century, the old basilica was only gradually dismantled, step by step, while it was replaced with the new building. This is the way Pope Francis works, by establishing new structures around the currently existing structure which is then removed once the new structure is complete.
Through this lens we can better understand the process by which the Vatican at first hired expensive external commissions and then followed this step with the establishment of the Secretariat for the Economy, the Council for the Economy and the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. These bodies were born without statutes and they set out to work while waiting for their specific powers and competences to be drafted.
This is way curial reform will be carried out. According to sources, during their recent ad limina visit, the Lithuanian bishops asked Pope Francis about the reform. He replied that two super-congregations, respectively, for Justice and Charity and Laity and Family will be established. How the competences of the many minor dicasteries that will be subsumed into these new Congregations will be arranged is yet to be decided. But establishing them is a first step toward the much anticipated Curia reform. [I’m skeptical. But…. hey!… maybe it’ll work!]
He goes on to opine about the choices he is making in curial reform and his selection of new cardinals. Then…
Still, no theological preference seems to drive Pope Francis’ choices. Instead one finds a human touch, a peculiar instinct that guides the Pope in understanding who the prelates are with whom he feels more at ease.
Cardinal Baldisseri’s words signalled that the Synod war has already begun, and that – in spite of the slogan “We don’t turn back” which accompanied the presentation of the next Synod’s guidelines – the majority of bishops does not endorse a pastoral practice that is completely detached from doctrine. [That’s because it can’t be!]
[NB… salutary reminders…] And Pope Francis would probably not support it either. The Pope is always very orthodox in his declarations. This fact has been demonstrated several times. The Pope backed the Slovakian bishops in their commitment to promote a referendum to defend the traditional family in their country. He invited Filipinos to be wary of the ideological colonization of the family. He expressed a strongly negative judgment over gender theory, which he also defined as ‘demonic’ during a meeting with Austrian bishop in an ad limina visit. Taken together these moments indicate that Pope Francis is anything but progressive. [Which is what I have been pushing all along.]
[Quaeritur…] So, who is the real Pope Francis? The one who supports liberal bishops and priests, or the one who speaks in an orthodox way? The answer may be more obvious than expected. [It isn’t obvious to me. Let’s see what Andrea has to say!]
Simply put, for Pope Francis pastoral practice is more important than any given theological debate because the latter, in the end, may be no more than a worldly exercise. Perhaps his famous declaration about preferring a “poor Church for the poor” may also be read this way: a Church light in structure with limited philosophical debates and a great deal of pastoral love. [BUT!… BUT!… Someone has to do the theology! And I don’t think they deserve to be regularly insulted.]
But this is not new. Benedict XVI spoke in almost the same terms about the need to escape worldliness and to move beyond the self-referentiality of ecclesial structures. And he underscored the value of mercy as is evidenced in the homily he delivered at the Mass for the inauguration of his petrine ministry. Time and again Pope Benedict preached about a Church that should not be constructed on ideas, but engaged in a lively evangelization effort.
Nevertheless, between these two popes a paradigm change is taking place. Pope Benedict was convinced that a solid theological background was needed so that the Church’s pastoral practice would be correct. [That describes my view.] In fact, the search for truth was pivotal in his pontificate. Pope Francis, on the other hand, sets aside any given theological problem in order to seek immediate, personal contact with people. [Will that get the job done? We’ll see.]
Read the whole thing over there.
Meanwhile… remember this?